When training your body you must be mentally prepared that you may pick up a physical injury at some stage. In order to strengthen and tone your muscles and/or burn excess fat through exercise, you will need to challenge your body to do things that it doesn't normally do.
You will be putting it under a physical load that it's not used to and an injury may occur and if you have any pre existing injuries, if you have certain muscle imbalances or you are generally weak/tight in certain areas then this might also make you more prone to an injury occurring.
No matter what type of activity you do, an injury can and should be expected if you're pushing your body to new levels even if the exercise is considered quite safe and low impact. This is normal and by simply following these guidelines you can get back on track quickly and stay focussed on reaching your goal.
Good pain vs. bad pain
First you need to identify whether or not it's good pain or bad pain. You experience 'good pain' when you are actually exercising and would be better described as a burning sensation rather than pain. There is also a good type of pain after exercise.
This is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS for short. This comes on about a day after exercise and sticks around for a day or two and is often felt in the muscles. To be specific in the middle of the muscle sigh as the whole thigh, back of the arm, back of the legs etc.
These two types of pain/discomfort are very good for you and should not only be welcomed....they should be actively sought after by pushing your exercise to the next level constantly. This is how the muscles are forced to grow and increase in strength, endurance and also tone and size as larger more toned muscles enable you to burn more fat when doing cardio and even at rest betting you to your goal faster.
Bad pain on the other hand usually feels very sharp and can be often referred to as feeling a 'twang' or feeling a sharp stabbing pain. This can happen in the muscles or you may feel it in a joint also.
This type of pain should always be avoided and if you feel any pain in the neck, back or any of the joints you should discontinue your exercise and ask your instructor for advice. If you don't have access an instructor to ask, you should seek the help/advice of a local sports physiotherapist.
If pain has been experienced in the joints or a sharp stabbing feeling in the muscle, you should ice the affected area immediately to reduce inflammation and swelling in the muscle or the joint.
The ice doesn't need to so cold that it burns your skin, but it does need to be cold. An icepack with a wet hand towel is perfect as this protects your skin from burning.
To get the best results and speed recovery you should ice the affected area for 20min and then take if off for 20min and repeat this several times in one sitting. You should continue to ice the affected area until the pain has significantly decreased or disappeared completely.
In conjunction with icing you should seek the aid of a reputable sports physiotherapist for some 'hands on treatment' of the injury to speed up the recovery process. This will help you to get back to your exercise faster and your injury will merely be a bump in the road to success... not a complete roadblock.
Don't throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak. Realise that injuries are all part of the process and get really focussed on a speedy recovery.
You should instead look at an injury as a challenge to be tackled...not as a roadblock stopping you from succeeding long term. The good news is that the vast majority of minor injuries are fully recovered from within 5-10 days if you're actively helping your recovery process by icing and seeking treatment.
Also, you may have to reduce your calorie intake if you can't do any form of cardio activity.
Work around it by working with your instructor
Just because you've strained one muscle, doesn't mean you have to stop exercising the hundreds of other muscles in your body. With hundreds of Pilates exercises to choose from and many different types of cardio available...just because you get an injury doesn't mean your dream of a brand new body and a fitter and healthier you has to die.
You need to communicate your injury with your instructor so they can modify your program and work around the injury and perhaps even give you some exercises or stretches to do to help in the recovery from your injury and the prevention of further flare ups.
Get yourself to a Physio
A physiotherapist is the best person to see for musculoskeletal injuries and issues....not your GP. To be specific you should be seeing a private practice physiotherapist as opposed to a hospital based physio and of the private practice based physios you should look for one who deals in sports physiotherapy preferably as they are more in tune with sports and exercise related injuries.
Seeing a physio as part of the recovery process from an injury speeds up the recovery time dramatically and helps to ensure you are less likely to re-injure the affected area.
Get a regular massage...a hard one!
If you're exercising at a higher level than you're used to your body will have to adapt to the load you're placing it under. In doing this it tends to often get tight in some areas. This is quite common and if left unchecked these tight muscles may cause a chronic injury.
A chronic injury often has a very slow onset as opposed to an acute injury which has a very rapid or instant onset (think of a sprained ankle as an example of an acute injury).
Chronic injuries can often be prevented by getting regular remedial, deep tissue massages. This active injury prevention is a smart and responsible step to further ensuring your body stays on track for the entire 12 week program and you suffer no setbacks.
A remedial massage is generally not an entirely pleasant experience. It's a far cry from a relaxing aromatherapy based 'touch and tickle' that you may have experienced before at your local day spa or beauty salon. It can be quite an intense experience and should be a very firm pressure and target tight muscles.
The good news is that massage tends to have an accumulative tolerance effect where the more frequently you get them, the firmer the therapist can massage you, and the more you can tolerate getting you better results in the long run.
The question you need to ask yourself is 'is one hour of body maintenance from a firm massage better than picking up an injury and never achieving your dream body'? I think it is.
Change your type of cardio
A common way to pick up an injury is from jogging or running. The great thing about jogging and running is that it's both an effective and convenient way to do your cardio. The caveat of running is that it's relatively high impact and is a very common way to pick up a chronic or acute injury.
What I encourage you to do is to change your cardio to one that suits your body the best and one that doesn't cause your body any injuries and preferably one you enjoy...not just the most convenient type.
If you can't jog....try swimming.
Can't swim...? Get some lessons.
Still can't swim after getting lessons.... try deep water aqua aerobics. Try rowing (indoor or outdoor), cycling, mountain biking, spinning, skipping, kayaking, cranking, dancing...the list goes on. The point is, don't let an injury become an excuse for not exercising and giving up on your dream.
In summary....rest, ice, rehabilitate
The three simple steps to follow when you get an injury are:
1. Rest the affected area. Don't try to push through it....but remember the rest of the body isn't injured so keep working out if you can.
2. Ice it, 20 min on 20 min off. Repeat the process religiously for the next few days at least.
3. Rehabilitate by seeing a physio if needed, working with your instructor regarding your workouts and modifying your classes to work around the affected area and get some regular massages to prevent further flare ups.