Fitness / Beginner Fitness

Nastia Liukin on How to Cope With Injuries—Physically and Mentally

The Olympic champion shares how she stays positive.

If you’re familiar with gymnastics, you’re likely familiar with Nastia Liukin. The five-time Olympic medalist won over the world (and nine world championships) during her gymnast days. Since retiring from the sport in 2012, Liukin has branched into entrepreneurship but has stayed close to her roots. In 2016, she co-founded Grander, a global community for the next generation of female athletes. So, she’s clearly got the inspiring thing down.

In that spirit, Aaptiv caught up with Liukin at the WELL Summit to soak up as much of her motivating guidance as possible. Read on to find out how she coped with the ups and downs of being a professional athlete (hello, injuries!) and how she plans to help the next wave of female gymnasts.

Being a competitive athlete is as challenging mentally as it is physically. How did you maintain your mental toughness through the hardest moments?

“Visualization was important to me during competition and training. I would set a lot of goals and not just those long-term goals. I’d set weekly and monthly goals. It helps when you have something you’re working to attain on a daily basis instead of going to the gym and working for several hours with no direction.

“My dad was also my mentor and motivation. I had full faith and trust in him based on his own success as an athlete. I think it’s important to have a mentor whether it’s a coach or family member or another teammate. You need someone to look up to and ask questions.”

You’ve experienced your fair share of injuries. What is the most difficult part of dealing with an injury?

“The mental side of it is always the most difficult. My immediate emotional reaction was always ‘this is annoying and taking away time to train.’ For me, it was important to communicate with my coach (my dad) about my injury before it got worse. If you can catch it before it becomes something serious, you’re in a much better position to treat it before it progresses.”

How did you cope with injuries, physically and mentally?

“Depending on the injury, I would try various methods, including hot baths, acupuncture, massage therapy, ice baths, and conditioning. I was in and out of the gym and that helped to keep my body healthy.

“Coping mentally was more difficult. It’s really tough to feel like you’re falling behind with your personal goals or watching your competition get better. I did a lot of visualization when I was hurt. Even if I was injured and wasn’t able to physically do the routine, I could visualize it in my head. It was like muscle memory in my mind and when I would finally heal, I could go back out there with confidence.”

What advice do you have for athletes coping with injuries?

“Listening to your body is really important. I wasn’t always the best at this because I felt like I was falling behind. Even now, I practice listening to my body. I work out almost every day of the week and if I wake up exhausted from traveling or have an ache, I try not to push myself to extremes.

“Communication with your trainer or doctor is key, too. Finding someone that you can trust and has experience with [your sport] is really important. I’ve been seeing my doctor since I was 10 years old. He’s familiar with my body and knows how to treat a professional athlete. He offers the safest, quickest, and most effective methods for treating an injury. Your relationship with your doctor is a partnership—you should be working together.”

Tell us more about Grander.

“Grander is really about empowering females to be the best version of themselves. Whatever your goal is—whether you want to become a CEO or scientist—we hope to provide educational and inspirational content for you. We wanted to offer a place that is different and stems from the perspective of all the great mentors I had throughout my career. I really feel like everyone deserves that person, that chance, and that community.”

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