I was away on a writing retreat with some dear friends this past weekend (our group is called the Strident Women so you can imagine what a genteel gathering it was.)
I did some writing and a lot of relaxing. I needed the break far more than I needed to get words on paper at the moment, so I spend a fair bit of time reading, drawing, doing yoga, meditating, and I even managed to practice my TKD patterns a few times.
A few years ago, I would have been frustrated at myself for ‘frittering away’ a writing weekend but I have gotten much better at being kind to myself and at responding to what I really need instead of what I *should* do.
And I’m grateful for that shift in my thinking because it meant I could thoroughly enjoy my weekend and I could be fully present to practice yoga imperfectly on the front deck on our last morning. It was slightly chilly but it was bright and the sun was shining through the clouds every so often and I could hear the waves nearby.
It felt it would be the most perfect time and place to practice.
I have spent entirely too much time thinking about my big toes this week.
Aside from the occasional stubbing incident, and an unfortunately-located bee sting when I was 8, I have never given my big toes much thought at all.
But last week, a conversation with my chiropractor led to the realization that I roll my foot inwards when I am trying to keep my balance. That means that the muscles in my feet weak from not being used properly. And, I am compensating for that weakness by using muscles in my legs instead.
Well, this is probably tied into that whole mess, too.
I’m not sure if the problem started with my toes, messed up my foot, then aggravated my calf and so on, or if things went the other way, or if it all kind of happened at once.*
I wish that I could have noticed the whole thing before it got this bad, I just have to work through all of the different muscles while they recover.
So, I’ve added some toe exercises to my calf/heel/foot routine. I have been taking my chiropractor’s advice and consciously choosing to use my big toe for support as I do yoga and walk and practice Taekwondo.
And I bought some of these chummies (you may know them as toe spacers but they’re chummies to me.)
I think my feet are feeling a little better already but that is probably just the power of suggestion.
I guess that as long as it encourages me to keep up a routine that will work, it’s a useful form of delusion, right?
Anyway, let’s hope that I can soon get back to not thinking about my toes, my feet, or my calves at all.
*This article certainly makes it sound like the problem could have originated in my toes.
I was at my chiropractor last week about a problem I’m having with my heels.
I already had a working theory that my sore heels were a result of overly tight calves (I was half right) so I had been doing all kinds of different calf stretches to try and find some relief.
One of the most useful sets of stretches I found was in this short yoga video.
Her exercises helped my calves…and my heels, at least temporarily, but there was one problem.
I really hate that ‘front fold with your fingers tucked under your toes’ stretch.
I mean, I HATE IT.
I know, I know! Why don’t I tell you how I really feel.
Let’s see if this helps clarify things:
I forced myself to do it though because the rest of the video was so helpful (I was wary of the bouncing but I didn’t hate it) but I found myself dreading it and putting it off, and even the promised relief for my heels didn’t help.
So, anyway, I’m mentioning all of this to Ken, my chiropractor (and my cousin!) and he, clever soul that he is, sensibly said ‘You won’t stick with a stretch you hate, do something else instead.’
How many times do I have to learn this lesson?
How often will I have to be reminded that the best exercise is the one I’ll do?
Why can’t I remember that hating an exercise can be a good reason not to do it?
Now, I get that sometimes there are exercises that must be done in order to heal specific things and how much you hate it may not be a factor in that case.
But, for me, it keeps happening for exercises that can easily be switched out for something else.
I need to start letting ‘I hate it!’ be a signal to find an equivalent exercises that I like instead of a signal to dig in my heels and (try to) force myself to keep doing something that feels awful.
(Besides, digging in my heels is definitely not going to help right now. 😉 )
Do you have exercise lessons that you have to learn again and again?
After years of planning to buy a rowing machine, I finally got one a couple of months back and I am thoroughly enjoying using it.
I love that I don’t have to put much thought into the how and the what of exercising with the rowing machine. I can use it at any time without having to put on specific clothes and I can choose to have a harder workout or an easier one without having to make a specific plan.
