Training around a broken hand

So most of my more recent posts dealt with the topic of minimal equipment training. This was simply due to the fact that COVID barred many people from hitting the gym and had to make do with what little equipment they could muster up at home. Sometimes, you just have to do what you can with what you have (where you are).

Now, I am here, recovering from a traffic accident. Got hit from behind while riding my bicycle. Broke my hand, amongst other things. Also got some stitches on the head. All in all, not very pleasant. Not conducive to my job, either / let alone my training. However, if you know me, you’ll know that simply doing nothing simply is not an option. There’s always something you can do, whether you’re dealing with a pandemic, an injury, limited time, or any other unfavorable circumstance.

In this article, I am going to tackle the easy part – strength training. Cardio is not particularly hard to solve, either. Luckily, we live in a world that has stationary bicycles and running tracks. Specific training is where things get tricky; there’s just no substitute for life rolling, sparring or wrestling.

Still, simply getting stronger (or at least, maintaining strength) is most definitely something that I can pursue right now. Most (not all, mind you) upper body exercises are unfeasible at this point. Lower body training is doable, with limitations. Gripping the bar is not in the books right now, so high bar squats, front squats, deadlifts, Olympic weightlifting, double dumbbell exercise (such as reverse lunges) are out of the window.

That’s where the Zercher grip comes into play though. By placing the barbell in the crook of my elbow, I can do rear foot elevated split squats and regular squats. That means I have at least two very feasible options in the knee dominant lower body push movement category.

Hip dominant lower body pushing can be implemented with hip thrusts. No need to grip the bar with both hands with this one. Not a bad exercise for grapplers, I dare say. The biggest logistical issue here is loading the bar with one hand. Good thing I have a deadlift wedge (and, honestly, a network of great people around me who will come to the gym specifically to help me with those things; I’m spoiled in that regard).

Knee dominant lower body pulling is relatively easy to do as well. Now the „optimal“ solution would probably be a lying hamstring curl machine. In my opinion, you’d best train your hamstrings with extended hips. I won’t go into much detail on that here, though – I might do a separate article in the future. Coming back to the hamstring curl machine, there’s a problem with that „optimal“ solution: we don’t have such a machine at the gym. Hence, the optimal solution is unfeasible. Remember, doable beats optimal every time. With a slide pad and a cable pulley, the hammies can still be trained with an extended hip, as shown in the video below. For some people, additional weight is not even necessary on that exercise, especially if the hammies are not usually trained as knee flexors.

Now hip dominant lower body pulling (i.e., Deadlifts) continue to be an issue. Zercher good mornings are an option… I simply don’t like good mornings. Never have. Might have to give them a chance in the future, though. The video shows Phil Daru from https://darustrong.com/ perform the movement.

When it comes to upper body training, there is a very fundamental decision to be made. My left hand is broken; I am right handed. This means that I could continue to train my dominant hand in order to reap some benefits of the cross education effect [1]. However, this also means feeding into asymmetry. Considering the relatively short amount of time (4 weeks) I suspect (based on the doc’s prognosis, can’t be sure) to have my hand in a plaster, I am not quite sure I want to go there just yet.

Some bilateral options are available, though. Supine Push Ups ca at least partially train the upper body horizontal pull pattern. Usually I’m not a big fan of these. If you can do inverted rows, I don’t really see a reason to artificially limit the movements range of motion and exclude the arm flexors. Sometimes though, even the most exotic exercise may have a place in a program

With that being said, using ab sling straps for pull-downs may be a better way to approach upper body pulling. Although technically this would be classified as an upper body vertical pull exercise, it really works the same muscles as the above presented supine push up for all intents of purposes. Scalability is much better with weights that with a purely bodyweight based exercise.

Upper body pushing is harder to implement (bilaterally, that is; pressing a kettlebell overhead with the good arm is always an option. So is single arm benching.). At this point, I am going to simply omit this movement pattern. Should the whole affair take longer, I might start training my good side again.

Core training is easy in the sagittal plane. Dead bugs and leg lowerings are always an option. Actually, countless variations exist for the dead bug exercise; in the video below, coach Theo from www.VigorGroundFitness.com shows 17 such variations. Unfortunately, many of them revolve around incorporating some kind of pull down or pull over type movement. With a broken hand, everything has to stay slightly more vanilla.

Frontal plane stability can be trained (up to a point) with off-bench side plank variations. Holding a weight may not be feasible just yet. In the next day, I plan to experiment with some isometric resistance for the neck, though. Arguably, a combat sport athlete can never have to much neck strength.

Combining everything I’ve outlined above can easily fill up three weekly strength training sessions. Along with some cardio, that’ll at least maintain my physical fitness until I’m good to return to combat sports again.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, always keep in mind that doing something is better than doing nothing. There’s probably more to do than you think. If you absolutely can’t figure out a way (or want to make sure you make the most of the situation), you may want to consider hiring a coach. It’s our job to help you overcome this type of challenge.

Naturally, your best best – as always – is:

Don’t get hurt


References:

[1] Lee, M., Carroll, T.J. Cross Education. Sports Med 37, 1–14 (2007). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200737010-00001

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