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How to Exercise with an Injury/Disability

Updated: Aug 16, 2018

By Alice | @alicefowlefitness | August 16, 2018

How to Exercise with an Injury/Disability

We all have read studies saying that we should be doing 10,000 steps a day, or that we should be doing 30 minutes of exercise a day. For a lot of people, they choose to ignore this as work is hectic or they just hate exercising, so it's different for them. However, for quite a lot of people, exercise can lead to injury or just an injury prevents us from exercising. If this sounds a bit like you, you are in the right place.


It’s not uncommon for people to have injuries. The problem is, when people, unfortunately, have an accident, they will probably assume that exercising is off the cards. This was the case for me for a very long time and I let my disability stop me from doing the things I wanted to do. Before I let my disability control my active life, I was competing in swimming at county level and was training 7 times a week. It took 1 gala for me to let the pain control me and for me to quit swimming completely. I didn’t know that in reality, all I needed to do was to modify my exercise to make it manageable for the pain that I have now.


It took me 6 years to realise that exercising isn’t something to run away from (not literally, I can’t do that). I’ve now been able to modify the exercise I do depending on my level of pain. I also understand my boundaries, not going to the gym if I can’t walk downstairs (for example). 


1. Don’t try and do what you did prior to your injury

Realizing this now, trying to swim 7-8 times a week when I was in excruciating pain probably wasn’t the best idea. Now I can see that for starters, swimming 7 times a week is quite abnormal. Secondly, by reducing any pressure from my legs, I was able to swim just as far but just with different drills and no kicking. If you are thinking about taking up swimming for a bit of physical therapy, I couldn’t recommend it anymore. It’s basically non-weight-baring, non-contact and super relaxing. It’s also so easy to adapt your session depending on your injury. For example, if you have a shoulder injury, avoid using a pull-buoy and backstroke but try to strengthen your kicking and breaststroke. Basically, do the opposite for feet problems. 


2. Watch fitness videos

When I first entered a gym around 2 years ago, I literally had no idea what I was doing in terms of whether I should have been doing HIT or aerobic or cardio or weights. By watching Instagram videos such as Alice Liveing, Stef_fit and LinnLowes, I was able to see what types of exercises I could DEFINITELY NOT do and which ones I should be trying. Just type in workouts on the Instagram search or go to Pinterest and find print-outs to try out in the gym (like this one).

It did take me around 18 months to finally understand that I would NEVER be able to do lunges and that I can only do planks when my pain is a 3/10 (on my pain scale) or below. I only was able to understand this by watching these 1-minute videos and then giving them a go in the gym (even if you looked a bit weird doing lots of different exercises without doing proper reps). 


3. Don’t be embarrassed

You might find yourself with a friend or two when you exercise and when they say ‘lets do squat jumps’, don’t be embarrassed to say that you’re unable to do them. 1 in 10 girls and 1 in 16 boys have some kind of adversity that impacts their life, this can include anything from having diabetes, dyslexia or mental health disorders. By saying that you can’t do pull-ups or squat jumps, don’t be embarrassed or feel like you’re weaker than them, do a sensible alternative but maybe do more reps or hold it for longer. Prove to them that you’re still fighting fit, not only to them, but it’ll make you feel better if you don’t say ‘can’t’ but rather ‘let's see’. 


4. Gym buddy or personal trainer

Now if those people in the previous point end up getting annoyed or impatient, you don’t need them there. Find someone who will be grateful that you can’t do a 2-minute plank because they’d rather do dead bugs or someone who will try to find alternatives to that plank. If this person doesn’t exist, invest in a personal trainer who specialises in disability training. All you need is a couple of sessions to give you ideas of what your goals want to be and then you can have the freedom to try what you want. 


5. Try not to get frustrated

It is awful. You are allowed to be angry and upset that this 'thing' is preventing you from living your normal life. However, this annoyance with some kind of higher power should be short-lived and after some frustration, pick yourself back up again and get back into life.

If you are struggling with getting back up again, try to plan your workout or session in advance. Choose your favourite exercises to get back into the swing of things and then find some new sets to try. It'll work-out different muscles and, if it doesn't work and you end up looking ridiculous, it'll give you something to laugh about and maybe not do again.


6. Don’t go

If you are struggling with everyday chores like walking down the stairs or opening the fridge, don’t try and exercise. Give your body some well-deserved rest and try again tomorrow. 



Alice is a 19 year old Geology student who lives in Buckinghamshire. She suffers from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and has been for 10 years. This doesn’t stop her from swimming, weightlifting and doing yoga while also teaching swimming. Her blog promotes wellbeing and a concern for climate change.


By Alice

Instagram: @alicefowlefitness

Website: thelifeofalice.com

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