It’s a kind of automatic exercise for me which is really good for my ADHD brain – there are few, if any, choices to make in advance and that means there are very few potential obstacles between me and my workout.
Plus, I like the very nature of the movement back and forth, the repetition has a soothing element to it.
And, I like that I can do a very specific type of multi-tasking – watching YouTube videos – while I row.
I enjoy learning by video but I don’t often make time to do so. Combining my exercise with videos is a win-win situation – I am doing two enjoyable things at once and my brain and body are both busy so I don’t get any of my usual feeling that I should probably be doing something else.
I even pick out my videos the night before so there is little between my pyjama-clad self and my exercise session in the mornings. I can get up, let the dog out (and back in!), grab some water, take my meds, and then head to the basement to row. It’s all part of my waking up routine and it really feels great.
Speaking of feeling great, my rowing has brought me an unexpected positive side-effect – my hips have loosened up considerably.
Because of long-ago sessions at the gym, I knew that my arms, back, and legs were going to benefit from using the machine but I hadn’t really thought about how the set of movements required to row would help my hips, too.
I sort of have a ‘trick’ hip. It’s mostly fine but every now and then I’ll do something that will wonk it out and it will take me a few days to get it to calm down again.
Practicing kicks at taekwon-do has often triggered my hip in that way but I only realize it *after* I have done it. I’ve done a variety of things to work on it (with various degrees of consistency – I’m still me after all) but nothing has been especially helpful. Until now.
About three weeks after starting regular rowing sessions, our Thursday night TKD class was all about practicing sidekicks and angle kicks. Normally, with a night full of those kicks, my hip would wonk out at some point during the evening and I’d either have to reduce my movements or do something else entirely.
This time, however, I was tired but my hip was completely fine. I was puzzled at first but as I was pulling my leg up and back into position for one of the kicks, I realized that the motion was familiar. It’s not exactly like the position of my leg as I pull all the way forward on the machine but it’s similar.
I didn’t have any trouble with my hips that night. And, more importantly, I didn’t wake up stiff or in pain the next morning. In fact, I rowed for a bit longer than I had the day before.
It turns out that my rowing was setting me up for new success with taekwon-do.
That’s a pretty good side-effect for an activity I was enjoying already.
Have you ever had one type of exercise ‘accidentally’ help you in another like that?
Tell me about it in the comments! (Pretty please.)
My plan for February was to do a little work on my upper back mobility every day.
Alas, that plan did not take into account the fact that February messes with me every year.
(I can’t really explain how it messes with me. It’s some sort of mid-winter slump combined with an odd sense of shortened time. Anyway, I have made note in my calendar to take it into account next year!)
But I didn’t get upset with myself about being less diligent than I had intended. I just did my stretches, movements, and yoga whenever I had the capacity and wherewithal to do so.
It turns out, though, that my lack of capacity for daily work on my upper back actually helped me to identify one of the underlying causes of my tight muscles.
Since I was aware that I wasn’t doing the stretches and everything that I intended to do, I really started paying attention to when and how my upper back felt the worst.
And observing that ‘when and how’ led me to realize that not only was my chair in my home office too low and at a bad angle for my back but my monitor was at the wrong height.
So I elevated my monitor and I switched out my chair for one that was less fun but better for my back.
Now, I’m not saying that this fixed the problem entirely. My upper back still needs me to do the stretching and yoga. I still need to pay attention to how I’m holding myself and how long I am sitting in one position.
But addressing that underlying cause of at least part of the problem has made an incredible difference.
It’s not just that my upper back feels more mobile and less tight, I feel better overall. I have had fewer of the specific type of headache that generates from a tight upper back and I feel more relaxed.
So even though I didn’t follow my exact plan I still got where I needed to go.
There’s a story we tell here on the blog. Do the things you love, whatever movement fits into your day is good movement, eat what your body feels like eating.
Regular readers, you know our drill. It’s a relaxed, forgiving tune we sing around here most of the time.
Regular readers know too that I’ve been struggling a bit with that tune. These things are all true, I still sing that song, but at the same time things are getting more complicated with age and with injury. I’ve written before about doing things that aren’t fun (so much painful knee physio!) and about rest. Tl;dr: It’s complicated and sometimes I get frustrated.
