aging · flexibility · health · illness · injury · nutrition · planning · schedule · self care · training · weight lifting

Sam gets frustrated with midlife precision and the complications of fitting it all in

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.

Bitmoji Sam pointing at the word “lies”

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.

Sam’s bitmoji lifting weights.

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.

See Recovery and aging athletes: A guide to train smart and stay strong

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.

Wish me luck!

(Update: I see Catherine just purchased a training program that works in all the elements including rest. That’s one solution to fitting it all in. Go Catherine!)

Bitmoji Sam is holding a pillow. The text reads “rest up.”

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.

See Muscle loss is in the news again for more details.

Bitmoji Sam ponders her lunch options

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.

Bitmoji Sam on a purple bean bag chair with a red book and a mug.

How about you? How do you fit it all in?

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · illness

Gut Job, Butt Job: On Cycling, Yoga and Long-Term Cancer Recovery (Guest Post)

by Andrea Zanin

Four years ago, I underwent the second of two surgeries and radiation treatment for a rare spinal cord tumour that caused me chronic pain for over twenty years. I’ve shared a few posts here about chronic pain and my experiences of figuring out how to be in my body and regaining fitness post-treatment. Today I’m doing a deep dive into some recent developments on that journey!

When I started cycling more post-cancer treatment, I used my feet and calves to pedal. Seemed the obvious choice. Then I realized that was doing a helluva number on my knees, which were getting creaky and painful. So I started consciously using my quads more. I also started making sure to press down with my big toes in order to stop my knees from winging out. I figured good alignment would help reduce pain. 

This in turn meant taking more of the effort along the inner line of my legs, which strengthened the muscles weakened by the ways long-term chronic nerve pain had affected my gait. Definitely an improvement—no more knee pain, much stronger legs over time. 

This summer, I started to notice that as I strengthened my core muscles with yoga, my body naturally wanted to use them in cycling too. As a result, my core started doing more of the work and pulling my legs along for the ride. The push and pull came from my gut muscles, while my legs were the pistons that were simply there to rise and fall, lending their weight to the job but doing less of the work.

This more concentrated core work also got my glutes involved. So flat-surface cycling was a gut job, like front-wheel drive, but uphill cycling became a butt job, like rear-wheel drive.

This week I’ve noticed two new things. One, my butt is strong as a fucking tank. I can *feel* the power of those big muscles every time they fire. It’s a lot like the pleasure of a deep yawn or a good stretch in the morning—I can feel blood filling up places it hasn’t reached in a long time, tingly and rich. Everyday squatting is a breeze (sitting, picking things up from the ground, etc). In yoga, balance poses are easy—line up the leg bones, grip the core, engage the glute and then just hang out in whatever weird one-legged position with barely a wobble. 

Also, the added strength means that I can do backward-bending movements that previously triggered leftover nerve pain. Because I can hold myself steady with my glutes, my lower back doesn’t collapse and put pressure on my surgical site with its missing bones and stripped nerves.

But it’s really more a feeling thing than a performance thing. It’s like a heating system that was shut off for many, many years is finally being shot full of power, and the coils are creaking and glowing. It’s still early days, I can tell, because I think in the next phase I won’t even notice this feeling anymore. At the moment it still feels new. 

The second thing is, when I cycle, those stronger butt muscles are collaborating with my core—so instead of front-wheel versus rear-wheel drive, cycling feels like four-wheel drive no matter what kind of incline I’m on. It’s like my parts are figuring out how to operate as a cohesive whole. I don’t need to tell them how or think about it. My body’s got this all by itself.

I’m almost exactly four years post-cancer treatment and I’m still healing. But this phase is unlike the others thus far. This phase isn’t about emerging from the deep hole of pain. This one is about building upward from flat ground, and discovering what this new body can do beyond surviving. I had years of thinking this wasn’t even possible. So please forgive the possibly TMI description of the inner workings of my butt muscles here—it just feels kinda amazing to experience this and I don’t want to take a second of it for granted.

Andrea Zanin has written for the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, Bitch, Ms., Xtra, IN Magazine, Outlooks Magazine and the Montreal Mirror. Her scholarly work, fiction and essays appear in a variety of collections. She blogs at http://sexgeek.wordpress.comand tweets at @sexgeekAZ.

