As I continue to recover from my crash and surgery, it makes me feel somewhat better about the situation if I can pull from my own experiences to share some insights that might be of use to readers who may suffer a similar injury, or at some point be going through a situation not unlike what many of us face from time to time in coming back from an injury or layoff.
One thing I didn’t want to happen after this injury and surgery was to allow myself to get severely out of shape. It helped as a motivating factor to have my “big summer ride” – the Tour de Wyoming – looming in the not-so-distant future (mid-July). It’s a multi-day tour with some serious climbing, and unless I put in the effort on the trainer, starting as soon as possible after my surgery, I would really haveno shot at being ready for the ride.
Coach John Hughes graciously put together a training plan for me to follow to step-by-step work my way back into form. (See his accompanying article.) I started the plan in earnest 10 days after surgery, just a couple days after being officially cleared to ride the trainer. Yes, I was champing at the bit to get going, but I just didn’t feel up to it till a couple days after getting the official OK.
In a past Question of the Week about off-season training, I remember answering with the choice that read something like: “I’d rather have a root canal than ride the trainer!” I really despise it and try to avoid it at all costs. But now I’m more than happy to be back on the “nowhere machine” pedaling away, knowing full well that it’s my only – and best – way to rekindle the fire and the form I was building into right before my crash.
Flexibility is Vital
In his accompanying article about training plans in coming back from any injury, crash or long layoff, Coach Hughes lays out a number of common-sense principles and guidelines to follow to help avoid any relapse or new injury.
To his list of sage advice, I would like to add one more rule of thumb: Be flexible! There may be activities or exercises you would like to do, or your coach prescribes, that simply aren’t doable. Don’t fret, though. Just do what you can, and work around what you can’t.
One thing I realized early on in attempting to follow Coach Hughes’ plan to a T is that I really couldn’t do almost all of the stretching and core exercises he had prescribed, because they require bracing with both arms and rotating the shoulders to achieve certain body positions – neither of which are functionally possible, or allowed by my doctor, as I’m in a sling full-time until at least May 31.
Instead of those execercises, I have chosen to walk more, often twice a day. I typically take my dog for a walk every day anyway, so doing 2-a-days was a practical and easy way to add some useful exercise. I’ve always found walking to be a great adjunct (active recovery) to cycling in terms of loosening tight legs, etc.
Coach Hughes was likewise flexible in taking my feedback and adjusting the plan to cut the things I couldn’t do and emphasize those I can.
Adjust On the Trainer as Needed
It’s also important, when recovering on the trainer from a shoulder injury, to keep in mind that you might not be able to ride in a normal position. Again, in my case, I’m forced to sit upright nearly the entire time (see photo), only resting my right hand on the top of the bar for brief intervals to take a bit of pressure off my butt. But I’m not able to hold that position for long with just one arm.
Also, as you can see, I’ve got my left arm strapped tight to my chest, which makes shifting the front derailleur impossible as well, which means all riding is in the big ring.
Another point I’ve arrived at by trial and error: Before I even got started, I installed my most comfortable “touring” saddle. But I realized that riding sitting upright requires the saddle to be set several degrees nose-up for the most comfort. With the saddle in a normal position, when I started out on the trainer, I quickly found that I kept sliding forward and was very uncomfortable.
It’s also quite useful to set up your trainer next to a cabinet or table on which you can place items like your water bottle, sweat towel, etc., so that you don’t have to reach down to your bottle cage and so forth (again, something that is not as easy as it might seem with one arm strapped to your body!). Out of frame, I have a great fan set up to blow directly up at me for cooling.
If you’ve ever had a shoulder or arm injury that forced you to use one arm only to do things like get dressed to ride, you understand just how difficult that can be. Putting on socks with one hand takes patience galore! So, for the little 20-minute recovery ride my first week, I elected not to bother putting on cycling shorts and socks. Instead, I simply left on my regular shorts (no padding, of course, but it was only a brief spin), and wore my cycling shoes with no socks. I did slip on a cycling jersey so my shirt didn’t get sweaty.
Don’t get Discouraged Starting Out
I’ll end with words of encouragement to anyone coming back after a long layoff. Stay positive, and understand that starting back, you simply won’t have the “juice” you had before your injury, crash or layoff. Accept that, and build from where you are how.
The first item on Coach Hughes’ plan for me was a 5-minute test TT before doing the 20-minute TT to get my current FTP (functional threshold power – what you can ostensibly maintain for an hour). During the 5-minute all-out effort, I was able to hit a normalized power number that was akin to my average ride in the couple of weeks leading up to my crash. But the 20-minute TT brought me back to reality. My FTP was around 50 watts lower than before. (Of course, pedaling sitting upright is not the optimal power-generating position, but my body was just not able to produce what it had weeks ago, obviously. It’s been through a lot since then.)
So I took it in stride and jumped into the plan. I had a terrific first week, with the hard rides being as hard as expected. But I’m happy to say that my butt is the sorest part of my body owing to the training. My legs feel pretty good!
One final “silver lining” comment about being forced into a trainer-only program: I have completely given up my near obsession with tracking the weather! When riding on the road, I would keep close tabs on that day’s, and that week’s, weather to know when it might rain, what the temps would be, etc. Now, it just really doesn’t matter. I can hop on the trainer after finishing my workday and pedal away in the same conditions day after day. (The only thing that really bothers me are the group messages from my riding buddies about who’s going out on a particularly lovely day! But I’ll be back out there soon enough.)
John Marsh is the former editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of "less than podium" talent, he brought our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That's what we're all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John's full bio.