It’s especially more complicated as we age. It’s especially more complicated for those of us with performance oriented fitness goals. Martha and Marjorie Rose are serious about their lifting. Kim and I have cycling goals. Others run and race. Cate is often preparing for her next big solo adventure. Christine is training for her next martial arts test.
As a group we’ve got a lot going on. We all do some strength work, some aerobic activity for endurance, some aerobic activity for intensity, and some activities for flexibility and mobility. For me, right now, it’s physio, weights, cycling and yoga.
I don’t mean to sound whiney. I’m not really complaining. It is what it is. But what it is is not simple or easy.
So we’re busy but what do I mean by “more complicated”?
Do you remember when if you had a big project due for work or school you could just stay up all night, maybe even for a couple of nights, and push through? If you were working late you could skip meals, no problem. Aging takes away that ability for most of us. We need to be more organized and scheduled with our work and with our lives.
There are new rules for everyday eating too. For example, there’s a whole list of foods I don’t eat late in the day not because I’m concerned about my weight but because of heartburn. Oh, midlife. Lots of my friends are pretty scientific about their caffeine consumption. Luckily, I can still drink regular coffee after dinner but I think I’m the last in my friend group who is able.
All of these changes are present as we age as athletes too.
Here’s Abigail Barronian talking about the aging athlete, “It’s no secret that our bodies change as we age. Muscle mass and strength decline, it takes longer to recover from hard efforts, and our capacity to handle high training volumes can diminish. On top of that, mobility decreases and we become more prone to certain injuries. When an older athlete stops training, their fitness deteriorates significantly quicker than it did when they were young—and building it back is much harder.”
So given all the constraints it’s hard to be relaxed about things. Fitness in midlife and beyond requires more structure and thoughtful planning. If it used to be the fun, intuitive, freewheeling part of your life, that’s a tough psychological change too. Mostly it’s still a lot of fun for me but these days I’m finding the planning and organizing a bit stressful.
First, as we age rest becomes more important and it’s harder scheduling workouts and scheduling rest days, not to mention getting enough sleep. Aging athletes need more rest between tough workouts. I love rest but even for me sometimes the recommended amount of rest feels like too much. In recent years we’ve discovered that aging athletes can still work out hard. There’s no need to dial back workout intensity but there is a real need to rest more between workouts. We don’t recover and bounce back the way we used to.
A colleague of mine, and former bicycle racer, who is now 59 years old, put it something like this: “In my twenties I recall being able to do five or six hard workouts a week and race back-to-back days without any trouble.
In my thirties this changed to three or four hard workouts a week and it was more difficult to race back-to-back days. In my forties, two or three hard workouts a week were more than enough, and racing back-to-back days was a bit of a challenge. In my fifties, one or two hard workouts a week were enough and recovering from a race took me about a week. Now, approaching 60…don’t even ask.”
The rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete. It’s different again at 55 and so on. But this means that taking training plans off the internet won’t work. Often they don’t allow enough rest.
From Here’s how to get stronger after fifty: “As you age, your body bounces back more slowly from intense exercise. Successful older athletes should take their recovery as seriously as their training. “Younger athletes can get away with a poor lifestyle and still perform, but older athletes cannot,” Swift says.”
When I was younger it was just a matter of juggling, fitting in the activities I wanted to fit in, amid kids and a busy work schedule. But as we age there’s also the matter of resting between workouts which becomes more and more important. I’ve long been a fan of deliberate rest days and every coach I’ve had has talked about their importance. Except now they’re more important and I don’t have a coach to make sure I take them.
Likewise for lifting, as we age there’s more need for rest. I read a study recently that claimed for midlife women lifters the right ratio for strength training is two hard workouts followed by one easier workout with lighter weights. I’m not sure if that’s right or not but the main point stands, it’s complicated.
I’ve read too that after 50 you should move to two rest days a week of which one can be active recovery, gentle cardio or yoga maybe.
