I never gave much thought to muscle atrophy until I had ankle surgery several years ago. When my cast came off after just a week, I was shocked: Where the hell did my calf muscle go? And what was that floppy skin doing in its place?
The scary reality of muscle atrophy:
- A study done at the University of Copenhagen showed that 2 weeks of leg immobilization led to loss of a third of the subjects’ muscular strength “leaving them on par with a person who is 40-50 years their senior”. This explains why my leg looks like it belongs on a 90 year old.
- It takes much longer to gain the muscle back than to lose it. 3 times as long according to an expert quoted in the Copenhagen study. My surgeon has a depressing (but accurate) saying “3 weeks to lose it; 3 months to get it back”.
- The Copenhagen study also indicated that the more muscle you have (i.e. the fitter you are), the more you lose. SERIOUSLY? Where is the justice in that?
- You have to actively work to build that muscle back – simply returning to sport won’t do it. Focused weight training is really your only hope.
Here is a link to the article on the referenced study: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150626095520.htm
Admittedly, it’s a bleak picture. It could lead you to just sit on the couch, eat bon bons, and accept the fact that your muscle is evaporating and there is nothing you can do about it.
NOT SO FAST.
There is growing acceptance that unilateral training has significant contralateral benefits.
In English now: Training the uninjured limb can lead to strength benefits in the injured limb. Not to mention it keeps the uninjured parts of your body strong.
Instead of trying to recap the studies and data, I am going to link you to an article I found at the Mountain Tactical Institute website. It is well worth a read; simply fascinating when you think about it. The author of this article sites a meta-analysis that showed strength gains of 7-11% in the untrained (injured) limb through training of the uninjured limb. That’s significant.
I have used the Mountain Tactical Institute programs for years and this was the first place I found dedicated training plans for the injured, a category in which I seem to find myself too often. I actually took their coach training course when I was in a boot after my ankle surgery.
Now for a quick update on my recovery:
I feel like I have made it through the worst part. I am much more mobile now and weaning off crutches. My physical therapy is more exciting. Bridges? Yes! Clams? Yee haw!
On Friday I decided I was bored with working out on my own and did the CrossFit workout, highly modified. Today I went again to the morning class. You can modify almost anything.
My workout today was 4 times through:
- 25 dumbbell push press sitting on a box
- 50 calorie row with leg on skateboard
- 2 minutes of one legged jump rope
It was tough. But great.
I’ve been hand cycling a lot. On Saturday I went out with Alexis and Frank and Edgar. Alexis ran while I tried unsuccessfully to keep up. But it was great to be out with them. Today I took Puck and Bandit for a hand cycle after CrossFit; per normal they found the dirtiest water they could and dove right in. Baths followed.
I still have a long road ahead of me, but it sure feels good to be back.