Don’t Let That Injury Derail You

Share This:

Today’s guest post comes from a former distance coaching of mine, Australian strength coach Shannan Maciejewski. Shannan started working with me when he was coming of a pretty serious ankle injury, and he hired me to help him sift through the program design process as he worked his way back to playing competitive rugby.

As a funny aside, speaking of contact sports, I had a very brief history playing football back in the day.  I tried out for the football team in 7th grade and lasted a week.

After getting crushed for five straight days I handed in my helmet and pads and decided I’d rather collect baseball cards and play wiffleball in my backyard.

Nonetheless, Shannan offered to write a guest post and thought the theme he came up with was spot on to a lot of what I write about on this site.  Which is:  yeah, you’re hurt.  But that doesn’t mean you still can’t train.  Learn to make lemonade out of lemons!


It’s 3.45pm and you receive a call.


“I am just calling to let you know that I got crunched at training last night and am only just able to walk. I am going to have to cancel todays session at 4”

A few things go through your head…

-Is this just a cop out?

-Hmmmm, it is lower body day? I’ll go to hell if he doesn’t deadlift.

Your response

“That’s ok mate, come on in I will tweak the session for you”.

Being able to adjust on the fly or even plan in and around injuries is an extremely important aspect of a coach’s job. Tony has brought it up before on here, and I am going to shed some further light into creating a positive training response while recovering or dealing with the mud that life throws at you.

As with the above example, to have the session off and do nothing would rarely be the best option.

Life is going to get in your way.

I don’t have much energy today, My car broke down, My knee hurts, My nose is snuffly, I am still sore from Monday, My Doctor said to rest, my mum said I’m special, I think I’m coming down with something, I finished work at 5.10 instead of 5, I think I slept on my arm weird, my neck hurts……………And it goes on..

I think we all can relate to something above, I know I can. Mainly the special one!

Each and every individual is unique in what they present, and that is how programming should be approached.

Now just so you know upfront, I am not a physical therapist or a physio and therefore do not treat pain. I work with other professionals to get the best outcome for everyone we have contact with. It is always best to understand what the actual injury is, or what the limitation is before you start tinkering with exercises. So if in doubt seek professional advice initially and build from there.

What I can do is shed some light on is how to incorporate smart training and programming while you feel all busted up and helpless or just in need of some immediate action points that you can incorporate to keep progressing and moving forward.

Quick Story of a client of mine.

-Debilitating and season ending low back injury from over arching and sharp movement of throwing a football.

(Not quite the same throw in, but amusing anyway)

There wasn’t much initially that didn’t hurt. Bending, leaning, twisting, running all aggravated and stopped him from playing.

12 months later he is 10kg heavier, broad jump and vertical jump has increased, deadlifting and squatting is completely pain free and now a dominant figure sitting smack bam in the mid field. Cutting, turning, jumping, sprinting is all fair game.

Below I will outline some tips for you not just in how I approached the above client, but how you can do so with yourself and your injury/mishap.

Because, as Tony always says, you can ALWAYS train around an injury.  Always

Whatever you do it must be pain free

I think this goes without saying, but it does warrant a mention. I have heard it time and time again, and I will also say it.


It does not matter if it is the number 1 exercise that your specialist or favourite guru said you should be doing. If it causes you pain or discomfort, stop it….Now!

There is always an alternative.

It won’t put you right off track if you need to sub in some Barbell hip bridges instead of your beloved deadlifts. If it means pain free, and creates a positive effect, well I am all for it.

For example do lunges hurt your knee? First off: try doing them properly. That’s a novel idea, right?

A lot of the time this alleviates some issues. I won’t go into correct form in this post, but it’s safe to say that there is a ton of info on this site that you can go back through.

Note from TG:  In fact, you can always perfect your RDL….(hint, hint).

If that’s still no good, go through a pain free range. Or as an example try these Low Co-Contraction Lunges with Anterior Pull. These allow you to feel more controlled and keep more of a vertical tibia therefore performing the exercise more effectively.

Start Point: With your right hand on Vastus Medialis (teardrop shaped muscle) and left hand on your glute and your right butt cheek squeezed hard, lift yourself off the ground a few cm.

Mid Point-End Point: Raise up stopping shy of lock out. This will keep tension throughout and reduce the range. Be prepared for the burns, and an intense stretch through your trail leg. This is fantastic to engrain 90/90 position and give instant feedback on what muscles should be working.

