Elite Recovery: Improving Results With Injured Athletes
How The Coaches of Superior Athletics Get Athletes Back Faster, and Better, From Serious Injuries.
Injuries are a major component of sports. Whether you play them or follow them, you’ve seen or heard of some gnarly bangs and breaks. The downside is always¬†how long it takes for these athletes to make it back out onto the field, day-to-day injuries turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months into seasons and sometimes development lost forever.
Over the last few years, the coaches at Superior Athletics have become known for taking injured athletes and bringing them back better than they were before. Not only do we get athletes better, we also can lessen the time it takes to return to play.
How do we do this? How do we take injuries that take usually require 6-8 weeks and shorten that recovery time to 3-4 weeks or faster?
This article should help athletes, parents and trainers alike to enhance their own recovery or the recovery of their athletes and return¬†athletes to¬†the field where they belong.
Who Are These Recovery Times For?
One of the biggest issues I have with the recovery times for athletes is that they often mirror the recovery times of sedentary people. Moreso, these recovery times rarely take into account things like age, diet, sleep patterns, recovery methods, aerobic levels, and current physical readiness.
I know that this seems like a lot to consider (I agree it is) but rather than regulate peoples recovery times as completely rigid, we need to conform to what our athlete has presented to us. While physiological rules¬†apply for breaks and tissue regeneration, we can stimulate some of this response by¬†the proper application of various methods.
Lets look at some athletes:
Player A: Prior to injury was training 3x per week, resting heart rate was 58 BPM, was regularly sleeping for 7 hours per night, is 22¬†years old and goes out drinking 1-2¬†times per week.
Player B: Prior to injury was not training regularly, resting heart rate was 62 BPM, was on no set sleep schedule, and is 19 years old. They eat a typical American diet (aka it sucks)
Player C: Prior to injury was training 2x per week with a coach, resting heart rate was 52 BPM and was sleeping 7-9 hours per night. This athlete was also counting their macronutrients using a tracking app like MyFitnessPal. This athlete is 17 years old.
If we assume all other variables are equal, which athlete do we think is going to have an improved chance of recovering?
I am going to put my money on athlete C. I know that if I prescribe homework for them to do, prescribe conditioning for them to do, and roll them into one of our programs, this athlete is going to destroy the normal recovery time. They are in better shape, have more of a plan about their bodies, and at their age are more elastic in general and bounce back faster.
Sadly, other issues tend to get in coaches and players ways.
The reality is, I battle with physical therapists and doctors who are so used to prescribing recovery times that they won’t deviate from the plan. X has always been X and will be until a national organization says otherwise. So even if we have athlete C who is clearly doing a lot right, they may choose a physical therapist (if they don’t take my recommendation) who is steadfast that this athlete CANNOT return to certain activities until the time has passed.
This is doing this athlete a disservice, and I know we can do better.
How We Change The Game
Suspend your current idea of how to come back from injury. Some of the methods and ideas we use may seem wild, but I promise they work. We’ve had athletes back deadlifting 315+ within a few weeks of knee surgeries, we’ve had athletes have a cast removed and be back¬†playing their sport better then before within a few days.
Those claims some will think are reckless, but if you have managed the recovery process and you have checks and clearance tests that are required before you advance then nothing is impossible – you just have to believe in the process.
Step 1: Get Your Mind Right
When dealing with an athlete that has been hurt, it is the mind that is the hardest thing to shape and form. For many, a serious injury is a failure in their eyes. They have failed themselves, and not playing itself is a failure.
Obviously we need to cut that out. Fast.
Keeping athletes feeling like athletes is important to getting them to buy into what we are trying to do. The phrase we always use is “Injured – Not Dead”, what CAN they do, what CAN we accomplish while they are hurt?
These important questions give us a training and competitive schedule to work from.
For example: We have an athlete that required Tommy John surgery, so we had him learn to throw a bit with his other arm early in the recovery process. Besides a number of positive neurological changes this can have, it also gave our athlete a skill to develop. This kept them coming in to work on something athletic and competitive.
Hook one in place.
Step 2: Get Their Heart Pumping
I don’t care if an athlete has a broken leg, a broken hand, or is coming off a surgery, we can always find a way to stimulate blood flow and work their body in some capacity.
