“Should you be doing that…?”

Injury rehabilitation

“Should you be doing that?”

I’ve heard that question asked a lot.  It used to piss me off a lot.  Someone close to me was involved in a car crash.  And while she was recovering and regaining her health in the gym, she was constantly told to not do anything, to lay down and don’t do stuff.

Over the last few years, I’ve worked with a fair few people with various injuries, and I’ve heard people ask them the same question.  Should they be exercising, building their strength and improving their health?

For a year or 2 I’ve been working with stroke survivors with their rehab.  When we have someone new in for the class or for one to one sessions, they invariably get asked “should you be doing that?”

When I snapped my achilles (click here for details) people even asked me that bloody question too!  Me!

And a close friend has recently pulled something in her back and is having some short term trouble doing some moves without pain.  And because we have continued training, she has also been asked “should you be doing that?”

These days, that question doesn’t piss me off any more.  I now realise when people ask it, they are always well meaning and are simply asking out of genuine concern.  I have no problem with that.  In fact, it is nice to see that people, even complete strangers, care.

But I would like everyone to stop and think about it for a moment.  Because I’m afraid that question doesn’t do any of us any good.  It doesn’t help anyone.  And at worst, it may be making things worse…

The negative/defensive frame of mind.

99% of the time, when someone asks “should you be doing that?”, the subtext and implication of the question is “you shouldn’t be doing that”.  Whether you mean it or not, it is suggesting:

  • I don’t think you should do that.
  • You are not capable enough to do that
  • You are not competent to do that
  • You are not good enough to do that
  • You are too broken to do that
  • Let’s add this to the growing list of things you are not able to do

It can instil a negative, or defensive frame of mind in the person being asked.  It reminds them of things they cannot do.  It suggests better safe than sorry, if in doubt, hold back.  Don’t try something different or new, just in case.  Don’t push anything or try too hard.

In fact, it is the exact opposite of all the inspiring stories we get told as children…

  • You can do anything if you try hard enough
  • The world is your oyster
  • Don’t be scared, get out there and give it a try

Can you imagine a child being brought up while being told they are not good enough to do anything?  If you are told something time and again, you start to believe it, regardless of your age.  It is a self fulfilling prophecy.

A better way of doing things.

So can I suggest a better way of doing things?  First of all (as always), we educate ourselves.  My favourite questions I make sure I get the answers to are:

  • Is there anything that we should be doing?
  • Is there anything that we should not be doing?

And the more detailed the answers the better.  Here is a case in point:

One client was told that she should not do “any weight training” but should “try to keep moving”.  That was quite a vague answer.  It means nothing to help her maintain her strength and leaves us with just cardio exercises.  So she decided she was going to go running.  That would be fine, wouldn’t it?

But when we asked further, it turns out she should actually avoid compression of the spine.  So that means only a few weight training options are out of bounds, a hell of a lot of weight training options are now back on the table, and actually, running is something she should avoid!  Did you know that when running, every time your foot lands, there are quite a lot of compressive forces going through your spine?

So by getting good answers to just those 2 simple questions above, we have a lot of options we can try.

And from this point forwards, I treat everyone the same:

  • Use it or lose it
  • Practice makes permanent
  • Hard work is good, pain is bad
  • Always have a Plan B

I don’t care if they have an injury, if they have suffered a stroke, if they have snapped an achilles, if they have a bad back or if they are a bloody Olympic athlete!

  • We are all human.
  • We all adapt through experience.
  • We are not made of cotton wool.

So to finish with, I’m going to give you the template letter I give my injured clients.  They take it to their physio and ask them to fill out the details so we can work through it in training.  I ask them to do this, because we never remember details when we are with a professional!  They tell us stuff, we nod in agreement and promptly forget it all as soon as we walk out the door.

Feel free to use this template to help you figure out your way around any injury or recovery you find yourself with.

Click here for the letter to give your physio.

6 thoughts on ““Should you be doing that…?””

  1. Brilliant article Cerin, it really reflects your can do attitude which makes training with you so much fun. I haven’t had injuries personally, but I do have personal experience of a family member who has taken the ‘don’t do…’ advice to heart and what I know for a fact is that you are 100% spot on!

    1. Thank you!
      It is a bugger when people are constantly being told they can’t do things…If we are not careful, we may start to believe it…

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