Q and A: My Ankle Has An Ouchie, Can I Still Train?

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Q: Long-time listener, first-time caller. You probably get a ton of emails, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time, so I’ll keep this short.

A few weeks ago, I suffered what the doctor called a moderate/severe high-ankle sprain playing basketball. He put me on crutches for weeks, and I’m in a walking boot/brace for at least another few weeks.

I read your article on training while injured, but it doesn’t seem to cover my case- a pretty severe injury that greatly limits my training options. I can’t do anything standing up (like squats and deads) and anything one-legged I can only do one side. Can you suggest a decent routine I can use until I can get back into my usual program? I don’t want to spend the next month doing just upper body if there’s something better for me to be doing.

(I’m 30, an intermediate lifter, with no other injuries).

I interrupt the scheduled knowledge bomb that’s going to follow to post a picture of Olivia Wilde:

Fun fact about Olivia Wilde- she eloped with her husband, who is an Italian prince, when she was 18. Pfffffft, whatever. That doesn’t impress me. Fun fact about Tony Gentilcore- eating at The Olive Garden is considered fine dining. Which is it ladies- being showered with extravagant jewelery and taken to exotic places all around the world, OR, all you can eat bread sticks? I think the choice is clear. SALAD BOWL!!!!!!!! Who says romance is dead?

A: Thanks for contacting me. I can definitely relate and know how frustrating it can be to not be able to train they way you’d like. The fact of the matter is, anyone who’s been training for any length of time will get hurt at some point. The question is: will you be the type of person who throws up the proverbial “white flag,” and spends the duration of your injury sitting at home watching The Price is Right and eating everything in sight? Or, are you the type of person who’s going to put away the Vagisil, and find a way to make lemonade out of lemons? Unfortunately, most people would fall into the former category- and I applaud you for not being so lame.

A few thoughts:

1. Stop wearing high top shoes and/or Nice Shox and/or whatever it is that you’re wearing on a daily basis that’s limiting your gross ankle mobility. Providing “false” stability to a joint that normally wants to be mobile, is a recipe for disaster. In this case, said disaster is a high ankle sprain. Coincidentally, high ankle sprains were pretty much non-existent 20-25 years ago. Today, it seems you can’t go one week without hearing some story on SportsCenter about an NBA or college player going down with a high ankle sprain.

Conversely, look at soccer players. Very rarely do you see high ankle sprains in that athletic population despite the fact they don’t tape their ankles or wear “supportive” shoes. If you can, try to get some Nike Frees to wear for general purposes, and train barefoot as often as possible. Seriously, every time someone wears Nike Shox, God kills a baby seal. True story.

2. We’ve had quite a few athletes come to us with a similar situation such as yourself, and while you’re likely just going to have to accept the fact that you’re injured, and your training options are limited for the next few weeks- it’s certainly not the end of the world. Too, it’s a safe bet that you’ll still be able to elicit a training effect.

Lower Body Stuff

Obviously you won’t be able to squat with a boot on your ankle. Ironically, we had an athlete come to us a few weeks ago wearing an ankle boot who’s therapist told him he could squat. Lets think about this for a second: he’s wearing a boot that will undoubtedly limit his dorsiflexion in that joint. Given the fact that the ankle needs approximately 15-20 degrees of dorsiflexion to squat- that doesn’t make a lot of sense. In fact, it’s downright stupid. I guess they don’t teach that there book learnin in some therapy schools.

That said, I think you “may” be able to perform rack pulls for the time being. Granted you do have to stand, but there won’t be a lot of dorsiflexion involved, and it will be a great way to still train your posterior chain during this time. Of course this is going to be contingent on your comfort level. Other options: pull throughs, reverse hypers (body-weight only), 45 degree back extension, etc.

As well- you noted that you have one good leg. Train it! There’s actually quite a bit of research showing that training the healthy limb will carry over to the injured limb- helping to improve recovery. As such, exercises such as one-legged squats and/or band assisted pistol squats would bode in your favor.

Upper Body Stuff:

Have at it. Pulverize the pecs, blast the biceps, whatever. You name it, go for it. If your chin-ups suck, take this time to really hammer away at those. You stink at push-ups? All the more reason to include more push-ups into your routine. Heck, take this time to get your bench numbers up. Again, make lemonade out of lemons. Moreover, I’ve never come across an athlete/client who didn’t need to work on their core stability/strength. The point is, you still have a lot of options and you can undoubtedly maintain a training effect during this time.

Good luck and keep me posted!

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