Seven things you can switch up in your exercise programme when injured

With sports injuries on the rise over the COVID pandemic, some of may be looking to switch up your training programme. All of us know is important to take our training down a notched when injured. However, what exactly can you actually change?

This article will go through seven things that you can modify to help you get better.

Rate of loading (slope of the force/time curve)

force time curve jump

One of the things you can slow down during injury period is to literally slow things down. Rate of loading can be thought of as how fast you execute a movement. If you were to jump really slowly, the curve would be less steep. If you were to jump off a trampoline, the slope would be very steep.

You may have heard of tempo weight training, where the time you take to execute a lift is controlled for. For example, in a squat, a tempo of 4, 4, 4, 4, would mean descending into a squat over four seconds, staying in the bottom position for four seconds, ascending back to the start position over four seconds, and staying at the start position for four seconds.

When you’re injured, a slower rate of loading is preferred. A tempo of 4, 0, 2, 0 will probably work really well for exercises such as squats (if you can support it).

For ballistic exercises such as kettlebell swings, it would be impossible to control rate of loading in a meaningful way. In that case, you might want to switch out these movements.

P. S., Do not excessively slow down your exercises as this can also be detrimental to your recovery (read more below at time under tension).

Load intensity (load as % of maximum)

pain management, singapore pain clinic, exercise pain
Good load management is probably the key to exercising injury-free!

This is probably something that you’re familiar with. Modifying load intensity can be achieved by just reducing the weight you are working on for your training.

As a rule of thumb, it would be a good idea to halve what you were successfully doing before. The keyword here is successful! With appropriate deloading, you give your tissue a time to recover without having to take a break or aggravating your injury.

Yes, we get that it’s frustrating that you have to drop your weights. However, it is absolutely essential for good recovery outcomes.

To avoid this from happening again, practise good load management and programming habits. With the right approach to exercise, you shouldn’t find yourself injured and having to deload.

Time under tension

While it’s true that slowing things down will be helpful for your recovery, there’s a limit to how slow you can perform a movement before it starts becoming bad for you.

In that sense, slower is not always better!

This is where professional help can be useful. As a chiropractor, I help my clients determine what is a good time under tension, and advise on their rate of loading. With this, my clients are able to navigate their injuries without making their condition worse.

To add confusion to the matter, too little time under tension can also render an exercise useless! For example, it’s important to hold isometric contractions for a minimum amount of time under tension to get good results.

If the contraction is held for short, you will not get any benefits from doing it!

Rest between sets

pain free, recovery
How many of you find this familiar? Pain-free doesn’t mean recovery! Just because you are feeling better doesn’t mean you can train harder.

Depending on the type of injury, rest between sets can make a big difference. However, feeling less pain or less exertion with longer rest doesn’t always mean you can push further!

Some people confuse how good they feel with how recovered they are. For runners, they may start to run more or run harder because they no longer feel pain. This is a super slippery slope because most of the time no pain doesn’t actually mean recovery.

Take for example a papercut or scraped skin, it may not actually hurt until you put it under running water. Does that mean it was not injured when it was not hurting?


It is super important to take sufficient rest between sets. It’s just as important to be super mindful of how much your tissue can handle, and not just whack harder because you are feeling better from the longer rest you are taking.

Your perceived effort

Heard of rate of perceived exertion or RPE?

If not, this is a concept you definitely want to familiarise yourself with. While it’s a subjective self-rated scale, having a good understanding of rate of exertion can help you with planning your training, even when in a healthy state, to very good training outcomes.

RPE is a 0 to 10 scale that you use to rate how easy or how difficult you find an exercise from an intensity perspective. As the name suggests, how much exertion you feel when performing the set.

o refers to super easy aka no kick at all. While 10 is maximal or all-out effort. If you feel like you can’t do another repetition anymore, that’s a solid 10/10 on the RPE scale.

When injured, you definitely don’t want to push yourself to a 10. Staying somewhere between 3-4 is ideal for a start. If you can tolerate that well for over four to six weeks, consider increasing it to 5 to 6.

Do note that RPE is a subjective scale! Just because you are staying at a 3-4/10 range for four to six weeks DOES NOT mean that the absolute weight you are lifting will be the same during the period.

When in doubt, always seek professional help. You definitely don’t want to re-injure an injury!

Your joint positions and muscle lengths during loading

This is particularly important for tendon injuries. Most tendinopathies do not respond well to endrange loading. In that sense, it would be prudent to avoid full flexion and full extension of the affected joint.

The reason is because both tensile and compression forces are poorly tolerated by tendon during recovery period. For these cases, can choose to continue training at mid-range of the joint movement rather than to take a complete rest.

How much of the endrange to cut? 25% is a good start. However, do note that tendinopathies are tricky and respond to load very differently between individuals, and between stages of healing.

To play safe, always cut back extra to give yourself a buffer. Alternatively, work with an evidence-based chiropractor who can help you through this challenging period.

Your volume-load (load x sets x repetitions) performed

load capacity
At any given point in time, there must be something that your body can do. For minor injuries, this will be very close to what you can usually do. For severe injuries, it will be just a fraction of what you used to do. It’s absolutely crucial to strictly stay within what your tissue can support during recovery.

This again comes under the principle of load management. Good load management can help you both get to your fitness goals as well as maximise your recovery outcomes.

Volume-load refers to how many sets x repetitions of an exercise is performed, and at what weight.

Some of you with an intense training programme may want to consider frequency (i.e., how many times per week) when evaluating the amount of work done.

For fairly acute back pain, some of you may want to reduce the load (e.g., how much weight) while increasing repetitions. It will also be a good idea to keep the number of sets to around three sets.

As you start to feel better, you may want to start to increase weight while cutting back how many reps you perform.

If you feel a lot of pain relief from a certain exercise (e.g., bird dog), you can consider spreading the sets of the exercise done throughout the day. For example, you may choose to do 1 set of 6 repetitions, 6 times per day (i.e., every 2-3 hours) rather than to do 3 sets of 12 repetitions all in a go!

You don’t need complete rest when injured

Most of you will not need to take a complete rest from physical activity when you are injured. It is true that how hard to push and how much to train is not cut and dried, the above recommendations can be a good general approach to exercising while injured.

Remember, when in doubt, always seek professional help!


Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.

Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.

*We do not offer temporary pain relief such as chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, or any form of soft tissue therapy.