This year I experienced something that I had been lucky enough to avoid over the past 10 seasons playing intercounty hurling – a serious injury. I damaged the anterior cruciate ligament in my right knee in our last championship match and the consequence was to undergo surgery. This involves an intensive rehab program of 6-9 months before I can return to play.
The thoughts of facing into such a long process brought its fair share of negativity and doubt. Going from training 5 or 6 times a week with the team to not being able to go for a jog required a huge shift in mentality to ensure I was happy with my health and wellbeing in general. Through support from family, friends and fellow athletes, along with the medical team overseeing my rehab, I was able to put a program in place that will give me the best chance of returning to full fitness next year.
The rehab process for the injury itself is pretty straight forward. It’s about hitting specific range of motion, stability and strength targets throughout the process. Being diligent and consistent with the daily exercises prescribed is essential. Everyone is different and some people react differently to the surgery, so as long as you are doing everything you can then you are on the right track.
I am using the same approach with my fitness and nutrition. Consistency is key. My cardio at present consists of 3 fasted early morning boxing sessions. It’s a great workout and I am keeping the cardiovascular system working without putting my leg under too much pressure. I have also achieved enough range of motion in my injured leg to begin cycling, so the plan is to mix the boxing and cycling over the coming weeks until I am in a position to begin running again.
Being injured also provides an opportunity to work on something that may not be possible while playing, so I am using this time to develop my upper body and core strength, which will benefit me when I return to full fitness. I do 3 upper body and core sessions each week, focusing on a different area for each session i.e. back and core, chest and arms, shoulders and core.
Along with those 6 sessions each week, I have daily exercises for my knee along with a strength circuit that I try to complete every second day. I really try to push myself in those sessions and the day of rest in between allows the leg time to recover.
It may sound like I am doing a lot, but overall I am training at a lower intensity now which means I have had to adapt my nutritional intake also. I have always eaten well, but the difference now is that I have to manage portion sizes and calorie intake to make sure I do not start putting up weight. Because I am on a lower calorie diet, I have to be clever with my food choices to make sure I am getting enough protein and nutrients into my body.
The biggest change has been in my snack choices and pre-workout food. Instead of my usual calorie dense options like a brown bread sandwich or pasta, I am now using yogurt, fruit and granola or a small bowl of porridge as my go-to pre-workout fuel. If I do a session late at night, instead of eating a meal just before I go to bed, I will choose a protein shake with full fat milk which takes the hunger off me and gives me enough protein and nutrients to kickstart the recovery process.
Being restricted in terms of what exercise I can do has challenged me to adapt my overall approach to training. That change however has made me realise that I can still achieve my fitness goals and feel good about myself despite not being able to hurl.
Setting goals and being consistent is going to be key for me to come back even better than I was before the injury. As the saying goes – a goal without a plan is only a wish. I can’t wish for anything, it’s up to me to make it happen.