Broken rib - creative training & cross-training ideas?

Hi all, I’m hoping to tap into the vast knowledge and creativity of the TR community.

Background:
I crashed and broke a rib (no other injuries) about 2 weeks ago. Now it hurts like heck to take a deep breath, which is affecting the intensities that I can sustain during training. I’m okay hovering in Z2-Z3, but as soon as my heart rate rises higher and requires heavier breathing, I simply can’t keep up by taking the shallow breaths that I am limited to.

Note:
I have a doctor’s appointment to check up on things next week and will of course defer to their medical recommendations - BUT, they may not be experts on ways to modify training for triathlons/cycling, how I can best stay motivated, or creative ideas for cross-training that I can do in the mean time to stay productive.

My training goals (for context):
I’m a cyclist/triathlete. My biggest race on the schedule is Ironman Wisconsin in September 2020 - plenty of time away and I’m not immediately worried about it yet, but am aware that winter is the time to build an aerobic base so a 6-8 week recovery time sure does sound like a bummer. My biggest process goal this winter is to cultivate consistent training, so I am in search of ways to keep doing productive things through this injury.

How you can help:

  • Have you dealt with a rib injury?
  • What was your recovery like?
  • Were you advised to do any physical therapy type exercises for mobility?
  • Do you have any ideas for cross-training?
  • Or workouts on the bike that are more interesting than chilling in Z2?
  • Any advice for remaining motivated through such an annoying injury?

Thanks all, hope to hear back!

Hate to hear it. At least your main priority is plenty of time away to be able to compensate for. Unfortunately I have some relatively recent, similar experience due to a motorcycle accident.

I managed five ribs, two in multiple places, fractured my scapula and topped that off with a punctured lung about 11 weeks back. I got back on the bike around 6 weeks out and felt I could manage some sweet spot efforts (although found some discomfort just in positioning on the bike). At about 8 weeks, I felt I could manage better and started SSBLV1.

The doctors will probably tell you to just do what you can manage. Pain will be a limiter and if you feel any, dial it back. Ribs just have to heal on their own.

How about traditional base? Might be somewhat boring but at least it’ll likely not do more harm than good.

Also, unrelated, but Wisconsin? Go Pack!

Have you had instructions on deep breathing and using a spirometer? It is important to avoid infection risk. Also, consult with your doc on pain management and particularly NSAID use, dose and tapering. You don’t want to go too long on high doses and develop a reaction.

Take time to heal up. Every injury is different. Some guys are back at it in a couple weeks and do fine, others take a long time to feel good again. I broke two ribs and did a bunch of other damage about 14 months ago. Was back on bike in about 4 weeks (stationary trainer) but it was a good 8-10 before I could do any intensity. YMMV

Good luck. Rib breaks stink.

-Mark

Broken ribs multiple times.

Rule #1: Don’t cough! Don’t sneeze!
Rule #2: See rule #1 (no joke)

In the near term, your best bet is easy light spinning on the turbo. 6wks give or take before you’re mostly pain free. Then, you might have some pain if you really strain or stretch that particular area. Basically, if it hurts, dial it back!

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My worst crash was 8 ribs, clavicle and bruised lung. Some of the ribs were “fractured” and not snapped but, still. Even one rib, depending on the break, can cause overwhelming pain.

No specific advise. But, keep in mind, it takes energy for the body to heal itself. Energy used to ride will delay the recovery at least in the acute phase. I suppose after a few weeks some blood flow could be a good thing. But, recover then train. Until recovered you’re not training.

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@ambermalika won a race with a broken rib.

This is true; however, I don’t recommend it. :upside_down_face:

In my case, I was racing professionally and on contract. I also wasn’t injured such that riding/racing would exacerbate the injury. It just hurt a lot.

Most broken bones take that standard 6-8 weeks as you mentioned. With ribs, it’s weird, because you’re in a world of pain and then suddenly one day you wake up and it doesn’t hurt anymore. The progress doesn’t feel linear, and if you’re healing properly, it probably won’t take a full 8 weeks to be pain free.

Your main goal is consistency. This is as much about stewarding your own intrinsic motivation as it is about recovering physically and staying healthy. Please keep that in mind. Assuming you can power through the pain without doing more damage, you could certainly get militant about your training and will yourself through daily workouts. However, this takes an enormous toll on your reserves of willpower and motivation; resources you’ll need later in the season when training becomes more important, or more crucially, in the middle of your Ironman! Humans experience pain not only as a physical sensation but as inextricably tied to emotions - often anxiety or fear, so don’t underestimate the mental and emotional toll of pushing through pain (especially broken rib pain). Remember that you’re just beginning what will be a very long build toward your goal event (September is a long way away!) and that you’ll need to pace your efforts in terms of physical stress as well as mental and emotional load. You’re the freshest (mentally, emotionally, and physically) that you’ll be through this whole build, so not unlike the start of a long race, you don’t want to get over confident about how great you feel right now (mentally and emotionally in the bigger picture of your training plan - not talking about the rib here ) and burn through a bunch of matches too early. I’d say that since you have so much time to your goal event, and since you’re not obligated to ride through this to make a living, err on the side of caution and give yourself plenty of time to heal and recover without burning more energy on this injury than necessary.

If Z2 work feels okay - go for it, especially if it’s helping you feel recharged rather than drained. I found that taping my rib helped a lot - even just a big ace bandage wrapped around the rib cage for compression helped enormously with the pain, and thus with RPE and general mental/emotional stress components of training stress. I recommend staying on the tops/hoods. :wink: You can always work on technical aspects of your pedal stroke technique, or try different mantras or other mental exercises to test what mental strategies might help you in training once you’re back to 100%.

@DarthShivious makes an excellent point about avoiding infection due to shallow breathing. Rib mobility is HUGE for cyclists as it affects lung capacity and generally gets worse with age. Once you’re healed, it’s probably wise to consult a PT about how to regain lost mobility and/or optimize your mobility for the season. Mobility of your ribs, scapulas, shoulders, diaphragm, lats, etc, all strongly affect your lung capacity and will ALL be strongly affected by the broken rib. Good to get on that as early as possible!

I always recommend the website Injured Athlete’s Toolbox to any injured athletes I know. It’s wonderful for helping you feel seen/heard re: the emotional fallout of injuries like these and can be a real resource. Heidi is available for one-on-one coaching, but I’ve even found simply reading her website helps.

And, if it’s of interest, here’s a piece I wrote about the frustration of coming back from injury (and the importance of healing properly) after I broke my pelvis. The inspiration for the piece comes from a quote I read somewhere: “When in a hurry, take the long, sure path.”

You’ve got plenty more training ahead. For now, look after your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. If that includes some light training, great. If not, that’s okay too. Sometimes it’s worth taking two steps back to get a running start. You’ll make much faster progress once healed if you’re mentally fresh and chomping at the bit when it’s time to get going again!

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Broken ribs suck big time. I got taken out by a car last year and broke 2 ribs. I kept going on the trainer only in zone 2 for about a month before being able to take a deep breath. Lots of walking as well, about 5 miles a day. I lost loads of power for sure. My FTP must have dropped 50W. i got it back a few months later, but the whole episode ruined a complete summer. I couldn’t swim or run for 10 weeks.

This is an outstanding post! Thank you. Going through my own rib injury now. Made a lot of progress in a week and a half, then tried to get on the trainer for a light spin after a big Thanksgiving meal, and aggravated the injury slightly. I’m clearly not ready yet. I’m going to dive into the resources you’ve suggested.