Broken, Torn, Sprained, and Sore: A Typical Day at the Gym

LeahBerti LeahBertiProfileToday we bring you a guest post from Leah Berti, IFBB Pro and 6 Pack Ambassador, on the daunting subject of staying positive after an injury. Never fear, as Leah has just the right advice for anyone who is dedicated to never losing sight of their fitness goals when bouncing back from an injury. With your gym tote by your side, stay in shape both mentally and physically even if you're in the recovery process! We'll let Leah take it away from here as she shares her expert insight into how to stick to your fitness goals even in the face of an unusable hand!
So, what does a casted, one-handed IFBB Pro say to her workout partner?

"Hand me just one of the 30 pound dumbbells!"

Life has a way of always interrupting your plans, and it's how you adapt to the situation that will dictate the outcome. As I always tell my clients and friends: "Mind over matter." Nothing short of death should derail you from your fitness goals. In fact, those fitness goals may prolong that eventual outcome!

The Injury

This is my story and how I approached a recent surgical procedure. Please understand that I don't expect this of just anyone but I do of myself, as I am a professional athlete and know my body and capability intimately. I recently had a surgical procedure to repair a torn ligament in my right thumb using a redundant ligament from my wrist as the replacement. I know what you're thinking: what's the big deal about a thumb? But even though the thumb is the small loner of the hand, it is highly necessary and utilized in almost all of life's functions. I'd be unable to grip or lift weights, wash my own hair, do up my clothes, drive safely, or work my regular patrol duties on the Police Mountain Bike Team. LeahBerti1


Police work is difficult and dangerous enough in full physical health. Being down a hand meant I'd be unable to properly perform most of my duties and assist my partner. I feverishly prepared weeks prior to the surgery so that when the date arrived I would be as fit and healthy as possible going in in hopes that it would help speed up the recovery process. It was important to me to continue my workout regimen right up to the last minute including cardio with additional emphasis on building up my forearm and wrists. I especially focused on upper body training and made sure that my diet habits were spot on. I mentally prepared by positive self-talk, focusing on what was in my control and setting mini-goals for myself post-surgery. LeahBerti2 The night before I wanted to make sure that I had everything I'd need for comfort, nutrition. and pain relief, so I packed up my favorite gym tote, the Victoria Tote, for the hospital stay. I put in three meals consisting of a good protein source and veggies, as well as oatmeal, vitamins, shakes, a few magazines, and my iPad and IPod. I wanted to be prepared!

Post-Injury Fitness Goals

The surgery was a success! But the procedure (and the anaesthetic) wiped me out, so the first few days were to get my equilibrium back and deal with the pain. During this downtime I put the final touches to my plan. I had a broad outline expecting the worst, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that after the first two days I was ready to enact my new fitness plan. I had mobility but couldn't actually use my right hand and arm as the surgery entailed planting a pin through the ligament. LeahBerti3 My fitness goals were incremental and based on what I could still do without causing more issues or injuries. When faced with an injury of your own, incremental goals are essential guideposts to working way through recovery and staying positive until you're completely back on your feet.

1. Week One: Get Out and Move

For the first week I woke up at my usual time around 8am and headed out the door after breakfast with my dog in tow. Staying active was key to my sanity. I walked roughly two hours all around the paths downtown, purposely heading towards hillsides and stairs. It felt great to be out and moving and this kept me feeling positive. LeahBerti4

2. Week Two: Back to the Grind

The importance of a routine cannot be overstated, so I continued to head to the gym at my usual time. With food packed in my 6 Pack gym tote, I was out the door and on the way. Instead of my usual weight routine split I focused on walking intervals on the treadmill and Stairmaster. This did not compromise my recovery and the change proved to be quite the challenge for me! I found that keeping my arm elevated not only challenged my core stability while walking but also proved to help with the swelling. I challenged myself to walk on a 15% incline at a 3.6mph speed for 3 minutes with my arm raised above my head and then recovered for 1 minute at 3.0mph for 40-50minutes straight. I incorporated core work on the floor and doing un-weighted squats and lunges. I was determined to continue to improve and focus on making my legs the best they can be.

3. Week Three – Smaller Cast = Time To Get Creative


With the pins in my hand holding my ligament in place, I was limited in grip strength and unable to move my arm naturally. However, relief came in the form of a smaller hand cast which gave me more mobility in my wrist. Brainstorming a bit and trying to not get frustrated, my workout partner and I came up with an idea. Utilizing ankle straps that most people in the gym attach to cables and do hamstring and adductor work, I instead secured them to my wrists and using an alligator clip was able to hook my wrists into the cable machines. As ridiculous as it may have looked it did the trick! I was able to do lightweight exercises and feel a good pump in my upper body. It also forced me to pay close attention to form and work all muscle groups separately. leaving little room for cheating.

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  My typical upper body workout was completed in a circuit format starting with my right arm and then moving to the left arm:
1a) Single Arm Row on Cable 1b) Cable Lateral Raise 1c) Cable Shoulder Press 1d) Seated Cable Row 1e) Cable Front Raise 1f) Cable Pull-down
I would complete this circuit 3-4 times through at least 2-3 times a week. I also continued my cardio programs and lower body work. LeahBerti7

4. Week 6 and onwards - Test Grip Strength

Once the pin was taken out and the swelling had reduced significantly, I was prepared to risk trying out the machines at the gym to see if I was able to grip the handles. I found I could with the right machines, as long as I didn't have to overly use my thumb. I was able to do the seated row, pull down and shoulder press machine with a decent amount of weight. The only movements still holding me back were dumbbell exercises and some barbell exercises. Feeling pretty motivated and confident that I had weathered the worst, I reaffirmed the adage that, "Where there is the will ... there is always the way." I have to admit that I surprised even myself with how I handled the situation, both physically and mentally. This is not to say there were not times when I felt discouraged or helpless during simple tasks like trying to tie my shoelaces or wash my own hair. Knowing that those brief moments would pass allowed me to appreciate what good physical health really means to me. Setting little goals and treating myself to rewards helped me keep focused, fight through, and persevere.

"Whether you think you can or you think you can't ... you're right!"

LeahBerti9 Life isn't easy at the best of times and we all know that when it's as good as it gets there's always something waiting around the corner to throw us a curveball. Whether a hurdle to test our focus or an unseen obstacle to block our motivation, having a plan can help you stay ahead of the game. Injuries are a part of life. Realize that how you deal with them is a part of your character, and will only make you stronger in both body and mind.

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