How to Train if You Have an Injury

I don’t normally run guest posts on Nerd Fitness, but I made an exception today.  “What should I do if I’m injured?” is a question I get a few times a week; I’m always hesitant to give advice because I simply don’t have enough experience in dealing with injuries.  I asked Vic Magary, my buddy and co-author of the Rebel Strength Guide, if he could provide his expertise and shed some light on the subject.  Disclaimer: this info is for entertainment purposes only! If you are injured you should seek medical advice from your doctor before proceeding. (Okay, our asses are covered).  Take it away Vic!

There’s no gentle way to say this – training with injuries SUCKS!

Unfortunately, that nagging shoulder pain or swelling in your knee will only get worse if you don’t give it the rest that it needs.

But it’s tough. . .

You’ve been training hard, seeing great results, and you don’t want to stop now because of a little “pain”. Below are a few suggestions to keep you training while at the same time allowing you to take care of what ails you.

Before I get into the specific injuries, there are a few general tips I give no matter what:

Test ALL movements

First, test all movements. And by test, I mean work through as much of the range of motion of an exercise as possible with zero additional resistance and without feeling any pain. That means if your shoulder bothers you, just see if you can extend your arms all the way above your head without holding a barbell before you even consider doing a push press or shoulder press.

After that, make sure to test movements that you don’t suspect will be a problem. A shoulder injury could very well making doing box jump sessions impossible due to the arm swing involved in the movement.  Try out each movement cautiously!

Something to keep in mind: just because you have pain with a push movement, does not necessarily mean you will have pain with a pull. I have had a shoulder injury where dips and push ups were out of the question, but pull ups were fine. And that is why you should test all movements – you may have more training options than you expect. Then again, your injury may limit movement more that you realize. Last time I’m going to say it – test.

Rest sucka!

Next, rest. And by rest, I mean completely stop doing movements that cause you pain until you are healed. If you feel any pain during your test mentioned above (especially joint pain) then you should abandon the movement until the injury heals. You cannot “suck it up” and just grind through joint pain without hindering healing at best and causing further damage at worst.

Along with rest, a recovery regimen to accelerate healing should be considered. Ideally, this would be done under the care of a physician. I have been to the doc for injuries in the past and have found that those that use “Sports” in the title of their practice (Sports Medicine, Sports Therapy) do their damnedest to keep you active.

Two often overlooked components of recovery that can be controlled even if you do not seek medical care are sleep and nutrition. These things are always important when it comes to fitness, but for the swiftest recovery from injury you need to get your food intake and sleep schedule dialed in extra tight. Sign off of Call of Duty an hour earlier and get to bed (Steve’s note: booooo….okay fine). Have a second helping of spinach and forgo the pizza. If you want to do everything within your control to sway the healing forces in your favor, be extra diligent with your sleep and eats.

Find the opportunities

My dear friend, it’s time to get creative.  When you get injured, start thinking outside of the box to find the opportunity in the obstacle. A shoulder injury may make back squats incredibly painful, but holding the bar for a front squat instead could feel fine…and perhaps it just so happens that you have neglected the front squat lately. . . try to look at an injury as an opportunity for you to focus on a weakness.  Strengthen your weaknesses, become more well rounded and better equipped to deal with rigorous activity.

But enough of the generalities. You want some specific recommendations on how to train around your injuries. . . Here are some tips that have worked for myself and my clients that will keep you training despite injuries:

Lower back

Forgo any spinal loading. Period. That means no squats for sure. But it also means no dead lifts. It also means using no additional resistance in any movement where your shoulders should be higher than your hips. That pretty much limits you to the bench press as far as free weights go. . . and I’m not a huge fan of the bench press. Instead, spend your recovery time exploring various body weight exercises.


Wrist pain is most commonly complained about when doing the traditional push up. I have had several clients alleviate this pain by using push up bars and even (believe it or not) knuckle push ups. This is most often due to a flexibility issue and not an actual injury. Front squats and power cleans done with the Olympic rack position may also lead to complaints of wrist pain. To eliminate wrist pain in the front squat, try the more common crossed-arm rack position. For the power clean, concentrate on getting the bar on top of the front of your front deltoids (shoulders) – if the bar is touching your throat, you are getting there.


Knee pain typically comes in a fitness setting as the result of one of two things: deep bending such as with a squat or lunge, or impact that corresponds with landing from jumping. Lateral (side to side) movement may also be an issue especially for participants of sports like soccer, rugby, basketball, and other “man to man” athletics.

Knee issues can be especially frustrating for those trying to lose weight because exercises involving squatting, lunging, and jumping are ideal for accelerating fat loss. In this situation, I typically recommend a kettlebell swing as my first alternative option. A properly executed swing does not involve much bend of the knee and in my experience most clients who cannot squat can handle swings without screwing up any preexisting knee conditions.

Another option I often try for those with knee injuries seeking to lose weight is boxing drills.  However, it is important to work slowly at first to be sure that the twisting necessary for generating punching power from the hips does not aggravate the knee condition.


You’re screwed. Sorry. Nearly any upper body exercise, push or pull, will hinder your recovery time. Instead, focus on lower body work such as barbell squats, lunges, and sprinting.


Avoid any high-impact movements. And all that means is do not jump. But other movements that involve more subtle ankle movement such as squats may also have to be put on the back burner as you heal. It is possible (likely?) that you may have to focus on upper body movements and use seated versions of movements such as rows and overhead presses instead standing while the ankle heals.

Shoulders and hips

Test, test, test. These ball and socket joints can be the most unpredictable when it comes to training options. Start slow, start light, and back off the second you feel any pain.

Injuries are always frustrating when they happen. But I don’t know anyone with any significant amount of training time under their belt who hasn’t had to deal with them. When injured, be smart with your exercise selection, dial in your nutrition and sleep, seek a medical opinion, and be aware of training opportunities that you would not have considered without the injury.


Vic Magary is the co-author of the Rebel Stength Guide and the fat loss expert behind the 31 Day Fat Loss Cure. You can read about his explorations of personal development over at Vic


Today’s Rebel Hero: Rob T. from the great state of Montana!

Rob sent this to me way back in early April, and I’m just now getting around to posting it. Middle of Spring, four inches of snow on the ground overnight? No problem.  Rob threw on his NF t-shirt, wrestled a Yeti, rescued a TaunTaun, and then worked out in the snow.  Epic.

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