A green bike with rear basket against a red brick wall
Esmerelda!
fitness · Guest Post · health · illness · injury

Keeping Fit While Healing from Hysterectomy, Part 2 (The Lifting Edition)

It is now nearly 10 weeks after my complete, laparoscopic hysterectomy, and I figure it’s about time for an update on my progress! When I last wrote, it had been about a month, and I was working on following my own fitness plan. (If you haven’t read that post, you can find it here.) My goals at that time were to do what I could to maintain healthy habits and to preserve as much strength as I could without compromising healing. The plan was to do a bands-based resistance program and daily walking. Today, I’ll discuss some overall impressions and get into the weeds a bit about where I’m at with lifting. I’ll do a separate post about my ongoing efforts to return to running.

So, how did the plan go?

During that first month of exercises (post-op weeks 3-6), my strength and endurance varied quite a bit from day to day. Some days I felt great and had to force myself to keep things easy, other days, all I could handle was lifting up and washing the dishes in the sink. I did my best to honor the time I needed to rest. There was one week when I seemed tired all the time, and I wasn’t sure if that meant I’d been overdoing it or if it was something else going on. I rested a few days, and then I returned to my resistance bands and walking but with reduced volume. For several days there, I was tired before I got started but found that a little movement helped my mood and energized me, which reinforced that those were the right decisions.

For the most part, pain continued to not be a major concern. I had some discomfort for sure, but it was most often a generalized achiness, especially on the right side of my abdomen, rather than sharp pains. Bending over at the waist and pushing/pulling heavy objects were the most-limited movements, giving me the immediate feedback that I was still healing inside. Sometimes I thought some activity I’d done had exacerbated the aches, but plenty of times I couldn’t correlate the pain to any particular increase in activity.

The only time I had severe pain, it was while I was out wandering through a neighborhood garage sale with my husband. I hadn’t done anything strenuous in the previous 24 hours or so, and suddenly, every step resulted in a tearing feeling in my side. It completely stopped me in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes. We very gingerly walked home, with shallow, baby steps so I wouldn’t jostle my insides any further, and I laid down on the sofa for the rest of the day. This happened to be only a couple days before the 6-week post-op appointment with my surgeon, so I mentioned it to her at that time. Her hypothesis was that it was “scar tissue disease” that had formed and was being pulled and separated again, causing the tearing feeling I had. Her response to this surprised me–she advised me to stay as active as possible. She didn’t want scar tissue to limit my activities down the road, so the more I can prevent these tissues from sticking and forming together, the better off I’ll be long term.

Back to the gym
At that 6-week appointment, my doctor released me to “gradually return to regular activities.” She made it clear that she didn’t want me holding back too much, as that would slow down my progress. “You can’t hurt anything now,” she said after examining my vaginal sutures, which were apparently healing as expected. So, I left the appointment with her blessing to get back to the gym, to do all the stretching, twisting and bending that I felt ready to do.

I have been back to lifting for a little over 2 weeks now. I decided to go with a 4-day upper/lower split program that I’ve done before. I’ve modified the lifts to avoid undue abdominal pressure (no push-ups, planks, or similar poses). I wasn’t a great squatter before the surgery, but now I’ve gone back to light goblet squats just to parallel. I’m trying to feel out how my pelvic floor responds to the increased loading. As far as I can tell, it’s going ok, although honestly, there isn’t an obvious way to measure it.* My surgeon informed me that my pelvic floor was “more pliable than predicted,” given that I have never been pregnant. She did not know if this was due to my being a lifter or to my history of obesity. It’s not clear to me how careful I need to continue to be to protect my pelvic floor health going forward. And as discussed in the first post, there’s very few evidence-based resources out there to help people navigate this situation.

I’m lifting about 60% (in terms of both weight and volume) of what I was doing before surgery. My preferred programming is usually pretty high volume, and I hope to keep working on increasing it over the next few weeks. I started with 2-3 sets, and I plan on adding a set every couple of weeks until I’m back to doing 5 sets of the major lifts. Only after I get the volume up do I expect to progress the weights heavier again. I’ve dropped out almost all accessory lifts other than those I do to maintain mobility, and I’m focussing on the big, multijoint movements. Here’s how that looks:

Lower 1:
Goblet Squat, 1×6-8, lower weight by 10%, 2xAMRAP (as many reps as possible)
Leg Curl (Machine), 3×12-15
Offset Split Squat, 3×12-15
Monster Walks and lower body mobility work

Upper 1:
Upright Dumbbell Press, 1×6-8, lower weight by 10%, 2xAMRAP
Assisted Chin-up, 2×6-8, 1×10-12
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, 3×12-15
Cable Row, 3×15-20
shoulder mobility work