This training helps in a variety of ways: we manage weight gain by keeping the athlete active, we improve blood flow which increases the supply of nutrients in the blood that will help with recovery, and we improve the aerobic system that will provide the basis for our work capacity in other endeavors we plan on doing.
Question: When do we start?
Answer: When do I first see you?
The sooner you can begin the recovery process the better. Yes. This does mean that you want to start this BEFORE surgery, and before any other planned doctors visits need to take place. We want to get ahead of this issue, and every day matters.
Step 3: Train Everything You Can
Did you fracture¬†your collarbone? Then we will use implements that we can attach the weight to your hips to train your lower half and train your other arm with 1 arm rows and presses along with any core work that is comfortable.
For knee tears, we will do the same thing just for the lower half. Training of the upper body will be the normal every day training, no limits, and the lower half we will train the unaffected side to the best of our ability.
When we are training a single limb some people will ask “Aren’t I going to be imbalanced?”
My first thought is “Well, one arm/leg/appendage is already busted up, so we are out of whack already”.
Really though this is a great question, and I understand when people are hesitant, so here is the low down: training your good arm will have neurological benefits to your injured arm.
In simpler terms, training one side makes the other side better.
Well, in training your good side, your brain hits a record button that ingrains this pattern. Additionally, as you work with heavier weight and workout more often, the brain gets good at executing the desired movement. As a bonus, the brain recognizes that both sides are pretty similar, and carries some of the learned benefits across to the other side.
This knowledge is ESSENTIAL to training injured athletes, because it provides a framework for developing other traits (remember when we taught our athlete to pitch? Well, his first throwing session he was drilling the target. Coincidence? Maybe….).
Step 4: Plan the Process
Have to get an athlete ready for a combine in 3 weeks but they pulled a hammy? Well, we have to work backwards from what they will need to do from the day of the event and backwards.
What comes before running a 40? Running a 20? Running a 10? Jogging? Skipping? Marching? Whatever you want to be a part of the plan is fine, but you need to work backwards and create the timeline for what you need.
We will always have to massage the plan and create alternatives, we will need to deal with setbacks, but we always stay true to our original progression plan. When we do this, we know that we have checked off the board what needed to happen.¬†NEVER SKIP A STEP!¬†
We all have patients, clients and athletes that seem to crush our first step and drive our brains and theirs into a state of euphoria where we want to drive them harder and faster and skip our way ahead.
Forget it. Don’t live only in the moment where your heart can impact a decision, stick to the board and make them earn it!
Step 5: Find People You Trust To Monitor Progress
I am a rogue at times. If you have read this far you realize this. I am however NOT stupid. I get that I need a medical professional that I trust who can reign me in when necessary, but who is also bold enough to let me experiment and drive training that’s working.
In keeping close ties with a pro, you enhance the program, and make sure that the athlete is working at the limits of what is possible. If we keep in isolation we forget to share info. If I don’t share that I have already started working landing mechanics with an athlete before their therapist has, I need to be in touch, I have to explain my point and what led me to this decision.
This is the secret though.
We do what we do because it works, and we have done it with a number of people across numerous sports. We have seen athletes held back by PT and others thrive because their therapist magnified what we did.
Just like in sports, having the right team is the key to winning championships (or making freak athletes).
The Final Step: Know When It Isn’t Time
You, myself and everyone else on this planet aren’t omniscient. We aren’t going to see everything that has, will or can happen. We do have the power to see what is. The most important part of working with an athlete is telling them when they won’t make it, when it isn’t time, when we didn’t win.
At no time do you sacrifice the athlete to prove how good you are. You make the athlete better, and you tell them when they aren’t. No sugar. All vinegar.
I once had an athlete (and good friend) who tried to play in the NFL without being able to lift his left arm above his head. He had just spent time with a “successful” combine prep coach, who ignored his arm in favor of taking his 40 time from 4.38 to 4.32 – At the end of the day, if you can’t play we have to kill the bigger issue first regardless of what we’d like to happen.
Was this coach afraid to tell the athlete they were missing something? Were they afraid they would lose people if they were honest? Just an idea to leave you with.
What Does The Future Hold?
With growing technology we will be more able to predict and maintain training effects for athletes longer and better. With tracking we will be able to prove or disprove methods with increasing efficiency.
This will only help you.
Performance training is more than pushing sleds and lifting weights. It is about understanding and pushing the limits of the human body.
That’s the only way to be Superior.