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A Recovery Rusher’s Guide to Taking It Slow

I finally hit a brick wall. I’d been taking it easy with my shoulder, making sure to not lift anything above my head, getting rest, and not pushing, but it just wasn’t enough. A week and a half ago, I finally went to the doctor and had the darn thing diagnosed. As it turns out, I have an AC (acromioclavicular) ligament sprain — basically, the ligament that holds your clavicle to your shoulder blade got torn and inflamed when I fell down a few months ago, and everything I’ve done since then has compounded the inflammation. My doc shot me up with cortisone, which helped release the bursa of inflammation, and started me back on the path to healing. But guess what? No lifting for 6 weeks. None. Zero. Zilch.

And of course, I have feelings.

I think a lot of us rush our recovery. It sucks being benched, feeling like you’re left out of the action. The minute you feel better than death warmed over, you wanna get back in the swing of things. The problem with that is that it’s a lot like starting hot out of the gate: you expend all your energy right away, leaving nothing left, and worse, you’re a lot more prone to re-injury because you’re so stoked to get going that you’re not paying attention. Plus, if you haven’t recovered all the way, you haven’t corrected for any imbalances or weakness, leaving you even more prone to future injury.

It’s a self-defeating cycle, but the good news is that there’s a way out: slowness.

I know, it’s super boring. I hate it. But just like the tortoise and the hare, slow, steady, and sustainable progress wins the race of life. If you want to be able to train in your sport well into old age, you must pay attention to form, let your body heal, and make sure that your retraining is smart, intentional, and endurable.

Our culture is obsessed with quick returns. Companies want to get a fast ROI, or return on investment, so that they can move to the next big thing. We’re inundated with magazine covers promising better abs in 10 days, a 30 lb weight loss in a month, a juice cleanse to detoxify us in a week. We like fast results. But when it comes to true fitness — real strength, real flexibility, real cardiovascular health — those things don’t come overnight, or even in days or weeks. It takes months of effort to really see results. I will say that benefits to living a healthier life come quickly on a microcellular level, so it’s worth doing, even if you can’t see abs immediately.

And hey, just like anything else, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well, right? Taking a holistic and sustainable approach to returning to activity is smart. It allows your body to get back up to speed without sacrificing healing. Having a customized plan also means that you work with your own body’s mechanics. Group coaching is awesome, but everyone’s body is different. If you’re struggling with returning to activity after injury, meet with a trainer and let them know you need an individual training program.

Speaking of, I just attended a Daredevil class at Four Elements, and it was rad because I let Ryan know ahead of time that I’d need to scale for my shoulder, and he made it work for me. We checked in before and after every exercise to see how the shoulder was doing and adjust for it. It was really dang refreshing to have that much personalized attention and not feel like I was compromising myself when I wanted to work hard. Ryan also noticed on my right-side kettlebell swing that I was compensating by hitching my upper right trapezius up — a note that was really helpful when I saw the PT today. They noticed the same thing with my range of motion, and were able to diagnose a muscle imbalance and patterns of motion that need to be corrected.

Having a team to help you with recovery is important. They’ll help you figure out a sustainable training plan, and remind you to keep things slow and steady. And when you’re back at your best, you’ll have no bigger or better cheerleaders.

So take it slow as you come back. Be mindful. Recognize small gains. Small gains are still gains. Celebrate them all.

Kelly blogs over at She likes picking up heavy things, balancing in weird positions, and defying expectations.

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