Lower 2:
Deadlift, 2×5-6, 1×8-10
Goblet Squat, 3×15-20
Pallof Press, 2×12-15
Alternating Reverse Lunge, 2×15-20
Monster walks and lower body mobility work

Upper 2:
Bench Press, 1×6-8, lower weight by 10%, 2xAMRAP
1-arm Dumbbell Row, 2×8-10, 1×12-15
Arnold Press, 3×15
Palms Down Cable Pulldown, 3×15
Dumbbell Lat Raise, 2xAMRAP (up to 20)
Dumbbell Reverse Fly, 2xAMRAP (up to 25)
shoulder mobility work

The mobility work is feeling especially important right now, as it seems like I’m stiff any time I’m not warmed up. I’m hoping that feeling will decrease as I get back to the rest of my usual routines and is not a new normal. I’m aware that I’m recovering from this surgery in my forties, and older lifters are frequently discussing the increased need for mobility work to keep lifting. I’ve never been sure how true that would be for me, since these folks are usually lifelong athletes, and I’m a relative noob. I have neither the benefit of a foundation of strength, nor the detriment of a lifetime of activity-related aches and pains.

So as far as the lifting part of my recovery plan goes, I’m feeling pretty good about it. The old advice to “lift nothing over 10 pounds,” clearly wasn’t the right advice for me. I was able to do more than that after the first two weeks of total rest, and I didn’t injure myself or create problems for my healing. Even still, my muscles are acting like I haven’t lifted in two months, and I was especially sore with lactic acid burn the first week back. It’s a bit disappointing to be so stiff and sore, given I was continuing to train in some fashion for most of the last couple months. However, I’m pleased that I kept it part of my routine, so that it usually does not feel hard to get myself to the gym–that moment of “ugh, do I really have the energy to do this?!” is less common than it might have been. It’s too early to know how the hysterectomy might impact my lifting options long term. I’m considering going back to the physical therapist to have her evaluate where I’m at, to see if there’s anything I’m missing as I continue to recover. Regardless, it’s clear to me from my experience that the typical lifting advice is more conservative than necessary, at least for some of us.

*Fun fact–in research, apparently they measure internal abdominal pressure by inserting a balloon up the rectum of test subjects. Then, when they do particular lifts, researchers can measure changes in the pressure upon the balloon. For the record, I will not be signing up for this, even in the interest of science!

(You can find my post on returning to running here.)

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.

fitness · health · illness · self care

The Latest Weird Thing About a Stiff Neck

Last year, I wrote about how my neck gets stiff when I am anxious and about how I get anxious when my neck gets stiff so it’s hard to parse which came first.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that there is another factor to consider in the whole stiff neck issue.

For almost 30 years, I have been getting semi-regular headaches that start with pain and stiffness in my neck. I haven’t been tracking them per se but my estimate is that I have them at least once every two months but sometimes I will have several in a month.

I’ve been blaming it on ‘sitting funny’ or not stretching my neck properly or any of a myriad of things that make these headaches kind of my own fault* for not paying closer attention to my body.

However, I recently had some interesting information come my way that puts that stiff neck in a whole different context.

My dear friend M, a GP who has gone back to school to specialize in Neurology,  has been preparing for her Royal College Exams and she was practicing for the part of the exam where she essentially demonstrates the results of her years of study by seeing practice patients. A couple of weeks ago, I was at her house for several days in a row to help her study and on the third day, I had one of these neck-based headaches so I decided to let her use me as a practice patient for the headache section of her studies.

She asked me when the headache came on, where it was localized, and so on. Then she connected my headache to my sleepiness from two days before and my lack of focus the previous day.

The author, a middle-aged white woman with shoulder length brown hair, wearing a black shirt and glasses is not looking directly at the camera. She is sitting in a room with green walls and there is a white door behind her.
I just happened to take this photo the day before my conversation with M. I was participating in a web chat about writing and I was having trouble concentrating. I was tired, I knew I was going to have a headache the next day because of the specific way that my neck was aching. I did some stretches and took some ibuprofen in hopes of warding it off but it didn’t work – it never does, actually but I always try it.

I was expecting her to respond with ‘Christine, you have a headache’ but instead, she said, ‘Christine, you’re having migraines.’**

I’ve always thought of migraines as ‘have to lie in a dark room with a cloth over your eyes’ type of headaches. My headaches are bad but I can (mostly) still function so I never considered that they were anything more complex than an elaborate neck ache.

M says that my neck pain is actually a symptom of the migraine, rather than the cause of my headache. (It’s no wonder that no amount of stretching seemed to get rid of it.)

