Lessons Learned from a Post-Injury Comeback

It was another typical Wednesday afternoon workout that including deadlifts—loading a bar up with weight and lifting it off of the ground. I’ve done these 100 times before, and except for muscle aches in my legs, had never hurt myself. Honestly, the weight wasn’t even that heavy for me. I felt a twinge on my last set but thought nothing of it. Later that day, I ran up a short hill behind our studio and felt a sharp pain in my lower left abdomen, and that’s when it became crystal clear: I had a hernia. 

Sure enough, my family doctor and then the surgeon confirmed that I indeed had an inguinal hernia, and about six weeks later I had my surgery, where they use a mesh to keep the small intestine where it belongs—inside of my abdominal wall. The procedure went well, so they tell me, but I was sore for about a week afterward, and the rotation of icepacks into and out of the freezer was constant.  

It’s been about four weeks since my procedure, and for a regular exercise and personal trainer, it’s been a challenging recovery. But like all of my setbacks—ACL reconstruction, shoulder labral tears from mountain biking and skiing accidents, sinuplasty—I’m learning something that will make me a better trainer and hopefully a better person.

While I have been able to resume walking, the impact from a light jog is more than my weakened core is ready for.  

PATIENCE: Once again, I am reminded that the human body will recover on its own timeline and to focus on small improvements rather than being dejected about how far I have to go or risk re-injury by overdoing it.

EMPATHY: Honestly, this minor setback from which I am recovering from nicely is nothing compared to some of the serious medical conditions others suffer with. But unless you’ve experienced setbacks yourself, it can be hard to empathize with others. And empathy is everything in personal training.

HUMILITY: Five-pound dumbbell raises that are usually reserved for beginner clients and little old ladies in their 80s are making my shoulders burn. My legs were sore from a 30-minute walk in our neighborhood. I have to be careful just sitting up to get out of bed. I have to ask others for help lifting objects that should be easy for me to lift.  

APPRECIATION: “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”  Yes, it’s a cheesy ’80s song by the hair-metal band Cinderella, but’s it’s also true. As I feel myself slowly getting stronger each day, I am more appreciative of my good health than I ever could be without the setback.

GOAL SETTING: I do better if I have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in front of me to work toward. It helps me to stay focused on the daily disciplines required to reach that goal and gives me a reason for doing the work. The bucket-list goal I’ve set for myself is to complete a four-day bike trip through the Andes Mountains in Argentina this winter with my wife and a group of friends.   

My advice to anyone on the comeback path from injury is to focus on the hidden blessings, take things one day at a time, and then enjoy the journey back to being 100 percent.  

Andrew Henderson is the owner and operator of Fitness Together.