How to Turn Injury Into Opportunity

Injuries happen and they can be painful, monotonous and sometimes agonizing. But if you approach your injury with this insight from professional athletes, you can make the most of your downtime, and have a smoother return to your sport.

Training Isn't the Only Thing That Makes an Athlete Great

When former triathlete and Specialized-Lululemon pro cyclist Gillian Carleton was training for the 2012 London Olympics, she broke her pelvis in a crash. "I've always been someone who thought that training is the most important thing," says Carleton. But during six weeks of bed rest, "I started to realize the benefits of everything else. I started paying much more attention to detail." Carleton made sure to get 10 hours of sleep a night, and she was diligent about proper nutrition and her rehab program. "If I had just relied on training my way into shape, I would have fallen apart." Instead, she snagged a bronze medal in the women's team pursuit that year.

More: 4 Key Strategies for Dealing With an Injury

Respect Rest

"A few years ago, if I took a nap in the middle of the day, I seemed to view that as being unproductive," says Meredith Kessler, who was knocked unconscious in a crash at Eagleman 70.3 but came back to win Ironman 70.3 Vineman later that year. "Through my injuries [which have also included breaking part of her spine and ribs] I've learned that the best thing to do is rest, rest, rest, eat and hydrate. There is no substitute for these recovery tools."

Keep an "Athlete's Mindset"

"When I'm on fire as an athlete—I'm training well and racing well—it's easy for me to continue that momentum. Every workout reinvigorates me and makes me want to do better in the next workout, which makes me want to get that much more sleep and eat that much more healthfully," says three-time Wildflower champion Jesse Thomas, who recently underwent foot surgery. Injuries threaten all of this, which is why it's important to continue thinking and behaving like an athlete as much as possible.

This means retaining a schedule. If you typically do two, two-hour blocks of exercise in a day, for instance, you need to keep at least half of those time slots in place. That's the time, says Thomas, "for you to make it a priority to do all the things you need to do to recover well." If you give in to getting out of shape physically or mentally during your time off, says Thomas, "you can make your recovery process that much longer."

Keeping an athlete's mindset may also mean tracking your improvements. "Progress reinvigorates you even if it's not endorphin-related." Tracking helps you realize that you're moving forward even without the kind of positive feedback that you're used to. "Even if you can only ride for 20 minutes, if you can see that that's twice as long as you rode a week ago, you can feel good about the progress."

More: Triathlete's Guide to Injury Prevention

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