I love the Wolverine.

Hugh Jackman nailed the part for years, and the image is something I think most young men will have aspired to at some point – a ripped, brutally strong, seemingly immortal, bionic beast who DGAF what anyone thinks but for all that has a sensitive side and cares deeply about those closest to him.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the Wolverine, however, is his ability to recover in seconds or minutes from levels of damage which would kill a normal man ten times over and still come back as determined and focused as he was before. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is badass.
As a younger man (I’m only 30 now but go with me on this), I thought of myself this way. Injuries were things that happened to other people. I was a bulletproof mecha-warrior sent back from the future to show the mortals how it was done. Nothing could stop me on my path to certain world domination.

Then I got injured.

While training with a group, we were racing with a telegraph pole. It took a bad bounce as we were running, and I suffered a traumatic shoulder subluxation which separated the labrum from the bone in my left shoulder socket.

It hurt. A lot.

Fast forward a month spent with my arm in a sling, and I was in surgery to insert four screws into my labrum to fuse it back in place. Then began the long road to recovery.

Now at this stage, I had two options.

  1. I could do the absolute bare minimum and spend the rest of my time miserable and bitching about getting fat while completing Call of Duty on Veteran mode and eating cake. Very enticing.
  2. I could adjust my goals to work around my current limitations so that when I was back to full fitness, I was at least as good as when I got smashed up and hopefully better in some areas. More fulfilling but not quite as good as cake and COD.

Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

I decided to pursue the latter. My priority was rehab. I had a sit down with my physio, and we worked out a progressive program for my shoulder which, if carried out to the letter would result in me regaining full use of my shoulder, good as new.

Next was to think about what I could do to maintain the strength, cardio, flexibility and everything else I had worked for so many years to develop in the first place. Clearly, Barbell work was out of the question and running aggravated my injury, so my main two methodologies were out of the question.

To get around this, I started training my grip on my damaged side. The working theory here was that in developing the forearms and creating tension in the upper arm at the same time, I would be able to minimise atrophy and improve my grip without directly impacting my shoulder. Admittedly this was not the most scientific approach, but it worked. By the time I was fully recovered, there was no visible difference in the size of my left and right arms, and although I was admittedly not as strong on my left, it did not take very long for the left to catch up to the right and even out the imbalance once I started training again properly.

In the meantime, I continued to train my right arm using unilateral movements such as single arm dumbbell clean and press, curls, cable flyes, triceps pushdowns etc. Since I couldn’t run, I started using the exercise bike and set myself goals for distance and time. I managed to get my 10k time down from just under 15 minutes when I started to 13:47 by the time I was able to run again, so I was able to maintain a good level of cardiovascular fitness which transferred well back to running once my conditioning caught back up with my cardio.

The result of all this was that when my shoulder was good enough to use for most things again, I was as fit as I had been before the injury and improved in a couple of areas.

You may well be saying to yourself, “well that’s great for you but my injury is different, and that won’t work for me.”

I’m not trying to push a one-size-fits-all solution here. You may well be in a situation where you are so badly banged up that you can never again do what you used to. However, even if that is the case, the underlying message of this article remains true. You have to be willing to adapt, to seize the initiative, take control and start making progress even if you are going to have to change things significantly to do so. I mean, what are your alternatives? Sit and stagnate? Become miserable while all your old gym buddies are moving forward? Give up altogether?

F**k that!

Your only real option is to tap into your creative energy and come up with interesting new ways to kick your own arse. Your family, friends and colleagues might think you’re crazy but they are not in your shoes, so pay them no mind unless they’re spurring you onwards.
Chances are you’ve not got a genuinely life-changing injury. It took me eight months (not that long in real terms) to recover from my shoulder injury which felt like a lifetime, but it goes a lot faster when you’re not bored. A sport of all kinds is littered with stories of people sustaining seemingly career-ending injuries and coming back stronger than ever. That’s probably what makes those people champions. You are no different.

So the next time you’re feeling a bit sorry for yourself, cut it short and think how fortunate you are to be free and able to do what you like. If you’ve strained a muscle, use your other muscles. If you break a limb, use your other limbs. Let nothing short of complete heart failure stop you from making progress every single day.

You don’t need to be a wise-cracking beefcake with an adamantium endoskeleton to be invincible. You just need to get up every time you’re knocked down.