Mark's Blog

19 2013 JUN
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overcoming obstacles and injuries

Hello and welcome to my first blog, its rather long and casual entry. Seen as though I’ve spent most of the 2013 Rugby League season injured with a broken arm and then snapped two ligaments in my knee I thought injury and overcoming them would be a great topic to focus on.

Pre-season had gone great. I felt strong, fit, fast and powerful and was excited about the upcoming season as with the squad at Batley we had in place I knew we would be challenging for honors on every front. Then 5 games in, I went in to make a tackle and came out of it feeling a sharp pain in my right forearm. My first thought was it was just a bad ‘dead arm’ and just to ‘man-up’ and ignore the pain (Rugby League players aren’t known for their brains). A few minutes passed and the pain was getting worse and worse so I thought I’d just try put a big tackle on to prove to myself that all was good and all that was needed was to toughen up. So when the chance came I launched into tackle expecting it to finally put my mind at ease so I could just focus on the game and not the pain in my right forearm. Needless to say a few seconds later I was taken off the field unable to continue after having felt like my arm had snapped in two and the pain had jumped up a few notches! That night was the worse sleep (well I had my eyes closed) I’d ever had in my life as every move I made my arm gave me a sharp pain letting me know something wasn’t right so the following morning off I went to the hospital for an X-ray that showed I’d broken my radius in 2 places……happy days.

I feel there are two ways you can look at being injured, firstly you can sulk. You get depressed and think the whole world is against you and let your training suffer as a consequence. When you do this, been injured is a very lonely place, you don’t want to talk to anyone, see anyone you just get angry that this has happened to you of all people. Every athlete thinks they are somehow different to every other human and can withstand injuries normal people can’t but unfortunately we all suffer injury at some point in our career/life.

The second way is to turn an injury into a positive and to focus on other areas of training you wish to improve and come back even stronger, fitter and faster than before. Stay positive and plan to use your time wisely, stay around the team so you don’t feel like you’re not contributing and generally just stay positive and see the light at the end of the tunnel. By now you’re probably saying option 2 sounds the prettiest and I would have to agree but before you get to option 2 you normally experience option 1. I’ve tried both options and believe me option 1 is a very sad and lonely place that you never want to visit.

When I was younger I suffered a serious knee injury that resulted in me not getting offered a new Super League contract and I thought my world had ended. I went into my shell and instead of focusing on the positives of coming back stronger I let myself go and put on over a stone in weight (fat not muscle) and just generally was feeling sorry for myself. When my knee was finally fit again and I realized what I was doing it took a good year to shift the weight and start feeling ‘back to normal’ again. That is a feeling I never want to experience again.

Back to the story…..I met with the consultant who told me I was a very lucky boy as my bone had stayed aligned and I wouldn’t need an operation but I was looking at 12 weeks out in an above the elbow cast. I begged with the doctor to put me in a removable cast so I could at least flex and extend my wrist and elbow a few times a day so the joints didn’t seize up as after breaking a few bones before I realized this would be the hardest part of the injury to rehab. Luckily for me the Doctor was an ex professional Rugby Union player and understood where I was coming from and instead of just calling calling me an idiot, he listened to what I had to say then called me an idiot but agreed to the cast but warned me any knocks on the area would result in a nice big 10 inch scar on my forearm and a metal plate and no Rugby League until the following season. So the decision was made and I had my removable cast on now it was time to work out what I could do.

I knew my physio would take care of the rehab for my arm so that wasn’t an issue. I sat down with Batley’s conditioner, John Heaton and between us we came up with a 6 week training block that focused on squatting while doing a lot of heavy one arm dumbbell compound lifts like Deadlifts, clean and jerks etc. so I could still maintain my upper body strength. The main aim was to improve lower body leg strength as you can never be strong enough. Lots of people make the mistake of not doing one arm training when the other is out of action thinking it will result it one of their arms been completely out of proportion to the other. Ask yourself this, did your arms become the size they did by just 6 weeks of training? No they didn’t so training your ‘good’ arm while letting the other heal will give you far more benefits then leaving the upper body completely alone, the science behind that can be saved for another more formal blog entry.

I couldn’t back squat with a conventional barbell to start with so the first few weeks involved doing some handle bar squatting which was a great substitute. I front squatted with my arms out straight and did a lot of Bulgarian split squats. A lot of box jumps were included to keep the speed and power in my legs. You name a squat variant and I probably tried it.

