Tuesday I was doing some seemingly benign barbell split squats and pulled an adductor muscle. There was a mild popping sensation in my groin coupled with the simultaneous thought (like a line from a cheesy movie), “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Actually, in that initial shining moment, my chief sensation was dread rather than pain, as I racked the bar and assessed the damage with trepidation.
It’s a fairly minor injury, as such things go. Basically an adductor (little groin muscle that you use to pull your leg inwards) strain that appears to be healing fast. Over the course of almost a week, I’ve gone from not being able to sleep soundly or pull my leg inwards without a fair amount of pain (8 or 9 on a 1-10) to being able to squeeze a ball between my knees together with only medium pain (3-4). It’s passing and will heal as long as I don’t mess it up. It just feels frustrating because patience with myself is not always my forté.
Since then I have tried very hard not to worry overmuch or get upset (I’m not sure how well I am succeeding, but I’m really trying) and am focussing on doing all the things needed to heal (sleep, nutrition, heat, etc.) as well as hammering the hell out of all the things that I CAN do without dwelling on what I cannot. That last part is the hardest, as for the last few workouts I’ve started warming up for squats or deadlifts, just to see how things feel, and have had to back off before the weight got remotely heavy. It can be a very frustrating feeling not just physically, but emotionally; I miss the both the battle of the big squats and deads and the satisfaction that comes with completing them.
My biggest challenge now is in knowing how hard and when to push, as driving too hard too soon can change a mild injury into a chronic and more serious one pretty quickly. Gut instinct tells me that this is exactly one of those sorts of things. On the other hand, doing nothing will cause everything to tighten up and also prevent optimal recovery. Every day I feel like I’m second-guessing myself a lot and feeling very unsure of my footing on this one since I’ve made such errors in judgement in the past. Having a coach’s outside perspective, advice, and guidance is invaluable during times like this – it’s always helpful to have another person with experience who can see the situation without being clouded by the emotions that inevitably accompany injuries. Since this is effectively the off-season for my training, we’re trying to err on the side of caution, giving it time to heal well and not turning it into a lingering nuisance that actually continues to interfere at a time when I can’t really afford it.
When something like this (even a minor injury) happens, though, it smacks you as hard (if not harder) mentally as physically. I was pretty bummed out for the first day or two. When you’re looking forward to going at training hard for a nice, long spell and are really excited about spending time building and working on things, it’s a definite challenge to spontaneously reroute and not lose that drive or focus.
I’ve watched a lot of people stop training completely because they focus so much on what they cannot do that they are unable to stretch their minds to the many things that they CAN do that would not only keep or improve fitness, but keep them sane while they heal.
Fortuitously for me, adventurer and explorer T.A. Loeffler recently sent me a link to a book called Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better by Pema Chödrön, which proved to be exactly what I needed to read this week. It’s a speech that Chödrön made to a class of college graduates about the scary big world they were about to face, about learning to work with failure, learning to take risks, having faith in your ability, and accepting and understanding that lessons come in all forms and not just in convenient textbook formats. I’m glad I read it, because it’s helping me contextualize right now and keep my head on straight and that’s the main reason I’m writing this blog post.
Everyone gets injured at some point, athlete or no. Everyone. People slip and fall. Cars take unexpected routes and hit other cars. We all do dumb things occasionally and get hurt. It’s what you do with the resulting situation mentally that determines how you’ll come out of it and that’s not so much a matter of strength as mental flexibility and emotional patience.
There’s one story told in the book that particularly struck home. A traditional Chinese tale recounted by Chödrön describes an old couple who have two things that they value above all others; a horse and a son. They run a farm, so the horse is a substantial asset to their livelihood and their only son is most of the labour that runs the farm (as well as their future security). I’m paraphrasing rather loosely here, but the story goes that one day, the stallion runs off. The wife freaks out and declares that it’s the worst thing that has ever happened to them. The villagers all agree vociferously.
The husband sits back and says, “Maybe yes. Maybe no.”
A few days later, the horse returns with a female horse in tow and suddenly the couple has not only their original horse back, but another horse and the potential for young’uns as well. The wife is ecstatic. The husband smiles and life continues.
Then one day, their son breaks his leg and cannot work. Once again, the wife and villagers cry that it’s the worst thing that could have happened.
The husband sighs quietly and says, “Maybe yes. Maybe no.”
A few days later, the army passes through and conscripts all able-bodied men to join. The son is passed over due to his injury and after his leg heals, he resumes work on the farm, unlike many of the other men who never return from war.
Situations that, on first glance, appeared problematic yielded positive results when fit into a broader context.
So is this injury a nuisance? Yup.
Is it the worst thing that could have happened to my training? Hell, no. Not even remotely close. Doesn’t even make the top 100. It’s truly small potatoes in the grand scheme of the world.
Am I a bit upset? Of course. I’m human. I dislike pain. And I like to squat.
Does it mess with my plans? Sure, but I can adapt.
Like I told my friend Stef the other day, my coach is a bit of a genius when it comes to programming and work-around training. When I had a shoulder issue a year ago, the rehab and work-around training ended up building me a set of shoulders beyond what I imagined possible at the time and putting 20kg on my bench in the following year. I know without hesitation that if I can be patient with this and continue to work my ass (or whatever body part is programmed) off, trusting the plan that I’ve been given by my coach, while staying mobile and positive, I’ll come out of this stronger in some way than when I went in.
So is this a bad time?
Maybe yes. Maybe no.
Let’s play it out and see what I can make of it.