What am I trying to fit in? The big and important thing is knee physio and strength training. Say three days a week. Next up is cycling, also three days a week. I would like to do hot yoga twice a week. And I also want to take a complete rest day. Oh and also I have to be flexible and fit things in around a very demanding work schedule.
Second, food is more complicated too. For me, there’s some planning involved. I have medication I have to take each morning on an empty stomach and then wait an hour before breakfast. That’s tricky. I also have medicine I have to take after breakfast because it can’t be taken on an empty stomach. Oh, and I need to get to work sometime.
There’s also this whole thing about aging athletes and muscle loss. Our bodies use protein less effectively so we are supposed to eat more of it, some with each meal. I also need fewer calories to get through the day–thanks also to aging– so protein takes up a good chunk of the calories. Add vegetables. Where’s the room for other food? That’s not easy to organize either.
Thirdly, for pretty much all of us there are complications related to injury. My knee is an ongoing thing and recently Tracy injured her Achilles. When that happens you’re doing workouts but also physio and in my case massage therapy too. It can feel like a lot to manage.
Now maybe you might think that one doesn’t need to take it all so seriously. You can walk to work, stretch once in awhile, and do work around the house. And that’s true. You can. But if your goals are more about maintaining fitness as you age and not losing muscle, it’s complicated. Mostly I’m good with that. But I confess that some days I just want to not think about what I’m eating or when I’m next riding or lifting and curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot tea and a book.
I did some stretching and some lacrosse ball muscle massage last night but I still expected to be very uncomfortable today.
I was happy to discover that, while my hip muscles are tight today, I don’t hurt. I’m calling that a victory!
The Day 2 routine consisted of leg swings and lifts, some split stretches (She does splits but me? Not so much) and some standing leg raises of various sorts.
They were challenging but not quite as difficult as some of yesterday’s movements.
The real challenge today was what she calls ground kicks – leaning on the floor on one side, executing a kick and holding it.
Doing them with my right leg made me acutely aware of the tightest muscle in my body – right at the crease of the front of my hip. It hurt to do them but not in the ‘you should stop’ way. It was more of a ‘this is where you have to do the work’ way.
My left leg didn’t give me the same trouble.
Overall, it’s really becoming clear that weakness/tightness in different muscles on each leg is affecting my kicks on both sides…just in different ways.
I’m enjoying this kick-specific focus and the short duration of each workout. This approach lets me work on one challenge at a time which, it turns out, is much better than trying to do all of the things at once.
Who knew? 😉
PS – Yes, I do realize that this is news only to me. 🙂 Ha Ha!
Left to my own devices I am not a big fan of stretching. It’s time consuming, boring, and border line painful. It’s even more boring than physio exercises.
I like doing activities that involve stretching–yoga and Aikido, for example. But stretching after cycling, or worse yet, before, has never been my thing. At personal training Meg builds stretching into the workout and then I stretch. Yay! (Oh, you’ll get to meet Meg soon. She’s going to guest blog for us.) Yet my knee physio involves daily stretching and I struggle to get myself to do it.
However, the Guelph gym has these cool fancy stretching machines that get you into position and then leave your hands free to check your phone while holding a stretch. I really like them.
I confess though when I am getting myself into the machine I keep thinking of medieval torture instruments. I’m reminded of a novel I read–was it by Rose Tremain?–about a young woman captured by the Inquisition who looked on at the stretching rack, knowing that she would die on it, waiting her turn. It’s one of three stories in the book. One of the others was about Joan of Arc. If you know the name of the book, could you let me know? I’m digressing. Sorry!)
But the university stretching machines are all self-controlled and you can get to a just barely comfortable position, check your Facebook notifications, and then stretch some more. I like that. I approve comments on blog posts and play moves in various word games. All while stretching.
Fitness magazines tell me that stretching is the New Big Thing. There are even whole classes devoted just to stretching and now stretching studios. For now, I’m sticking to the stretching machines and Meg’s stretching routines and the ones I can manage to do at home.
How are you about stretching? Do you like it? Do you do it?