Before we talk about the gains I made let me just clarify what I class as a squat. Squatting to me involves anything below parallel and getting your backside as close to the floor as possible while maintaining good form (albeit jump squats etc). I’ll be doing a video entry on how to squat correctly soon so keep an eye out for that one. It’s a pet hate of mine when I see people squatting in the gym and barely moving their knees. Put your ego to one side and work on mobility and form and the weight will take care of itself as you get stronger.

Anyhow back to the gains, so before my broken arm my 1 rep max was 170kgs which wasn’t bad I felt but my aim by the end of the year is 200kg. By the end of this 6 week block I was squatting 180 for 1 and my upper body strength hadn’t suffered too much at all so I was a very happy man! My right arms muscles had atrophied but I was confident it wouldn’t take too long to get that back up to speed and my upper body compound lifts such as the Military press, Bench etc. were only down by 5kg to 10kg which again was expected. Now I’d got some good gains in my leg strength and my arm was healing nicely it was time to sit down again with my conditioner and physio and work out the best way to get back playing ASAP. The next 4 weeks would focus more on some power and speed/speed endurance and aerobic training to get my ‘Rugby’ fitness back to a level where I felt comfortable to declare myself fit. Anyone that has done some speed endurance training will tell you it can be pretty nasty as it involves repeated max efforts with little rest, now I know by now you’re thinking surely speed training involves lots of rest so you can produce maximum effort and you would be correct but in the position I play in Rugby League I barely get chance to catch my breath never mind fully recover. Don’t get me wrong I did other types of training but the emphasis was mainly on this.

They say the key to been over an injury is that you no longer think about it when stepping out on the training field and after 9 weeks, I felt fit and I was itching to get back out on the field. I went to go see the consultant and have another x-ray and the results showed I still had a crack in the bone but the callous was forming nicely. The consultant recommended another 3-4 weeks as he was looking out for my best interests. I asked him if I played in a week what would the risks be and he told me I’d probably be fine as long as I didn’t take a direct knock to the area and to just wait another 3 weeks. With this in mind I went back to my head coach and declared myself fit if needed the following week which was 3 weeks ahead of schedule, my coach knowing me how he does said if they was injuries I would be considered but if not he felt I would benefit more through another weeks rest with a view to returning the week after. A lot of people don’t see this side of Rugby League, sometimes the coaches have to save players from themselves because I’m sure if you ask most players they will tell you that they are fit all the time and miss as little Rugby as humanly possible, after all it’s the sport we all love. Sometimes in a rush to get back playing we overlook the bigger picture which in my case was coming back a week too early and breaking my arm again and missing the rest of the season or waiting another week or 2 and coming back in a lot stronger position. Luckily for me my coach is smart enough to know what I’m like and gave me no choice.

The following week it was time for my comeback. I had to play with a pad over my arm for the first month back on doctors’ orders just to give it a little more added protection but by now I wasn’t even thinking about my arm anymore which, for me, told me I was back fit and ready to play!

I don’t think I’d ever been as happy that 1st game back, just being able to play the sport I love again, the lungs maybe didn’t feel the same way but the only way you get fully match fit is by playing matches. I felt fit, strong and my Leg drive felt more powerful after focusing on that for the last 10 weeks.

My happiness was short lived as after 3 weeks of my comeback I find myself again sat on the side lines after snapping both my PCL and MCL ligaments in my knee. It’s a test of character for sure and one that would have been a lot harder to take if I’d not had the experience of option one before. That’s the things with a collision sport like Rugby League, injuries will happen and you need to learn to accept them. I’d be worried if I was getting muscular injuries such as strains and tears as that could mean my training and lifestyle was the cause but when you get impact injuries there’s not a lot you can do apart from smile and take it on the chin. Some studies have shown that the average game of professional Rugby League is like putting the body through the equivalent of 2 car crashes so it could be classed as pretty demanding.

So now 1 leg is currently out of action the roles have been reversed and I’m hitting my upper body with some hypertrophy for 6 weeks then I should be able to at least squat again…. Safe to say I will be back, fitter, faster and stronger…..again!

So in short, Injuries happen, stay positive! Plan to use your time wisely and look at how you can come back better than before!

Thanks for reading


Tags: Injuries, Positive, Overcoming, Rugby League, Focus

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