Injuries happen. You can twist an ankle while running, slip on a wet floor and break a bone, pull a muscle while weightlifting— the possibilities are endless. While coping with the pain of an injury is frustrating, many people have an even harder time scaling back on their workouts while they heal. Recovery is a mental and physical obstacle for anyone, including a professional athlete.
Elite CrossFitter Kari Pearce struggles with resting during recovery, just like the rest of us. Pearce was a gymnast until she graduated college, and she competed in bodybuilding and weightlifting before finding her home in CrossFit. Now 28, she’s had her fair share of injuries, including ankle and back problems during her gymnastics days and a partially-torn Achilles tendon during last year’s CrossFit Games. “It was one of those nagging injuries,” she says. “I didn’t actually let it heal completely before I tried to compete again. It was a rollercoaster of getting better, and then I would compete so it would get worse.”
For both athletes and non-athletes, taking time off to heal is difficult. While recovering from her Achilles injury after last year’s Games, Pearce says she grew frustrated, worrying she wouldn’t be able to keep up with competitors.
“Sometimes it’s hard. You think, ‘Now that I’m hurt, I can’t improve, and I know the other people I’m competing against are out there training.’ Or, at least, you think they’re training. They might be injured as well, but in your mind those people are running, those people are doing double unders, and you’re not doing any of those things.” Pearce says the key is reminding herself that she can’t deliver her best performance when she’s injured, and working with her coaches and doctor to heal quickly.
“Most of the time—whether it’s an athlete or just a normal person who wants to stay healthy— people don’t take enough time for injuries and they always want to rush back,” Pearce says. Her top tip for hitting peak form after an injury? Make sure you’re actually healthy before you jump back into your routine. “If not, you just keep going in the circle of being injured and starting to get well, but never letting yourself completely heal.”
Just as important as learning how to recover from injuries is trying to prevent them in the first place. For Pearce, that means a pre-workout routine that focuses on her most injury-prone areas: her knees and shoulders.
“Before each workout, I do a bunch of activation. I work with a doctor, and he tells me to activate my glutes and [quads] before I do any sort of squats or heavy lifting to make sure those muscles are firing properly.”
Part of Pearce’s routine includes placing a mini band around her ankles for lateral walks, then placing the band around her knees for air squats, focusing on pushing her knees out to activate her glutes. “I’ll also do single-leg squats to activate my vastus medialis—that tear-drop muscle on the inside of the knee,” she says. For her shoulders, Pearce starts with a crossover symmetry routine, doing rows, pulldowns, and scapular rotation exercises with resistance bands.
Regardless of whether you’re recovering or healthy, Pearce says you should listen to your body to avoid injuries. “Sometimes people are exhausted, but they still think they need to push themselves to the limit. Maybe if you’re tired, your body is just saying no,” she suggests. “There are days you’re more stressed than others, and it plays a role in how your body is feeling. Listen to your body. Know when you need to lay off.”
Kari Pearce has used TRX training tools for years, first as a gymnast, and now as one of the world’s top CrossFit athletes. This summer, TRX is chronicling Kari’s journey to the CrossFit Games with a weekly series about her training program.