Injured? Do what you can!
If you train long enough with weights that challenge you, it’s almost certain that eventually you will suffer an injury. It might be something acute, such as ruptured tendon or a herniated disk. In those cases the pain is intense and immediate, typically unbearable, and will require medical attention right away. Far more common are the various chronic injuries such as inflamed tendons around the elbows or knees, slight tears in areas like the rotator cuff complex and lower back, and worn cartilage. Whatever does or does not happen to you, I can pretty much guarantee that there will come a time when your training will be limited to one extent or another. Some injury or pain will prevent you from being able to do certain exercises. Having been in that situation too many times to even remember now, I know how frustrating it can be. For someone like myself who training has become so ingrained in, quitting has never been an option. I know that for many others, the depression and frustration can make you think about just giving up. To those of you who have been in that desperate place or perhaps still are, listen to me now. I have one phrase that tells you everything you need to know:
Do what you can.
It can be so discouraging to suddenly be unable to perform key exercises, basic exercises, that you know you should be doing. Various injuries to the lower back, shoulders, or knees can make it impossible for you to do squats, bench presses, barbell rows, deadlifts, overhead presses, dips, or chin-ups. This is even more of a bummer when you can’t do key exercises for a bodypart that needs to improve. For example, if you have weak legs and can’t squat, now what? Do what you can. There are still plenty of other ways to stimulate growth: leg press, hack squats, front squats (which require less weight and put less stress on the lower back), etc. I’ve had lower back issues on and off for 25 years now, which is most of the 30 years I’ve been training. There were many periods when I could not put a heavy barbell on my back, but I always found a way to keep training my legs hard.
Shoulder problems can make any type of press for the chest or especially the shoulders either impossible, or impossible to go heavy on. This is one I know all about, as do many of you. You do what you can. For the chest, you pre-exhaust with flye movements and focus on using perfect form on presses to get more out of moderate resistance. For shoulders, you do a lot of lateral movements, finding the ones that don’t cause pain of course, and similarly position overhead presses later on in the workout so that heavy weights aren’t needed.
My back has been an area that was actually a weak point for many years earlier on. I had decent width from doing tons of chins, but my back was shallow and in dire need of thickness. Deadlifts are the top choice for back thickness, followed by barbell, dumbbell, and T-bar rows. Unfortunately, my lower back never agreed with heavy deadlifts even when I strived to use perfect form. The pre-existing injuries were part of that, and more recently X-rays show I have a pronounced lordotic curve to my lower back, meaning it bows inward in an excessive arch. At any rate, for a long time I relied on rack deadlifts from the knees up, as those didn’t seem to aggravate my lower back. Eventually those became impossible, and I was forced to work hard on barbell, dumbbell, and machine rows. Over time, they all yielded very satisfactory results. My back is still a work in progress as far as I’m concerned, but it’s ten times thicker than it used to be. I did what I c could, and I did it to the best of my ability.
For most trainers, the only years when they are able to do all exercises without pain or other limitations is in their early years of training. It would be wonderful if it remained that way for life, but that’s not reality for most of us. Sooner or later, you will be faced with some type of limitations. Hopefully for you, they will only be temporary until the injury is resolved. But for many, there will be issues that won’t ever completely go away. Millions of advanced trainers live every day with pain in their backs, knees, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. I urge you all to seek out the services of both a good deep tissue massage therapist and a good chiropractor, as they will be very beneficial in keeping your body tuned up. Look for ones who deal with hard-training athletes, otherwise they won’t be as valuable for our purposes. These trained professionals will often be able to help you return to some or all of the exercises you have been unable to do.
Still, always remember to do what you can. Any injury can be worked around, and there is always something you can do for any given muscle group even if your exercise choices have been made extremely limited. Never give up. Any training, unless of course we are talking about foolishly insisting on doing exercises that further aggravate a situation, is better than no training. Though your progress may be reduced to a much slower rate than what you would wish, you can always keep moving forward.