Can vs. Can’t

Posted on by Ben Bruno

Focus on what you CAN do, not what you can’t do.

Yesterday one of my readers asked me for psychological advice on dealing with an injury, and that above statement was the first thing to pop into my head so I figured it be a good launching point for today’s Quick and Dirty post. The feeling I got last week was that you all like the idea of a short post to end the week, so I’m rolling with it for now.

There are two ways to interpret what I said above with regards to dealing with injury: Focus on what you CAN do, not what you can’t do.

One deals with action, the other deals with attitude.

BOTH are extremely important.

I’ll use myself with my recent knee surgery as an example.

Prior to the knee surgery, my training consisted primarily of pull-ups, inverted rows, dumbbell presses, push-ups, rollouts, glute-ham raises, single leg squats, rear foot elevated split squats, front squats, sleds, and bike sprints.

After the surgery, the only thing on that list I could still do was pull-ups. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t do…right now.

I could have thrown in the towel altogether, figuring “what’s the point.” But that’s a loser mentality.

Instead, I focused on what I can do: pull-ups. Lots of them. 3,500 in January to be exact.

I also found replacements for exercises on that list that didn’t hurt.

For example, I couldn’t do most pressing because it hurt to plant my leg. So instead, I did floor presses with straight legs.

I still can’t train my injured leg very hard, but I’m doing what I can while continuing to train the good leg hard with single leg exercises. I’ve also used my injury as a chance to expand my exercise toolbox and come up with tweaks to make a lot of the exercises I love doing more knee friendly. I can share more of those if there’s interest, but that’ll have to be a whole separate post.

Several people have asked me if I’m worried about developing muscle imbalances by training the good leg so much more.

In a word, no.

Multiple studies have actually shown that training the good leg has a transfer effect to the injured leg so it still gets stronger.

But that’s not the main reason I do it. It’s definitely part of the reason, but to be honest, I’ve gone digging through a lot of the studies about the transfer effect and the takeaways are often conflicting, and in most studies that do show a positive correlation, it’s pretty small.

If that’s the case, why do I even bother?

I do it for my state of mind. I don’t want to fall into the patient mentality and feel like I can’t do stuff. When I do what I can, I feel better, and I honestly believe that positivity has a big impact on recovery.

We’ll see I guess. I’m doing a lot better, so that’s a plus.

As for the worry about developing imbalances, here’s my thoughts. First, if it does have a transfer effect, however small, then it’s worth it for the sake of speedy up recovery on the injured side. Second, we’re talking about a month or two of training time here. Realistically, you don’t pack on much muscle in that amount of time anyway, so it isn’t going to create major imbalances.

That’s all I have time for today, but I’ve been outlining an article called The 6 P’s of Rehab that will go into this stuff further.

If you’re wondering what the 6 p’s are, here it is:


Any suggestions you think I should add to the list, or any questions/comments you have for me, please leave them below. Have a great day.

I’m off to the gym for “leg” day. Literally.

  • Antarfit

    Thanks I just injured my hand yesterday skiing and this really helped me!

    • Ben Bruno

      Hope your hand feels better soon!

  • grindercap

    Awesome post, Ben!
    Injury is real, acknowledge reality!
    No excuses, do what you can, kick ass!
    Punk ass is as punk ass does! And don’t do as punk ass does!

    • Ben Bruno


  • Jonathan R Kloor

    Ben- That was exactly what I was looking for. I really appreciate you taking the time not only to respond, but to inspire. You have my sincere appreciation. If your ever find yourself in Oregon you got a steak dinner coming your way. Thanks again !

    • Ben Bruno

      Haha, you’re welcome. I may have to take you up on the dinner! I love steak!

  • Cort the Sport

    I’d add creativity/flexibility, but those don’t start with “P”. You’ve clearly gotten creative!! I feel your frustration and a knee is tough to work around, but you are indeed.

    A year ago I was in a lower leg cast/crutches and had to get creative – upper body strength work continued (I was training for a bench press meet), like you I also did some work with the functional leg, and I discovered that I could row with one leg and get some cardio. During that time I think my upper body was at its strongest! I was lucky and had a waterproof cast and swam 3-4x a week. I always got funny looks hopping in the pool, but who cares. It’s important to focus on what you CAN do.

    Great post!

    • Ben Bruno

      Great job!

  • Rebbyx

    As one of my old teachers said, can’t means won’t means won’t try! Good post. Any chance of you posting some of your knee friendly exercises? Thanks!

    • Ben Bruno

      Hang tight on that, I’ve got a lot coming. Written several articles that should be published shortly.

  • SPQR55

    “…pull-ups, inverted rows, dumbbell presses, push-ups, rollouts, glute-ham raises, single leg squats, rear foot elevated split squats, front squats…” Not to sound like a meathead here, but I noticed bench press (and variations) were not on this list. Although I agree it is much overrated, do you not do any bench Ben?

    • Ben Bruno

      I bench from time to time (more recently, actually), but not that much.

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  • Mikesamuelspt

    Great blog Ben. Just linked it in my weekly newsletter to clients – hope that’s okay (I did credit you as the author obviously!)

    • Ben Bruno

      Thanks Mike! Of course that’s ok. Much appreciated.

  • Tom

    thank Ben really enjoy reading your stuff, i just recently had a knee op myself and your stuffs helped me with rehab ideas, your definetly right about the 6 p’s, t can be frustratuing at times not being able to do exercises you were before or having to using lighter weigths the 6 p’s are great way of puttin rehab into perspective thanks Tom

    • Ben Bruno

      Good luck Tom! Sorry you’re going through the same thing right now…no fun!

  • John

    Ben Great message here. Dealing with a lot of wrestlers who have injuries all of the time focusing on what YOU CAN DO is crucial for making progress and moving forward.

    • Ben Bruno

      Gracias John! Hope all is well buddy.