I try to communicate with my clients each week, and today I got a message back after asking about the lack of one client’s progress in her program. She responded that she had had a bit of a setback with some pain returning, and after reading further into the email, I found it she's been focusing mostly on the fitness and higher intensity exercises of her plan and totally ignoring the corrective exercises. And I get it. Rehab isn’t exciting and it's not fun. We are eager to get back to enjoying the activities that we used to do. We don’t want to step back and focus on rebuilding that foundation because it’s work, and work usually isn’t the most fun.
But here’s the deal, a return to play program has many ingredients, and it’s kind of like baking a cake.
You have to put all of the ingredients in your recipe into the mix in the correct amounts in order to enjoy a delicious cake. If you leave out an ingredient, the cake probably won’t come out well or make not taste too great. Sometimes we can substitute ingredients that fit better with our approaches to nutrition, but we also make sure that those substitutions have the same effects as the original ingredients. If we screw up the measurements of the ingredients in the cake, then is doesn’t taste right either. To get the perfect and most delicious cake, we must follow the recipe to a “T”, ensuring that all of the ingredients are added in the amounts indicated, we bake the batter for the appropriate time at the right temp. We might need to test it to see if it’s cooked and ready to eat, but ultimately we have to be sure the cake is cooked through and set before serving it. Only when you follow the recipe as written will you come out with the perfect cake,
Coming back to your sport and fitness training after injury and pain isn’t much different. As an athletic trainer, I give programs that have specific “ingredients’ meant to get you to your final goal. My recipes differ from client to client, but most include foundational restorative and functional exercise as a base, lifestyle and nutrition suggestions, and progressive fitness programming.
Here how the recipe breaks down:
- Flour: Corrective and Functional Exercise. This is your base. Without these exercises you don’t have a cake, you just have a liquidy mess. If you don’t have enough of these exercises in your plan (meaning, that you’re not completing the exercises), then your end result won’t be stable. Sometimes we adjust the amount needed depending on the outcome, but these exercises always are present. They are essential to start your road to recovery and the maintain your progress as you return to play.
- Eggs, Liquid, Oil: Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching. What we eat and how we live play a huge role in the end result of our program. I have so many clients focused on exercising because of their aesthetic state when really zeroing in on your nutrition has more influence on what your body looking like than how hard you’re working out. Yes, they play together, but when you’re trying to heal and you are not ready for higher intensity training, then nutrition is a better focus for this. In addition, some foods can keep the body in an inflammatory state and slow healing. Some of our life habits can do the same thing. Physical and emotional stress and lack of sleep specifically increase the cortisol in our systems, which can cause inflammation to stick around instead of letting our bodies move into the Regeneration Phase of healing, which has to occur in order for your body to return to training and sport. Return to play programs are designed to support the healing process and progressively return you to training. It’s important to pay attention to these suggestions in your program to support your continued progress and delay setbacks.
- Baking Powder, Salt, etc: Conditioning exercises. So just as nutrition can help with your aesthetic concerns during these programs, it is important to add in some kind of exercise to preserve the cardio conditioning you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Again, the type and amount are where we focus. I choose cardio exercises, equipment, and duration depending on that final training goal that my clients have. An endurance athlete is going to have different exercises than a strength athlete. Someone who is just wanting to stay as healthy and fit as possible without sports training goals is going to have something different as well. Knowing how to sprinkle these into a program makes a huge difference in how your cake comes out. Too much and you can tell something is off with the final product (for our purposes, it’s often a return of pain after a short time of returning to regular training). Too little and you’ll also feel off, but more in terms of feeling you’re starting from ground zero with your conditioning, which can result in overtraining and pain returning. Following a prescribed conditioning plan can make all the difference in the world for the end result.
- Add-Ins (chocolate chips, nuts, etc) - Sports-specific exercises, adventure activities, leisure activities, and the like. This is where the fun of the program comes in. If I know you are training to come back to a specific activity, then I can program some specific and more fun exercises into your plan. The key is to not do too much - only add in what supports the rest of the plan and your personal healing. When we get overzealous in adding in these activities before we’re ready, we tend to have BIG setbacks. This is especially true when we add in these extras as a replacement for the foundational flour. They might fill out some of the bulk of our program and seems to fit well, but your end result is definitely not going to be to your liking. What sounds good in your head in the moment can often have disastrous effects in the end. Wanting to sprinkling in a bit more than your recipe calls for? It’s always best to check with your Master Chef before doing so. She can help you figure out the best proportions for your desired outcome.
OK, I know that’s cheesy, but I hope it resonates a bit.
Last cake analogy. When you want a special cake for a wedding or a big event, you usually hire a master to make it for you. Or at least take a class to learn how to achieve that precious end result. You’re probably not going to question the ingredients the master is using to make the cake. The same goes for your rehab and return to play programs. You Master coach has included the components of your program and asked you to mix them in a specific way because we want you to achieve your grand result and comeback.
You may be tempted to play around the with the recipe, and while not recommended, it’s OK. But, when things start going downhill then it’s time to come back to the recipe and following it step-by-step. Although it is tedious at times, I promise that what you will accomplish in the end will be totally worth it.