Helping Students Return to Group Fitness After an Injury


You always notice a student has been gone for a while, when you see the person return.  

Often, it may be a consequence of injury.

How can you help support your returning group fitness enthusiast after an injury, now that all things aren’t equal?

Here are a few tips to help you be the sage of return stage, for a previously injured student, in a group fitness setting.


All Call Acknowledge

Scan the room to check in with familiar faces that you haven’t seen for a while.  Chances are they are returning either from vacation or injury.  Just a little check-in and they might offer you some critical information you wouldn’t have otherwise received without a little social banter. Investigate!

Always do an all call for any special situations that students might want you to know about before class starts.  A simple raising of the hand and a quick drive by to confer with your student is all you need to make sure you are assessing the needs of all your students, and not just the typical crowd.


Careful Eye, Compassionate Mind

Watch your students carefully.  Notice how they compensate for possible body needs.  

You might notice shoulders rounding which could indicate issues in the lower body.  You might observe how your student uses props and weights.  Do you see some compensations for the shoulders, perhaps with a “tossing” of weights or notice that elbows are opening excessively or arms are not rising fully?  That may be the place to identify a need and offer some alternatives.

Also consider that a lot of what you might see in the body as compensation might not necessarily indicate a nursing injury, but rather the body communicating fear or skittishness in working an area that has experienced trauma either via injury or surgery. 

Give students an out and praise them for giving the body the accommodations it needs rather than pushing into the next injury.  A lot of the time when students receive assurance from the instructor, it will make all the difference.


EDUCATE

Remind students that there are different areas of the body that have different purposes.  We have joints that are made to help us extend our space.  We also have muscles in the body that support our movement.  Educate on the difference between the power spaces of the body and the extenders of the body. 

What we expect our shoulders to do will be different than what we expect the abdomen to do, especially when it comes to bearing loads.


Concierge service for programs

Your suggestions of other programs your students have never tried will often be just the nudge they need to try something they’ve never considered.  Perhaps suggest Yin Yoga, a great compliment to not only hard-working healthy bodies, but also can serve as a therapy to connective tissue that often has cringed and over-repaired for protection from injury or surgery.  The grounded, long holds have the just the rigor with the peace needed for bodies coming out of hibernation mode.

Programs like Les Mills’ Body Vibe offer low-impact options that are great for working with injuries. Body Attack or Spinning might be a better place to start than high-impact programs.


Wise Effort

As a group fitness trainer, we aren’t just looking at the here-and-now effort.  We are also looking for longevity.  

So while we encourage high energy and challenge, we also have to reward and invite wise effort.  Wise effort comes in many forms:

Being a good listener.  Approaching fitness programs after injury is a lot like recovering from a conflict with someone you love.  After a heated or uncomfortable disagreement, if we want to re-create a supportive environment, we are typically super sensitive about our words and actions. For the body it’s the same thing: being a good listener to what the body is trying to communicate needs to be modeled and initiated by the trainer.

Less is more. If your prodigal student took a class for a whole hour before the time away, perhaps you will suggest at the beginning of class that your student work for 30 minutes.  If pre-injury your student worked with a specific group of weights or weight-range, suggest and model working without weights or lowering the weight from typical practices.

Soften students’ expectations by acknowledging that recovery will realistically take at least as much time time than the time the student was out.  There’s also a difference between needing a few weeks off for a strained muscle and needing time off having returning from broken bones or surgery.  Not all injuries and body incidents are equal.


Follow up Engagement

Check for progress over time.  Always come back to students and ask how things are going and ask how the body has been responding to the work post-injury/surgery.  Those little clues help us sift through our suggestions so we can better keep group fitness in the student recovery regimen.

Remind students that being too sore is the body’s way of communicating the need for more time to recover and less intensity while recovering.  Invite the student to think positive:  encourage the use of “…yet” after every body judgment to turn “I’m not my usual self,” to “I’m not my usual self…yet.”

Rephrase what can’t be done and rephrase it to what your student can do and celebrate the “can do”s.

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