Returning to Training After an Injury

Written by Coach Mary Beth Hemphill with special help from Member, Erica Wong

In everyday life there are risks that we take and sometimes those risks result in injury. As an athlete, injuries are important to acknowledge when training. Why? So that pain and damage don’t get worse! It can be tricky to figure out how to proceed after you know that some element of your body feels off. Your CrossFit affiliate can continue to be the place for you to go when recovering from injury, but keep in mind that this situation requires communication with your Coaches and patience with yourself. Adopting a recovery mindset is hard, but important when making your comeback. Over the last two years, I’ve contended with shoulder pain and a broken wrist. Erica, a Tidal York Mills athlete, sustained a forearm injury right before the Open this year. She was kind enough to share her experience with me, so we could come together to share what we have learned with you! If you have contended with an injury which impacts your life or fitness routine, we hope this article gives you encouragement and some ideas of helpful mindset tenets to support your comeback.


Before we go on, it’s important to recognize that we are not healthcare professionals, nor attempting to tell you what to do to resolve injuries you may have. Returning to full health and full-force training is a skill you can develop. Each injury is different, and everyone’s recovery process is different. Listen to your body and seek advice from healthcare professionals. This article sheds light on some of the mindset strategies which may help you speed up your own recovery.  

Lessons for a Better Comeback:


Please, please let your Coaches know if you are experiencing pain, or know you have an injury. Checking in, and discussing your condition with your Coach will help them modify the workout so that you can participate without doing further harm. Erica let her primary instructor know that she had hurt her arm and realized that her condition wasn’t improving after a few days’ rest. She described what movements in her day were painful to her Coach. From there, all of the staff were able to think ahead about what scaling options were possible for Erica. As she met with her Physician and Physiotherapist, Erica continued to update her Coaches about her recovery and health practitioners’ recommendations regarding activity while she healed. This communication ensured her Coaches were ready to help her. She took the initiative to look ahead at the gym’s programming and collaborated with her Coach to scale each days’ WOD.

Accept & Embrace Modifications.

Another factor to consider is how you, the athlete, are going to feel going back to class. Erica and I both experienced trepidation returning to the gym after we realized we were hurt. In our own ways, we felt our confidence shaken. With my broken hand, I remember being apprehensive in class and needing to scale absolutely everything. I felt sad and incapable (code for a bruised ego!).  Erica had a similar experience, where “Part of me didn’t want to return until I was closer to full recovery because it was a challenge to see myself struggle…”.  Thinking or feeling like this is totally normal especially as individuals who care about their capabilities in the gym! Re-framing these feelings and coming to terms with these thoughts is part of the growth process that comes with a return from injury.


We can, however, redirect our defeated mindset, the result of caring about our fitness, into caring about recovery. You can look forward to doing the work to heal. Erica stresses the importance of taking recovery day by day, “Looking for strength and mobility improvements each day was enough to keep me on the positive track.” This might look like opting for slower, more controlled variants of movements in the gym, or dedicating a portion of your fitness time each day to correcting movement patterns, performing mobility drills – the “un-sexy” stuff, if you will. Don’t get us wrong, this is hard to commit to. But worth it, because instead of making recovery a negative experience, it becomes one of progress – it’s just a different sort of progress to what we may normally be used to.


Another positive mindset tenet which helps when injured, is to focus on what you can do. You are still very capable! Erica’s right, “There is always something you can work on… moving is what matters most…”. While recovering from my broken hand, I enjoyed getting to squat… a lot – squatting remains one of my favourite movements, and I got WAY better at it while my hand was out of commission. Erica also took the marvelous initiative to use her recovery time to work on weaknesses. She returned to the pool, and improved her swimming by “… practicing drills to become better… I ended up gaining more confidence (in this activity)!” Erica and I found ways to redirect our performance and  intensity toward activities in which we were fully capable.

Reach Out.

Erica and I both recommend that people contending with injury to seek support. Whether that means spending time with family, friends, or your peers at the gym. Chances are someone within your social circles have had similar setbacks, and may have wisdom to share. You can bet that they want to see you come back stronger as well – they are in your corner!


In many cases, continuing to go to CrossFit classes is not only possible but going to be helpful as you return to full strength. Communicate your current capacities to your Coach, they can help you scale and modify movements so that you get the most out of the day’s programming. It is important to continue to condition the parts of your body which aren’t injured, as it will speed the healing process. Safe, controlled, progressive use and loading is part of rebuilding tissue – emphasis on safe and controlled!  Most importantly, class is fun! It’s a positive part of your day. It’s very fun to celebrate with your Coaches and peers when you make rehab strides as well. It was fun to watch Erica gradually re-integrate complex skills into her workouts as days and weeks passed.


In summary, your Affiliate team is here for you if you are struggling with an injury. We can empathize with what you’re going through. We can help you stay on track physically with your fitness routine and mentally through supporting a recovery mindset. We encourage you to connect with us and let us know how you are doing as you recover. We want to see you back training hard, healed, and happy.


– Mary Beth Hemphill (Coach at Tidal CrossFit York Mills)