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Training with an injury….yay or nay?

By 29th May 2018No Comments

My Journey from CrossFit to a broken shoulder and back.

–  Paula Downes

A bit about my injury: 6 years ago, I fell off my bike and broke my right shoulder. A metal plate and 9 screws were put in to stick the bone back together. It hurt, a lot.

I spent 3 months in a sling, and about 6 months attending painful physio, often twice a week. After all of that, the physio gave up and told me that the range of motion I had (~70%), would be the best I’ll get and I’d have to live with having a weak arm. That wasn’t good enough as far as I was concerned!

A year after my original surgery, I joined a Crossfit gym. One of my first workouts included wall balls, I was angry with myself at how easily everyone was throwing so high when I couldn’t even lift it over my head. I worked closely with coaches, did extra mobility at home and gradually introduced overhead movements with light weights and/or lower reps. It was a frustratingly slow process but within a year I regained 100% range of motion, I could do strict pull ups and I’m still very proud of my 2x30kg OH squats in Open event 14.2.

Thats me attempting some wall balls on the left
2 reps in 14.2
A 40kg Thruster

The metal plate was irritating my arm, and giving me some pain and minor restrictions so my surgeon thought it would be best to take it out, the bone had healed well so we expected no complications, surgery and recovery went really well and I was back using my arm within 6 weeks.

Post surgery bruising
The plate & screws (I kept them!)

After a while my shoulder strength sort of plateaued. I could do weighted pull ups with relative ease and manage some legless rope climbs, but push ups were super difficult and caused me pain afterwards… My anterior deltoid (the muscle at the front of your shoulder responsible for pushing movements) was visibly atrophied (wasted) and not getting better, so a physio I was attending suggested getting a nerve conduction test done. This involved sticking needles into different parts of my shoulder and sending an electric current through it. The nerve for my deltoid gave no reaction whatsoever, and the conclusion was that I had irreversible nerve damage. Yay.

I’ve had to re-evaluate how I would approach the gym. This injury is for life, I’ll never do a 50kg jerk again, push ups will always be a killer, overhead squats and double unders just mean pain (not the good kind). Quitting Crossfit was not an option. I considered it, and took some time off, but I love it too much – Crossfit changed my life (a story for another day) and I wasn’t willing to quit – still amn’t!

Recently I discovered I have a torn rotator cuff in the same shoulder, probably an unnoticed side effect from the original injury that gradually got worse. I’m working on getting that fixed at the moment… but still training.

Some things I’ve learned over my 5 years Crossfitting with an injury that I hope will help others:

Injuries don’t mean you can’t go to the gym. With most injuries there is still something you can do! Talk to the coaches, I have yet to meet a coach who isn’t willing to modify a workout to accommodate an injury, they tend to get creative which is fun. For me, this usually means extra lunges or squats but the silver lining is I’ll get super swole legs!!

You probably can’t train every day, and that’s ok. I learned this the hard way. If one body part is injured, you’ll be putting extra pressure on another part. For me, my legs take the brunt – and doing leg day 6 days a week isn’t realistic (for most people). Even if you go to the gym 3 times a week, you’re still doing better than most of the population!

Take your time. Do the rehab. Do the annoying, boring accessory exercises & stretches. Gradually re-introduce movements and stop if you have pain. Recovery shouldn’t be taken lightly, I can’t stress how important this is. You’re in this body for the long term, you only get one spine. Get a plan together with some goals, it’ll help! I gave myself a year to get one strict pull up, and then I didn’t allow myself to start learning to kip until I was able to do six consecutive strict. Be patient!!

Perspective is important: we want to be healthy when we’re older, avoid the nursing homes and osteoporosis – I can still do that without hitting big snatch PRs!


It’s frustrating, but you need to get over it (I’m still terrible at this). The Open is easily the worst for me. Watching folks get their first ring muscle ups or HSPU, congratulating them, being happy for them but knowing you might not even have the option to try it. Its really difficult, and there’s no easy solution. Concentrate on your own goals, little wins become huge wins when you’re injured, and they can be extremely rewarding because you know you had to work that little bit harder to get it!

I guess the main point of this post is to mention that injury is not the end of the world, if you’re smart about it you can recover well, make progress and still have fun!

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