How to get back in the gym quicker after an injury

Getting hurt sucks-especially because an injury can throw off your entire routine.

While you're probably focused on treatment in the immediate aftermath of your injury, there's a tough reality you'll have to face soon after: You’ll need to take a break from training for a while. For some people, that's even worse than getting hurt.

No matter the extremity of your injury or duration of your recovery, it’s important to give your body the time it needs to heal. As you start to get back into training again, you need to be extra cautious to avoid any setbacks that will derail your progress or worse, cause another injury.

If you go about it the right way, you can still feel strong and accomplished while you're recovering from injury without pushing yourself too far, too soon. We asked some experts about the best ways to return to form, and they gave us five tips to help you get back into your workouts. Take their advice-but for the best guidance, make sure to talk to your doctor, too.


Mark Your Calendar

The timeframe for your return to form will vary depending on our injury, but you can probably count on a simple formula to give you an idea of how long recovery will take.

“For getting your cardio / endurance back up, you can expect a challenge that is proportional to the amount of time that you were ‘out’ with your injury,” Tyler Spraul, CSCS, head trainer for, explained to

If you're forced out of the action for two weeks, you can likely plan to be back to peak performance around the end of a month after your injury. If a major setback like surgery or a broken bone pushes you out longer, however, you'll probably have a lot more work to do to return to form.

You should start simple and make small, manageable increases over time, without putting excess strain on your body. “If you haven't been able to walk for a long time, you will need to slowly build up over time-otherwise you will risk more injuries and downtime,” Spraul said.


You can use your soreness (or pain, if it comes back) to help you gauge if you can progress to another level, according to Austin Misiura, DPT, OCS, CSCS, and owner of Pure Physical Therapy in Miami, FL.

“If you have minimal to no soreness following a workout, you can increase the intensity during your next session of the same variety (i.e. if your chest isn’t too sore after bench pressing, add 5 to 10 lbs. for the next workout),” he said.

Feel accomplished with each small victory, and be patient-it will take some time to get back to your peak, and that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. If you need breaks, take them.

Skip Out on the Long Runs

If you were crushing intense cardio circuits or long runs up until you went down, don’t expect your body to magically return to that same level immediately post-injury. As days go by without working out, you begin to lose muscle and endurance.


This is especially true if you're sidelined for longer than two weeks, according to Misiura. At that point, there will be a noticeable decline in aerobic capacity. When you get back on the running trail, ease into your workouts.

“You should therefore decrease your training volume to accommodate, and to decrease risk of re-injury. We use active resting or interval cycles to regain endurance quickly,” he said.

If you were used to running for an hour, you would still exercise for an hour; however, Misiura suggested switching things up. Alternate between running and “fitness walking,” instead.

“Fitness walking is a mindful, brisk walk where you intentionally swing your arms to stimulate more muscle contraction, not unlike power walking,” he said. "You will still be working your aerobic energy system vs. totally resting or even walking at your normal walking pace, [which] will allow for much faster return to your prior level,” he explains.

Lighten the Load


Weight training is especially tricky to return to post injury, and you shouldn't even return to the gym before you get the green light.

“It's important to get cleared by your physician or physical therapist before doing any kind of weight training,” Spraul said. “Once you're cleared, you can start with bodyweight moves and then transition into light weighted movements."

How light should you go? Probably lighter than you think. "While [the types of weights you use] definitely depends on the type of injury you are returning from and the amount of time you have taken off, it’s always smarter to start much lighter than what you would expect to be able to do,” said Misiura.

“The nervous system loses the adaptations you have created with strength training in about a month, so these will need to be relearned before returning to your regular routine. You also need to be aware that you will be sore again after the workout, so it’s better to start lighter,” he explained.

Misiura offered an example: For an athlete with a back injury that has been out for a month, start at 75 percent of the weight used previously. Then, adjust the load from there.


Keep the Intensity Low

As much as you might want to rush back into your favorite bootcamp or CrossFit workout as soon as you're back on your feet, you're going to have to pump the brakes and hold off.

“I would recommend avoiding HIIT and Crossfit-style classes until you've had some time to build back up and at least make some progress towards your original strength and endurance levels,” Misiura said. “Otherwise, you might get tempted to get caught up in the competition factor and push beyond your limits, leading to injury."

Practice the type of workout you'll be asked to perform on your own to prep for the class, so you can have a realistic idea of what you can handle. "This will allow you to assess your tolerance not only while you are lifting, but also to better assess your tolerance to the workout volume based on the soreness you have following the workout,” said Misiura.

Once you do set foot into a class setting again, let the instructor or trainer know the nature and severity of your injury before you begin. “We can adapt the exercises you will be doing to prevent further injury and help you recover,” said Ramsey Bergeron, NASM, CPT and owner of Bergeron Personal Training in Scottsdale, Arizona.


Focus on What You Can Do

Remain as optimistic as possible, and take the chance to make your weaknesses into strengths.

"Often, we focus on the negatives of being injured and don't think about what we can do instead," Bergeron said. "If you have a shoulder injury, concentrate on lower body exercises that don't require you to use the shoulder in the gym. After tearing a ligament in my thumb in a skiing accident, I wasn't able to lift weights for a few weeks, but I could work with resistance bands with much less pain, so I did.”

Figure out what body parts you can safely work in the meantime, and get stronger and leaner in those areas. Take things slow, and use this opportunity to build a strong foundation, so you can avoid future injuries down the road, too.


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