Counter-Intuitive Physics as Applied to Injury
Written by Aush Chatman

Here is a fun fact about me, I majored in Physics in college (actually graduated tyvm!).  Physics was not an easy subject matter for me, but I LOVE(D) it. Trying to figure out the mechanisms of the world we see (and don’t see) is fascinating to me, I always want to know the “Why?” before I do anything, a gift and a curse. One thing I will never forget when I got into Physics 121 – the first college Physics course I ever took – was the early realization I had that whatever I thought was correct, the opposite was probably the right answer!

Counter-intuition was the name of my game that first quarter in class for me to succeed. I want to bring some of that counter-intuitive thought process to how you all view injuries and physical setbacks while training. Let me explain…

Normative Approach to Injury

The normative approach is to stop everything and focus on the injury when we get hurt. We go from a well balanced training program to 95% of our focus on getting our shoulder, back, or hip to an acceptable level of performance (often an ambiguous and ill-defined metric in the first place, which should be our first warning sign).

YouTube is the drug of choice, isn’t it?! We jump on and go down rabbit holes trying to find someone who describes our issue EXACTLY! When we find that we feel so relieved and we become a fan of anything that YouTuber said (we haven’t done anything to get better, but just that glimmer of hope is enough to lift our spirits…we’ve all been there).

This approach is understandable, an issue or challenge is staring you in the face, and not only is it there, but you FEEL it every time you pick up an object or try to reach up to wash your hair and it hurts. You have a bum shoulder and every prescribed pushing movement or overhead movement taunts you about it. Your body is yelling at you, but what is it yelling? Is it yelling, “Hey, FIX ME!” OR, is it not really yelling, but telling, “Hey, ease up on this part of me for a while.” (guess which I am going to choose)

Shifting Paradigms Surrounding Injury

First there is no wrong here, we 100% want to take action to rehab and strengthen our injured shoulder (in my example above). Ask coaches, scour YouTube, get a plan, work on it, and get it healthy. Perfect! Think about what REALLY fixes your issues though. It is your own body that has to do the work to heal you. In today’s COVID-19 influenced environment I couldn’t help but think of how vaccines work.

 “A vaccine works by TRAINING the immune system to recognize and combat pathogens, either viruses or bacteria.” (From, emphasis, mine)

That is probably oversimplified, but it proves a point here. We need the vaccine, just as we need the surgery, or injection, or exercise plan for our bum shoulder, but what really does the work is the internal functions of your body. Oftentimes being as healthy in general as possible (internally) is the best way to ensure success and healing from the external helps.

Do This When Injured

So what I am getting at then, is, when injuries happen, and they do, for everybody. Instead of placing all of your attention for the next however long on the injured part of your body, SHIFT the paradigm and focus your attention on how to train in various modalities AROUND the injury. How can you keep a more balanced training approach? Allow your body to do its job on its own, it wants to heal up, trust it! (AND of course, some focused work on the injured area, is wise). It will be a challenge and it is always annoying to have to work around these issues, but keep your mindset positive, and leave the excuses in the past.

Benefits of Shifting Your Injury Paradigm

Mental/Emotional Benefit – Sitting on the couch because you are hurt only leads to depression. We are huma, we need to move!  Think about how good you feel mentally after you get a good sweat on. There are so many studies about this, but anecdotally we all already know that truth! No matter how bummed you are about your shoulder going out, again, remember a great tool to get OVER that is to in fact, workout!

Physical Benefit – I see two primary benefits:

  1. Develop strength or other skills – Working around a bum shoulder, may allow you to really work on mobility or strength for your pistol e.g., or maybe really put some weight on your glute bridge or work on your splits (yep another plug for another of my IG challenges @aush_forexample).  Limitless possibility here.

  2. Help the healing process – Just getting the blood flowing will help the injured area, but there are studies on unilateral (One side) training helping to “spare” the atrophy of the untrained contralateral side (Other side).  Now how cool is that!  There are even more factors, releasing more Growth Hormone and Testosterone which are anabolic (help build new tissue) hormones will also assist with the injured area.

Onward to healing!

What part of your body is ailing you now? How have you elected to let that affect you? How much are you helping your body heal itself and how much are you getting in the way? Remember to get a plan together but most of your workout time SHOULD NOT be spent on rehabbing the injured area! (Let’s say it together, Coun-ter-In-tui-tive) Spend most of your time training as you normally would leaving the injured part of your body out of it. Then spend some time on your rehab work. Then rest! Find a new skill or strength to develop and spend at least the same amount of time on that as you do on your rehabilitation work. As always if you are struggling with an injury or your mindset, hit me up and let’s talk about it!

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Bradley Oliver
Bradley Oliver

I have found exactly what you say as gospel. PAILS and RAILS have been a game changer. Thank you for all your guidance