Ask any of my clients and they will tell you that I am an expert in working around all sorts of physical and mental limitations. For example:
Client text: I tweaked my knee and so I don’t think I should workout today.
Coach Pritam reply: We can do all kinds of things that don’t involve your knee, I’ll see you soon!
Client about to (safely) progress to lifting more weight than they ever have: I don’t think I can do this
Coach Pritam reply: Oh, I know you can! (They proceed to successfully lift the weight and break through their own self-defined limits of their capabilities.)
Indeed, in all my years of training, I can count on one hand the times that I’ve been unable to work around an issue that one of my clients or athletes has presented.
As this last year has humbly reminded me, though, I am not so good at applying those same principles to myself.
More than a year ago, I suffered a hamstring injury. There was no sharp pain or obvious cause, so it was hard to pinpoint, but something was indeed wrong. However, me being me, I was easily able to continue on with my normal workouts and activity. Eventually, however, the discomfort became impossible to ignore. Diagnosed as high hamstring tendinopathy, it evolved into a painful, chronic and persistent injury and a significant limitation in my workouts, mood, and even daily life. (Simply sitting, something we do repeatedly and for extended periods every day, causes pain and sets back the healing process.)
I’m now one year into actively treating this painful issue and there’s no telling how much longer it will take to heal. Meanwhile, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my own limitations and how I handle them. Here’s what my experience has taught me:
Do Your Best
I defaulted to my proven methods of dealing with injury, including rest, stretching, foam rolling, Active Release Technique, reducing weight, sets and repetitions in my workouts as well as eliminating exercises that clearly aggravated my hamstring. I also researched this injury thoroughly and tried to rehab it on my own. Nothing that I attempted improved this injury. But we always have to give it our very best effort.
Accept Your Reality
My reality was that I was powerless to fix this or work around it. This was humbling to accept as a fitness professional. Even doing nothing it worse! Once I admitted this to myself, I could take the next step. Eventually, the reality of any given situation must be accepted before we can move forward.
Find the Right Kind of Support for You
I visited a highly-regarded orthopedic surgeon, who referred me to a physical therapist. But only after hundreds of dollars, months wasted, and additional problems brought on by the prescribed treatment, did it become painfully clear that I had not found the right support. That physical therapy practice was great for many people, but not for me. Frustrated, I went online to seek out an alternative physical therapist, where I found, after a brief search, an independent physical therapist who turned out to be a game-changer for me. Support is important. The right kind of support is crucial.
Change Your Perspective
When I started working with my physical therapist, Steve, I was physically hurting and mentally beat down, too mired in my own frustration to see anything beyond my perceived overwhelming limitations. My outlook was pretty pessimistic but Steve provided a much-needed objective view of my situation. He didn’t just prescribe me exercises, he helped me to change my approach, recommit to my rehab and exercise program and resume taking care of myself in areas I had let go. This is the role I have played for my clients but in this scenario, I was unable to do it for myself. It is totally possible to do shift our mindset on our own, but sometimes we need an objective reminder from outside of ourselves. Either way, if we can’t change our thinking and approach, we can’t move beyond our limitations.
My hamstring is far from healed. But I have resumed some activities and I can see more on the horizon, with a clearer mind and a renewed sense of confidence. Most importantly, I never entirely gave up hope. We must never give up hope.
Limitations are a part of our physical and mental selves; whether thoughts, beliefs or perceptions or physical issues, injuries or challenges. It’s easy to focus on what we feel is missing and much harder to turn our attention to the many capabilities that we do have. I am humbled and grateful for this experience because it reminds me that once we find the correct path, there is always a way forward. Always!
— By Pritam Potts
Coach Pritam Potts is a writer and strength coach. After 16+ years of training athletes and clients of all ages as co-owner of Edmonds-based Advanced Athlete LLC, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. She writes about health & fitness, grief & loss, love & life at www.advancedathlete.com.