Sidelined With an Injury? How to Make the Most of Your Downtime

There are several ways to overcome an injury through time well spent.
There are several ways to overcome an injury through time well spent. Pierce Martin
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It doesn’t matter if you’ve been injured in a yard-sale ski wreck or threw out your back sneezing too hard—being on the injured reserve list is no fun. Being unable to participate in your favorite outdoor activities is tough on the body and the mind. Outdoors athletes have a reputation in the medical world as particularly bad patients because they are often too antsy to allow proper healing time. A rest and recovery period of four to six weeks is often heard as, "four weeks max, probably three weeks, though I can probably get away with a little bit before that". But ignoring the doctor’s recommendation to returning to action almost guarantees a much longer recovery time.

Having your primary outlet for fun, fitness, and mental health temporarily shut down can resonate beyond the actual injury. The challenge of coping with day-to-day limitations is amplified by the loss of a vital element of overall well-being. But there can be silver linings to downtime. Here are seven of the best ways to engage your adventurous spirit when you’re out of action for a while.

Make Plans

The wealth of easily accessed online resources—Google Earth, Summitpost, Mountain Bike Project, Mountain Project, and GPS Visualizer, just to name a few—make researching your next adventure a great way to utilize downtime. Likewise, flipping through that print guidebook on the shelf can re-ignite your love for local adventure or fuel your imagination for international travels.

Set a goal for your return. It can be as modest as exploring a new trail, or as grand as knocking off a bucket list item. Keep your spirit engaged in the future, even if the present features five-minute hobbles to the shower and NetFlix binge-watching sessions.

Eat Like a Champion

Pizza is the ultimate comfort food.
Pizza is the ultimate comfort food. Basheer Tome

The double-whammy of injury comes in the form of comfort foods: French fries, chips, pizza, and chocolate all do the job when it comes to feeding your inner pity party. Inflating your once-fit body to Jabba the Hutt-esque proportions is far too easy when you can’t work it off. Add to that the lethargy from caloric overload and increased inflammation from sugar, and you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to your overall fitness.

It’ll take a doubling-down of dietary discipline to refrain from junk and nourish yourself at a time when your emotions—and physical discomfort—beg for an easy mental fix. But do your best to keep the good stuff coming in and parse out some of the foods you could get away with when you were more active. The you of the future will thank you when it doesn’t take three months (or longer) to get back into your pre-injured fitness shape.

Resolve Other Nagging Injuries

I had the unfortunate distinction of having both thumbs broken at the same time. (If that doesn’t sound that bad, try turning a key without your thumbs.) Since I was limited in what I could do, I took the time to finally resolve a laterally slipped disc in my lower back. Come to think of it, I also got a few fillings in my teeth. The point is that since I was out of action anyway, I opted for an overall physical tune-up. Even if you don’t have obvious injuries to tend to, improving flexibility or lifting weights to build up weak parts of your body is a good way to turn a bad situation into a time to recalibrate your overall fitness.

Dial In Related Skills

Repairing gear can be therapeutic.
Repairing gear can be therapeutic. Umberto Brayj

A climber friend who had ACL surgery taught me a lesson in keeping the right attitude. As he recovered, he resolved to improve his non-movement based skills: building fast and safe anchors, coiling the rope quickly, racking gear more efficiently, learning the basics of aid climbing, refreshing backed-up rappels, crevasse rescue techniques, and how to repair climbing shoes. The upshot was that when he got back to climbing, he was safer, faster, and more efficient than he had ever been.

A few years later, when I was out of action due to a shoulder injury, I learned how to tune nearly every aspect of my mountain bike, from shocks to shifters. Every outdoors sport has skills that are often overlooked that can be mastered at home. A few that I’ve worked on: camp stove maintenance and repair, filing crampons and ice axes, fixing broken trekking poles, and waxing skis and snowboards. Hands on learning is a great way to stay connected to your sport.


Volunteering for events is a fantastic way to not only stay involved but to meet other like-minded enthusiasts. Whether handing out water at a marathon, setting up cones, or helping distribute race packets, remaining close to your sport is a fun way to give back. Downtime is also good for acquainting yourself with local trail groups or advocacy organizations like the Access Fund. Most cities have plenty of opportunities—and a real need—for volunteers, so why not make the most of your time and help out the groups that keep the outdoors and outdoor events special?


An excellent option is to discover beauty and art at a museum.
An excellent option is to discover beauty and art at a museum. Phil Roeder

Here in Boulder, we only get about a dozen rainy days a year. Strange as it may seem, the "excuse" to stay indoors and read a book or try out a new recipe is a welcome break from the fabled 300 days of sunshine Colorado is known for. Likewise, when you’re out of action from sports, it may very well be the perfect time to engage in cultural travel. A broken arm may prevent you from paddling, but it won’t keep you out of museums. For many of us, travel is adventure focused. Changing the pace can help fulfill less active aspirations. If you’re really up for a challenge, you could even try to learn a new language in the process.


This final bit of advice isn’t as New Age-y as it may sound. Injuries can be very mentally difficult, and meditation (or more properly, quiet reflection) is a healthy way to accept an injury and to examine the overall role of a sport in one’s life. You don’t have to sit cross-legged while humming a transcendental mantra to meditate. All you need is a quiet space and time to be free of distractions to settle your mind and calm your impatient thoughts. Think of it as boot camp for your brain—and a great way to bring a deeper appreciation to those times when you are healthy.

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