Day 16: Stay Limber. Stretch – This might go without saying, but it’s also an easy thing to forget, especially if you’re constantly pre-occupied with other things going on in life. If you aren’t doing any other kind of training during your time off, at least do yourself the favor of preventing your muscles from getting completely stiff. This is the first and maybe most important thing to do in order to avoid other potential injuries. If you don’t see the benefit of it, more than likely you need to be more consistent about it. As in every day consistent. Pick areas you want to focus on, or set a goal for yourself. Every morning and night I focus on my glutes and hamstrings. Maybe your shoulders are constantly tight. Work on loosening up your rotator muscles and deltoids. Or say, “when I am able to start training again, I want to be able to touch my nose to my knee in a seated-forward bend.”
Day 17: Be realistic with expectations – At this point, less than two weeks from returning to the gym, even if you’ve been staying in shape, you may be starting to feel those other muscles that are getting the time off start to tire out a little bit. That’s expected. You’re in recovery mode. With this in mind, you have to be cognizant that competing and training at the level you were before giving in to recovery is not what is going to happen. And more importantly, it can’t be forced to happen. The first time I came back to climbing from a serious tendon injury (this was before I was bouldering seriously), I was floored when I couldn’t send 5.12 and hard 5.11 anymore right away. Whatever your injury, things just need time to regain their strength after they’ve healed. It takes patience, but once you learn the gravity of taking post-injury training cautiously, it won’t be an issue.
Day 18: Monitor your diet – Maybe this goes without saying also, but when you aren’t on your normal training schedule, watching what you eat is incredibly important. The last thing you want is to be carrying extra weight, even 5 extra pounds when you return to your normal training mode. Keep in mind that whatever your sport, your diet might be a little different, and each training regimen requires different amounts of macronutrients. You have to adjust it according your own body. Universally though, it’s best to avoid a lot of sweets and fats during this time. Keep it lean and keep it nutrient-dense. In other words, consume foods with a lot of nutrients but few calories. I’m not a dietitian. I know what I need for my own body; I can’t tell you what you specifically need for you, but I can give you some tips that are mainly from experience (and I’ve done my share of research in the past as well)
- Don’t mindlessly snack. Don’t stop eating completely (this is bad bad bad), but don’t mindlessly grab for the extra carbs that you aren’t using. Remember that to an athlete, food is fuel, not just a means to satisfy hunger. But when you aren’t expending endless amounts of fuel for a given time, unfortunately your diet has to stop acting endless during that time as well, especially if you aren’t doing the extra cross-training.
- Plan meals ahead to make it interesting. Now is a great time to try new healthy recipes since you aren’t doing your normal 2-3 hour session at the gym 5-6 days a week.
- Fluids: still drink a lot of water, and avoid alcohol. Alcohol sneaks in so many calories on its own, not to mention the extra food you need to soak it up to prevent a hangover.
A great site to check out if you’re a climber is Climb Healthy. It offers blog posts, recipes, and tips on what foods are suggested to optimally enhance climbing performance by Registered Dietician Aicacia Young.
Day 19: Put things in perspective – My back still hurts most days at this point, but I’m not disabled. I can still do a ton of things (carefully self-monitored of course), and I could be a lot worse off. I’m not terminally ill, I’m not paralyzed, and I have financial support with my physical therapy. Big picture considered, I’m doing just fine. I’ve hit a personal hiccup and I’m dealing with it. I’m just thankful that I have the means to deal with it that help me keep my sanity.
Day 20: People aren’t going to think less of you – I’ve often thought that I was going to be judged if I couldn’t climb as hard when I got back. Trust me, whatever your sport is, you have people there who are going to support you, even when you struggle up a v3, or are winded after just a mile. Taking care of yourself is never something to frown upon. It means you have respect for your well-being. Others can sense that self-respect, and trust me when I say that they will mirror it back to you. There’s no shame in injury and having to fight your way back. The fact that you want to fight back says enough. Plus people now get to know other things about you, and so do you. I’m trying to be more proactive in other areas of my life, and I have to say that I am enjoying it.