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The road to recovery

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“Down by an Injury? Strengthen One Side to Strengthen the Other”

One of the sad truths about life is that you will get injured at least once. Most of you may have already gone through an injury. As coaches, it is our job to keep you as safe as possible in the gym. Another goal of ours is to get your joints, ligaments, and muscles as strong as possible so you’re less prone to injury outside the gym. But what happens if you do get injured? What happens to all that work you’ve done? Will your injured limb turn to just a bare bone without any muscle? If you use just your “good side” won’t you become unnaturally imbalanced? Luckily, there is a ton of research that looks at exactly those questions.

A research study performed at The University of Copenhagen showed that in just two weeks, immobile limbs lost 33% of their strength. 33%! In two weeks! That is a very discouraging statistic for someone who has put time and effort into building their body. Good news is that does not mean that YOU are going to lose 33% of your strength in that limb.

Much research has been done on “unilateral training”. Unilateral training is one-sided training. For example, if your left arm is injured, unilateral training would be right arm dumbbell presses. Research has shown unilateral training can increase strength in the opposite (or injured) limb by 7%-11%.

How does this happen?

To put it simply, when you do or learn something with one side of the body, your brain will also make those neural connections for the opposing side. This is called cross-education.

Other things to consider.

When injured, one of the worse things that you can do for your body is sit and do nothing. Not only will you lose muscle gains, but the lack of blood circulation will cause an increase of inflammation. It can also be dangerous to come back to your normal workout regime with the expectation of being able to do the same as prior to injury. But if you continue to move and strengthen what you can while injured, your return will be a much smoother and quicker process.

What sounds better? Sitting at home and sulking while building up inflammation and suffering from 33% loss of strength OR working out with friends, staying healthy, and adding 11% strength increase in the injured body part without actually doing work? I think I’ll take the second option.