The point is even if it’s a magic exercise, it’s not magic for you if it hurts or aggravates an issue.

Focus on what can do, rather then what you can’t

This piggy backs on the above, but it definitely is worth mentioning.

Accept that you may not be able to perform your heavy squatting pattern for the time being, and focus on what movement you can do to create a training effect.

This is exactly the process that I went through when I broke my fibula and dislocated my ankle being tackled. Write down a list of movements that can be done pain free, and focus on these.

Can’t squat/deadlift/lunge due to injured/stiff/recovering ankle: Maybe it’s a time to hammer on your glutes and hamstrings through various supine based exercises. Lean on the cautious side and build up.

I recently just had a client who outstretched to catch a ball and his ankle blew up to balloon status. We had sumo deadlifts programmed, but ended up starting out with plenty of upper body as well as quadruped glute work, glute bridges, single leg glute work, strap leg curls and went up from there.

After a few weeks we worked up to barbell glute bridges, and now as ankle mobility has nearly been regained I am confident, as he is to slowly incorporate some standing work.

Here he is with some warm up sets on the BB glute bridge.

Try incorporating some DB pressing variations and a lot of pushup progressions, while hammering and bringing up your back strength. There is hyuuuggeee variety to use.

For example we have successfully regressed back to single arm fat grip floor presses with a neutral grip (mouthful I know) pain free. This still lends itself to some heavy lifting, while respecting the body.

Pushup variations allowing the scapula to freely move are an integral part of a complete program as well. You won’t die if some extra pushups are programmed. You may actually feel better.

It never hurts to incorporate more back/upper back work into the mix all year round too. A 2:1, sometimes a 3:1 ratio of pulling to pushing can help regain some normality in your posture and any strength deficits you may have.

Some pressing variations that tend to give the shoulders a bit more room to breathe and be a bit more joint friendly are DB floor pressing variations, Tucked neutral grip pressing exercises, ½ kneeling cable/band presses, standing split stance cable/band presses, ½ or tall kneeling corner presses. There’s more this just gets you to think outside the norm.

This variation is great as the resistance is low on the shoulder, and it is an angled press. So therefore we get a fatter grip, neutral hand position and varying resistance all while the glute is on and we get a bit of anti-extension throughout. Perfecto!

Don’t forget the other limb

There are times when being couch or bed ridden is unavoidable. Although when you are able to be up and moving around, there is then also the chance to begin to start the process in moving forward.

When we injure ourselves, or something doesn’t go quite as planned we can feel quite defeated and mentally drained.

With my ankle injury I wasn’t going to let both my legs turn to jelly and lose everything I had gained. Having 3 surgerys over a 12 month period I needed some avenues to keep me mentally and physically on top of things.

The results of the carry over were positive. Training the other limb has a slight carry over in strength and muscle control.

Choose exercises you can do, and do so with a slowly progressing volume. Most exercises can be done single side loaded or off set loaded.

On a note on stretching here is a hip flexor stretch I had to use when I couldn’t put pressure on my left foot. It worked a treat, and I used it frequently.

(All the pressure is taken off the front foot).


Hit the other half of your body hard

If you are someone who trains 4-6 times per week and can’t bare the thought of missing scheduled training sessions, then don’t.

What we can forget is that although we are injured, and recovery is number one at times, we still have 80-90% of our body to train. That’s a big chunk to me. Don’t let 10-20%  get you right off track with everything.

Get your meathead on and add in a varying upper body session. Alter the rep ranges, and go for it. Maybe even add some arms in there. I won’t judge.

If it’s your upper body, add in a lower body conditioning session, or some extra lower bodyweight exercises.

If your ankle/knee is playing up and you can’t join in team training sessions, try incorporating some battle rope conditioning sessions to jack the heart rate, and minimise joint stress.

Try these battle rope variations to keep it interesting and challenging. Not all will be able to used if you can’t walk forward or backwards but you get the idea.

Check List to kick A#*when injured and recovering

I wanted to provide you with a list to go over and sift through, and take note of what you are doing/can do/and will do to make the transition from where you currently are, to where you want to be.

– When in doubt, seek professional advice and determine your injury/restriction

– Focus on what you can do, what you can’t is not important and irrelevant

-List movements you can do pain free. Think in terms of horizontal push/pull, vertical push/pull, squat, hinge, isolation.

