Training with a broken collarbone

A few days after breaking my collarbone I had a quick trawl on the internet to see if I could find anything anyone else had written on the subject. If broken collarbones are a pretty standard injury for cyclists then surely someone must have written something about recovery as well? The only thing I could find unfortunately was plenty of mentions about Brad Wiggins collarbone op and how he was back on the turbo 4 days later. Nothing else apart from that. Really what I wanted to find was something to give me an idea as to how long it would take me to get back to the same level of fitness as before the injury and give me a clue as to what I could and couldn’t do.

There were many questions I wanted answers to. So what sort of training can you do? What are your new physical limits? What is most beneficial for my particular aims? Should I just rest up for 6 weeks and take a mid-season break? Will any exercise just slow down the rate of recovery of the bone healing? How do I plan for the rest of the season? Can I cope with 6 weeks of turbo work without losing motivation? How can you train for something if you don’t know when you will be back on the bike? What can I do about losing the core strength I’ve been working to build all year?

A bit of perspective….

The injury is in my shoulder. The legs are not affected in anyway. There is no reason why the heart rate cannot go up. The limitations are a) the lungs. With the need to keep the upper body perfectly motionless threshold type efforts with deeper breathing are out the question. Exercise specifically designed to improve lactate tolerance and clearance cannot be done B) body position. I could no longer reach the handlebar with my left arm and therefore cannot maintain a typical riding position. All efforts need to be made sitting bolt upright. The upper body usually provides a great degree of stability which results in greater cycling efficiency. So basically you put out less power sitting upright then with your hands on the bars.

So what’s the plan then?

Week 1.

Only one session. Trying to find out what I can and can’t do and see if I was comfortable. I did consider going down to the gym and doing some work on one of the reclining style ‘cycle’s’ they have there but to be honest the hassle involved getting there and back put me off. I just rigged up the turbo again in the upstairs hallway and now do my sessions there.

The first attempt was a short 30mins just to see what was possible. Normal endurance pace work wasn’t a problem for the legs or cardio but it was just awkward trying to get comfortable. Sitting bolt upright with a sling was the most comfortable solution






Week 2

Not much change really. No need for painkillers anymore luckily but the limiting factor was still the discomfort. I continued doing short sessions of 30 to 40 minutes at endurance pace not really designed to do much other than keep the legs and cardio ticking over.  As long rides were out the question it was just a case of accumulating time at the correct intensity.






Week 3

By the third week there was less discomfort in the shoulder. I would leave the sling off and use the other arm to push my left arm onto the bars. Still couldn’t put any weight back on it though!

I started adding a few higher intensity efforts in to see how I would react (and to kill the boredom)






Week 4 & 5

Shoulder was very similar to the previous week. As the legs were okay I started doing threshold work again as Sep/Oct and Nov were all meant to be focused on that type of effort. One quite noticeable difference though. As I didn’t want to stress the lungs too much I would just do sets of 1min on, 30secs off. Again, accumulating time at the right intensity was my plan.

Week 6

The range of movement in the shoulder has improved amazingly in the past week. Still very weak in that arm though. The other good thing is that I can now take deep breaths again without discomfort so effectively there are no longer any limitations as to the types of exercises I can do on the turbo. There’s still no way I can ride on the road yet although I’m tempted. You have to consider the whole risk/reward scenario and I just cannot afford to fall off while the bone isn’t as strong as it should be. Maybe in another week??

In the past week I’ve tried a normal 20min threshold session and my 1st attempt at Tabata intervals today. The threshold session showed up how weak my lungs had become so the Tabata is a bit of an attempted short cut to get them working again. We’ll see if it works in due course !

The beauty of hindsight.

What would I do differently a second time around? Well other than not crash the day before the 1st meaningful race of the season I would adjust a few things.

Week 1&2 were pretty much spot on. Light exercise which I didn’t find made me particularly tired.

Week 3 onwards. Introduce one longer ‘endurance’ type ride per week just so you don’t get out of the habit and to keep the total volume of cardio work up. I’ve noticed in the past few sessions my recovery heart rate (ie the rate it drops after exercise) hasn’t been as good as it should be. I’m wondering whether this is linked in?

Week 4 onwards. Threshold type efforts. I think the volume was good but I may have well have gone for 1minute on 1 minute off and maybe lengthen the session a bit.


I was due to have an operation plating the collarbone last Wednesday but this was cancelled very last minute. To cut a long and rather tedious story short, the bone now shows enough signs of healing on its own to make the disadvantages of the operation outweigh the benefits. Although relieved at the time I have a few doubts about how much this will affect me in the future. Decision made though so there is not much point worrying about it now.

I’ve signed on for the 3rd round of the national trophy at Southampton. Due to the need to enter 3 weeks in advance I thought I would rather give myself the option and see how things go. It is also pretty important to give yourself goals to work towards so hopefully this is one that should be achievable and motivational. As I found earlier in the recovery it is very difficult to train if you are not specific about what you are training for, so for now the short term goal is to make it to the start line at Southampton in decent shape. I’m not too worried about the legs and cardio but the lack of upper body strength is a bit of a concern. One of the things about this particular injury is you have no option but to lose upper body strength as you can’t use the muscles without moving the broken bone. Hopefully 3 weeks should be long enough to regain some strength and so my specific goal is to finish on the same lap as the winner at Southampton. Easy huh ?



One thought on “Training with a broken collarbone

  1. this article has been a godsend to me. Broke collarbone 10 days ago, just building up for the last 4 days with turbo sessions staring at 20 mins and then increasing 5 mins each day. i have done some harder efforts – not threshold but harder to alleviate the boredom. Still hopefult that I’ll be able to complete London to Paris in 3 days on 5 June!

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