Timeline graph of migraine symptoms. The background is purple and the timeline is orange. The graph illustrates that there are a few hours or days of symptoms that precede a migraine, the migraine itself lasts from 4-72 hours and there there is a 24-48 hour recovery period.
I had no idea that things like concentration and difficulty sleeping could precede a migraine. This graph was found here: https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/timeline-migraine-attack/

Learning that I have migraines explained a lot of things, including a certain type of ‘out of phase’ feeling I have beforehand that I recognize as a regular occurrence but hadn’t connected to my headaches. It also explains two feelings I have after my headaches pass. One that I call a ‘headache ghost’ where it kind of haunts me, as if it could return at any second, but it doesn’t hurt any more. And a ‘headache hangover’ where I feel all wrung out, hungry, unsettled and regretful.

This is all interesting to me, of course, but the thing that really sticks is how different I felt about my headache once I called it a migraine.

With rare exceptions, I have always tried to just carry on with my normal tasks when I have a headache. Sometimes it has been awful – intense pain, nausea, disorientation – but I refused to give in to something as ‘small’ as a headache.***

Now that I know these things are migraines, I suddenly found myself giving them the respect they deserve. I’m not saying that I am going to take to my bed at the first twinge of impending migraine but I am planning to take it easier on myself and I may just head to bed instead of fighting through nausea and pain to complete the things on my list for the day.

So, what does all of this have to do with fitness as a Feminist issue?

Fitness, for me, is about learning to take good care of myself and respecting what my body tells me.

Acknowledging that trying to ignore my headaches was dismissing and disrespecting my body’s signals shows me that that is one area in which fitness has eluded me.

I was being hard on myself for not stretching enough (something that helps me feel fit) when that wasn’t the problem at all. I may or may not have been ‘working hard enough’ but I was too quick to decide that I was to blame and I didn’t see the big picture.

And, the fact that I automatically dismissed pain and illness as ‘not bad enough’ because it was ‘just a headache’ tells me a lot about how I have internalized our society’s ideas about rest, laziness, and the notion that you need to earn the right to rest, even when you are sick.

I don’t know if this expression is localized but here in Newfoundland and Labrador when something is awful we’ll say that it’s not ‘fit.’  As in, the weather’s not fit to go out in, or that clothes is not fit to wear to the party, or, that someone is not fit to talk to.

Even though I didn’t know I was having migraines, I knew I was having really bad headaches but because I thought I brought them on myself, I didn’t rest the way I needed to.

And that’s not fit.

For the record, over the next few months I will be doing some tracking to see what my triggers are and to see just how often my migraines actually occur. And I will be going VERY easy on myself every time one happens.

*Is blaming ourselves for our ailments wise or helpful? It hasn’t helped me so far, I tell ya. I mean, I get that recognizing behaviours that lead to issues can identify actions to take but I wish we could all detour past the blame and just get to the action part.

**NOTE: M is able to make this diagnosis, of course, but she is not my doctor so I have also brought this information to my own doctor for follow-up.

***Yes, I hear how ridiculous this is. Heaven forbid I take things down a notch when I am ill in any way. Yes, I get on my own nerves. SIGH.

health · illness · yoga

Bettina’s yoga mini-streak (inspired by Sam)

When Sam posted about her bike streak, I was inspired. In her second post, she wrote about her “back at it” attitude to interrupted streaks. You see, I’m ordinarily more of a “I’ve interrupted my streak, that’s it” sort of person, or even the sort of person who doesn’t join a “30 days of” or whatever challenge because I just know life will get in the way. External accountability works very well for me as a motivator most of the time,  so you’d think the group aspect of some of these challenges would make me a fan. But if I know in advance I won’t be able to commit for instance to a full 30 days of something, it becomes more of a deterrent. And that is normally the case – something will always come up during 30 days that will prevent me from doing the whole thing “properly”, and the perfectionist in me is against that.

But since last Sunday, I’ve decided to do my own private yoga mini-streak: yoga every day until Christmas, or at least until my last day of work (21 December), before I interrupt my daily routine for the end of year festivities. No external accountability. No hard feelings.

I’ve recently had a bit of health stuff going on, so I’m technically forbidden from hard exercise until at least Thursday next week (medical advice differs on just how long I should avoid swimming and running, but that is a topic for another post). Since I feel fine and need some movement in my life, I decided to test the waters last Sunday with an hour of moderate-intensity yoga. It was thoroughly enjoyable, so I decided that this would be my go-to daily workout until I can resume normal activities.

A woman rolling up a teal yoga mat. My mat is red, but looks very similar. 
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

So here are my “rules”. They’re not very rule-y at all:

  • Do yoga every day for 10-15 minutes in the morning, or longer on weekends. 10-15 minutes isn’t much, but at least it’s something. And when I have time, I can do more. This morning, for example, I did a 40-minute flow for strength. 
  • I’m allowed to replace yoga by another activity if I want. For instance, tomorrow I plan to reintroduce some gentle bouldering into my routine, so I probably won’t do yoga on that day, except for maybe some cool-down asanas after bouldering.
  • But of course I can also do my yoga in the morning and swim in the evening or run in the afternoon, once I’m cleared to return to the pool and the road!
  • If life gets in the way of yoga on a couple of days, so be it. I’m not going to beat myself up about it. It could very well happen, with all the pre-holiday commitments that are going on.

This week has worked out great so far. I’ve been trying to listen to my body to make sure I don’t overdo it.  For example, on Thursday I got my flu shot, and so on Friday morning I did a hands-free flow to avoid irritating my arm. Youtube is truly amazing; you can find flows for essentially any life situation on there. 

To be honest, I’m starting to go a little stir-crazy from the lack of the sort of regular movement I’m used to, but the yoga is helping. So here’s to my mini-streak!

accessibility · disability · fitness · illness · injury

consider pain: why the social model of disability fails (reblogged)

We don’t reblog a lot around here but sometimes something just strikes me as so right and so important I want to share it. As I’ve been thinking about injury, disability, living with pain, and trying to come to terms with my left knee, I’ve been thinking about the social model of disability. Here’s Andrea Zanin on what the social model of disability leaves out.

I’m hoping to get Andrea to guest blog here about her return to yoga and biking and other things after years ago coping with pain and very serious health issues for many, many years.

But we can start with this. Thanks Andrea.

Sex Geek

pain punctuationToday I am spurred to rant about the social model of disability and why it’s inadequate.

The social model says, essentially, that disability, rather than being a characteristic of an individual, is created by society. On its surface, this is super useful. For instance: if a building has stairs, and a person cannot go up them because they use a wheelchair, then the disability is caused by the lack of a ramp, and by the lack of universally accessible design more broadly. Problems are also caused by ableist attitudes, both interpersonally and within larger power structures.

So far, I totally agree. When the built environment is designed on the assumption of a normative set of physical or mental abilities, then all who fall outside that set have trouble navigating it. Which includes almost all of us, eventually, as we age. It’s good for pretty much everyone if we shift the…

View original post 1,496 more words

fitness · illness · injury · martial arts · motivation · running · training

Getting back to it after illness or injury (Group post)

Image description: Single flower on the end of a circular branch with two more green buds, more flowers, branches, and greenery blurred in the background. Photo credit: Tracy (China trip)
Image description: Single flower on the end of a circular branch with two more green buds, more flowers, branches, and greenery blurred in the background. Photo credit: Tracy (China trip)

I went running yesterday morning for the first time in what seemed like ages. True, I went for about three runs in March, but each was forced and uncomfortable. I spent most of the month with a relentless cough that sometimes felt as if it was edging into something worse. I could hardly make it to work many days, never mind go for a run.

That all followed on the heels of my trip to India, where running was pretty much out of the question for logistical reasons. And then at the very end of March I went to China, where I think running would have been possible (great sidewalks) but our schedule was super tight (six day whirlwind).

So it’s basically been two months since I did any sort of endurance training. I stuck with my personal training throughout the cough, so I haven’t completely let all of my workouts go. That’s a relief because it was not easy to get myself out the door this morning.

This is a group post that includes paragraphs from me, Christine, Martha, and Sam about getting back into routine after injury or illness.

Tracy — Travel and Illness and More Travel…

As I said, I went for a run yesterday. It was hard — not that I ran hard, but that it was hard to get out the door, hard to run while I was out there, and hard to feel good about having gone because I realized how I’d lost my endurance. But I do have some tips for getting back out there after a hiatus for whatever reason, and here they are (for myself as much as for anyone else).

  1. Call in support. One reason I got out there was that I messaged Anita when I woke up and said I want to go running but I don’t feel like it (if that makes sense). She said, why don’t you go for 20 minutes? Then I posted to our blog author Facebook page group that I was going to go running and a few people said basically “go you!” That was all I needed to get out the door.
  2. Ease into it. Anita suggested 20 minutes, not 45 minutes. 20 minutes is so totally do-able. I know that lots of people think that if you’ve missed a lot you need to make up for lost time. That has never been my approach. I’m always for easing into it in a way that makes it more attractive and less of a chore. I know that eventually I will look forward to long runs again because when I’ve got the conditioning I actually enjoy getting out there for an hour or more. But that’s not now. And this morning showed me that. I had to take some walk breaks. But I did the 20 minutes.
  3. Make yourself accountable to kind people. I told Anita I would check back in after the run. And I did. I also checked back in with the blog group–more pats on the back. And finally I checked in with Linda, my running coach whose training plans I’ve not stuck with over the winter. She has asked me to send her a message whenever I go for a run, just to let her know what I did and how it went. She always comes back with encouragement, even if I send her a message like today’s: “I had to force myself out the door but I did manage the slowest 20 minutes of my life this morning. It was hard. I’ll need to build my endurance back up over the next couple of weeks.”
  4. Have a goal. I can go both ways on goals — sometimes they’re motivating and sometimes they’re oppressive. You need to know yourself on this one. I do have a goal this summer, which is to do what’s left of the local MEC race series, sticking to the 10K distance. That means races on April 21, May 26, September 8, and October 29. April 21 seems a bit close but my goal can be modest (like a continuous run) and then I can ramp it up to improve my times in subsequent events.

Those are the four suggestions I’m offering — to you and to me — to anyone who may have had to take a break and now wants to get back into it. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun. So if it feels like a dreaded chore, something’s not right.

Christine – Recovery from a broken wrist
I broke my wrist on February 27 but since I wasn’t in a lot of pain, I wanted to keep up some form of training in Taekwondo. I’ve been going to my classes and doing my own modified workouts at the back of the room. That includes learning my newest patterns with my right arm in a sling to keep it immobile. I figure that practicing which way to turn, and noting any movement that I can’t do right now will help me get up to speed quickly once my brace comes off on April 16 (fingers crossed).
I’m at the point where I am doing a few rehab exercises and it’s a bit scary how stiff my wrist is but I’m hoping to have a steady improvement with that. I am a bit worried about when the brace comes off – I don’t want to be timid or overly concerned about falling but I’m not sure how to avoid that. Perhaps I am just going to have to accept that worry as part of the healing process.
Martha–Cautious optimism after a popped joint
Back in 2014, my left hip decided to misbehave. The joint popped out several times after that, but in 2016 and again in 2017, I almost went a full year without an issue. I’m heading into my 15th month post-relapse, and I am feeling cautiously optimistic. I’ve blogged about coping with setbacks before. I’ve thought about what’s different this year. I’m stronger for one. I have done a lot of work on my core and whenever I think I might slip, I haul out my sheet of exercises and giv’er.
I’m also very fortunate to work with a trainer who understands my fear of popping the joint when I start lifting heavier weights. Her eagle eye and focus on my form means we have been pushing upwards more slowly than might be considered usual. No matter; it works for me. I also found another form of movement — swimming — to complement the lifting, and it has helped enormously in keeping me loose and relaxed. The one consistent thing is keeping myself open to new movement and practice while ratcheting back the fear. It’s not easy, but it’s working.

Sam’s left knee and what will it stop her doing?

So as readers of the blog know very well I’ve had very serious knee issues for years which came to a head last November. I’ve basically got severe cartilage degradation and a lot of knee pain. The joint isn’t that mobile. Often it’s stiff and sore. I meet the criteria for knee replacement but, in the surgeon’s words, I’m too young and way too active for that to be the best choice. I’m also fierce and determined and I’m doing a ton of physio.

I’ll never run again. I’m done. But there’s an expectation that I’ll be okay riding my bike. But thinking about it makes me tearfully nervous. Baby steps. I’m riding to work and running errands on my bike. I’m taking spin classes. I’ve gone from not being able to stand on the spin bikes to finding that easy and natural. I can put big gears on again. No pain.

So I’m going to be thoughtful and deliberate this year about spring bike training. I’m going to gradually increase my mileage. I’m not going to panic about being out of cardio shape. My first long ride is more likely to be 40 km than 80. No hammering and sprinting right away. Instead, I’m going to enjoy the spring days and week by week put more miles in on the bike. I’m going to keep doing physio.

My physiotherapist reminded me last night that my knee might never be pain free again. Some pain is going to be my new normal. What we’re hoping for is that I can take on an expanded range of activity. For me, the things I care about are long bike rides and dog hikes. It’s a long road ahead but I’m getting there. I’m looking forward to warm summer days outside on my bike.