-What would you like to achieve in the next 2,4,8,24,52 weeks that you may be recovering etc

-Do you have any weaknesses/imbalances that you can work on and bring up?

-How many days per week do you want to train/ or can train?

-Do you have some opposite limb exercises to perform to carry over to the injured side?

-Omit the days of your current program that you can’t do, or tweak the exercises so you can do them

-Add in some pain free conditioning/metabolic methods to utilise if this is what is needed

-Surround yourself with positive people, and a powerful network that can help you when necessary

-Remain positive and know that this is short term and you can get back to your normal regime when it’s time.

Being injured and recovering takes a new skill set and different approach to training and lifestyle. Some small tweaks to your current plan, and you can remain on track, keep some normality and sanity and in general feel good that you are doing something to benefit not hinder the process.

If you have any questions, pop them below.

About the Author

Shannan Maciejewski is a strength coach from Australia and the founder of Raw Fitness and Sports Training located in Ballina NSW.

He has a strong passion for developing on and off field performance for football(soccer)players, and his no-nonsense approach and methods  produce long lasting results for many regular joes, individuals, athletes, and teams he works alongside.

He does not share the same passion for Star Wars as Tony though. Sorry!

Be sure to follow him on:



Football Specific Page



Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

Share This Post:


Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Emily

    Awesome post Shannan! Thanks for posting his article Tony. I received an email last week from one of my clients that started with "Ouch!" He had tweaked his knee squatting. "Should I come in on Saturday? What will I be able to do??" he worried. Well, I calmed him down by reminding him that he had other body parts and a backside that needed some good work. ;-) "A good time to work your glutes!" I responded. And needless to say, we worked him pretty good with a few barbell glute bridges, trap bar deadlifts, presses and RDL's to round out the session. Talk about working the posterior chain! He left happy and his knee felt great. Win-win. I have also had to really tweak my training over the past few months due to a QL issue. Can't squat? Heavy Bulgarian split squats to the rescue. Can't deadlift? Single leg deadlifts worked just fine. Glute bridges, hip thrusts and lots of pressing and rowing. I am now back to squats and deadlifts and feeling great. This is the beauty of strength training. ;)

    May 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jake

    Great write up. I sliced my finger open (like, bad) on Sunday. After having it stitched up I can't really grip anything for at least a week. Pressing is tough too because not wrapping your fingers around the whole bar is just weird (and unsafe) So now upper body days are a circuit of machines (whatever ones are available). High reps, and go for the "pump" / squeeze. Can't say it's a bad workout.

    May 14, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Ouch! Do you have access to any specialty bars like a safety squat bar? What about GHRs? You can also still hammer out some barbell glute bridges. Still plenty to do......;o)

      May 15, 2013 at 6:58 am | Reply to this comment

      • Jake

        No specialty bars, and no GHR. I never really liked barbell glute bridges because I have short legs, so the ROM just feels sooooooo short. I do like 1 leg hip thrusts with the front foot elevated. Although it's tough to add weight and they aren't really too challenging. I did do some reverse lunges yesterday though (crossed arm front squat grip)

        May 15, 2013 at 7:08 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jake Johnson

    Excellent post, and one I wish I would have had available to me two years ago when I tore my MCL. Injuries can be extremely devastating, especially for athletes who have put all of their time and energy into their sport. I still remember the day I tore my MCL. I was convinced that my baseball career was over (thought I completely blew out my knee). Luckily, it worked out better than expected, but it definitely drained me mentally and psychologically. This post is great because it shows that you don't have to just sulk around all day when injured. There are ways to continue to get better and bridge the gap between rehab and full recovery. The checklist that you provided is awesome, and I will be printing it out for future reference. Keep up the great work guys. Jake Johnson

    May 14, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Reply to this comment

  • | Shannan Maciejewski Fitness and Sports Training BallinaShannan Maciejewski Sports & Fitness Training Ballina

    [...] Click Here ————->>>> [...]

    May 14, 2013 at 10:37 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Shannan Maciejewski

    Tony, Thanks for the opportunity to do so. I am stoked it was well recieved, and that I could shed some light on the process. You have had a huge impact on me as a coach. Respect Brother

    May 14, 2013 at 10:41 pm | Reply to this comment

  • claudia

    Shannan, thanks for your post. I've been struggling with a hamstring issue for the past few months, and it is really starting to get me discouraged. It helped me to read this today!

    May 15, 2013 at 10:17 am | Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment