fitness · injury · stretching

Heel Pain Update: Clock Watching

Remember when I mentioned that I was having trouble with my calves that was causing pain in my heels?

Or, to put it another way, remember when I was learning the same lesson all over again?

Well, I have (mostly) learned my lesson (for now) about changing anything hat make me dread exercising and I have been working on a variety of stretches to help my calves and, hence, my heels.

But, it turns out that the best (i.e. most helpful) thing is to hold a calf stretch for two minutes on each side a couple of times a day.

GIF description: two polar bears are in a small dip in the snow. One starts to climb out and pauses to stretch its back legs.
This is not exactly the stretch I do. Mine is a sort of lunge as this is an upward bear. Also, I just have two legs and I am not quite as furry. GIF description: two polar bears are in a small dip in the snow. One starts to climb out and pauses to stretch its back legs.

I can feel the difference it makes AND it is way better than trying to remember to do multiple exercises multiple times every day.

BUT

(You knew this was coming, didn’t you?)

I hate it.

And it hurts.

A lot.

But, I don’t hate it so much that I won’t do it and it doesn’t hurt so much that I can’t do it but it is so unpleasant that I can’t even distract myself with reading or watching videos.

I just end up watching the timer click along and wishing I could time travel to a not-too-distant future where my stretches were already done.

Meanwhile, though, I’m proud of myself for sticking with it. After all, it has all the hallmarks of something that my brain would shuffle out of my daily schedule – it’s dull, it’s uncomfortable, and the results are definitely not instant.

Yet, I have been pretty consistent. I haven’t missed any days and most days I have done the stretch twice. (Yes, I have also done other stretches too but I haven’t been quite as consistent with those.)

Image description: a GIF of a gold star being drawn in neon. White text reads ‘You get a gold star!’​
I’m giving myself a gold star for my efforts on this. 😉 You can share this one – your efforts count, too, of course. Image description: a GIF of the outline of a gold star being drawn in neon. White text reads ‘And you get a gold star!’

I’m not sure what has made me able to stick with this particular hated exercises but I guess the fact that I can feel a difference – even if it is not instant – keeps me returning to the stretch.

Now, if I could only get to the point where things have improved enough to reduce the pain while I stretch.

At least that way I could concentrate to read or watch a favourite show while doing the exercise.

I’m really bored with watching the timer show – I already know the ending and the plot just drags along.

advice · fitness · flexibility · injury · stretching

Christine Learns The Same Lesson…Again.

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:

Image description: A GIF of Sophia Petrillo, an elderly character from the show Golden Girls, raises ​and lowers her hand as she vehemently says ‘I hate that!’
Image description: A GIF of Sophia Petrillo, an elderly character from the show Golden Girls, raises and lowers her hand as she vehemently says ‘I hate that!’

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.’

Glerg.

Of course!

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?

Please tell me that I’m not the only one!

fitness · flexibility · habits · self care · stretching

Backing it up: Christine treats the symptoms and the cause

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.

A small elderly woman sitting in a living room chair is shrugging with one  arm and holding a cup and saucer in her other hand.
Picture it, February 2021… (Image description: A GIF from the TV show ‘Golden Girls’ in which Sophia Petrillo, a small elderly woman in a stripped dress who is sitting in a living room chair, makes a dismissive shrugging gesture with one hand while holding a cup and saucer in her other hand.)

(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.

An adult man dances in an oversized Adirondack  chair.
My chair wasn’t quite this off-kilter but once I started paying attention it felt like it. (Image description: A man dances while seated in a comically over-sized red Adirondack chair. It’s a sunny day, there is greenery nearby and a few buildings are in the background.)

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.

And I’m calling that a victory.

A person in a yellow,tubular costume waves their arms as they walk through booths at an event.
It’s a very wiggly victory, apparently! Image description: a person in a yellow tubular costume with a happy expression on it waves the long skinny arms of their costume while they walk between booths at an event.
fitness · stretching

Why Catherine’s working on flexibility (but not doing the splits challenge)

Is it just me, or are the social media fitspo promoters much more concerned about our flexibility than they used to be? I’m getting blammed with ads from people like this guy:

Don’t get me wrong– I’m all for increased flexibility. Well, sort of. But signing on to a 21-day hip opening challenge strikes me as:

  • rushed– why 21 days? what will happen if I can’t do a lotus by day 22?
  • expensive– even though it’s currently available for the discount price of $69
  • wildly unrealistic– I studied ballet for years, and I can tell you, there are things my body won’t and can’t do, even with much more than 21 days of smart-phone video training
  • potentially harmful– pushing ourselves too far too fast can cause injury
  • deflating– when we reach that magical day 21 and we still can’t do a lotus, or a split, then what? keep trying? decide we’re not worthy of stretching and moving? I think not.

But wait– isn’t flexibility supposed to be good for us? I’m sure I read somewhere that it’s supposed to help us (women especially). Oh, wait, maybe that was one of those Facebook ads. Like this one:

Ads mentioning "hyperbolic" and "revolutionary" and "pelvic floor" raise my suspicions.
Ads mentioning “hyperbolic” and “revolutionary” and “pelvic floor” raise my suspicions.

In a recent article in Outside magazine, author Alex Hutchinson looks at studies on the effects of static stretching on sport performance. It’s worth taking a look. Here’s what he says, though, in general, about flexibility:

So what does being flexible do for you? … greater flexibility as measured by the sit-and-reach test isn’t associated with longer life—unlike the ACSM’s other four “major components” of physical fitness. It also doesn’t predict more successful aging (like avoiding falls), except in ways that are better predicted by muscle strength.

Contrary to a half-century of locker-room wisdom, being flexible doesn’t seem to protect you from injury either. This topic is the focus of hundreds of studies, and there are admittedly a few that do find benefits. At the other end of the spectrum, there are a few that find that being too flexible is also associated with injury. But overall, it just doesn’t seem to make much difference. It’s also not associated with non-sports-related problems like low-back pain.

Does that mean that we needn’t work on flexibility, and not worry about stretching? No, I’m not saying that, either. So what am I saying?

Flexibility matters for range of motion and also general physical comfort and ease. When I sit too long– and who isn’t in these era of all-Zoom-all-the-time?– I get creaky. For some people it’s their back. For me, it’s my hips. I’ve lately been doing some of these yoga poses in between Zoom meetings, or at intervals during my work-at-home day. It’s amazing what a little supine twist and and gate pose will do for you.

Woman kneeling and stretching. This one feels good, no matter what your range of motion.
Gate pose: woman kneeling and stretching. This one feels good, no matter what your range of motion.

As we say often (or maybe it’s just me, but anyway): with movement, a little often goes a long way. And a lot doesn’t always go as far past a little as we think. Well, you know what I mean (I hope).

Readers: what kinds of flexibility exercises do you do in your movement lives? Do you yearn for splits? Do you spurn stretching? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · stretching

Get to know Doctor Jo (or at least her YouTube channel)

I have a few spots that give me a bit of trouble at Taekwondo or during other exercises.

My right hip and the side of my right knee give me a bit of grief. My wrists misbehave a little from time to time. And I apparently like to carry tension in my shoulders and neck (A novel and shocking situation, I know. No one else does that. 😉 Ha!)

Yoga helps with a lot of that but sometimes I need to give those areas a little extra attention with some focused stretches/movements. Since my chiropractor isn’t on call 24-7, and since I prefer to follow along with a video than overthinking about how many reps to do, I have become a big fan of the Ask Doctor Jo channel on Youtube.

Dr. Jo,   a woman with dark hair  who is wearing a dark-coloured Supergirl  T-shirt.  She is surrounded  by three  large dogs, one black and two brown.
Here’s Doctor Jo with Remy, Kali, and Bear. Photo from Instagram – Ask Doctor Jo

Doctor Jo is calm, friendly and casual, often appearing in a tshirts with a funny saying on them. The sets for her videos are minimal (sometimes just her on a chair with a white background) and her advice and instructions are really clear.

She can also be delightfully goofy and seems like someone I could be friends with – which is always fun. (Anyone who includes audio of themselves saying ‘Disclaimer Alert! Disclaimer Alert!’ over their disclaimer alert is my kind of person.)

And, as an added bonus, she often has one of her dogs with her in the video. (For example, Remy is featured in this video of neck stretches.)

This Dr. Jo video on neck pain is a great example of all of the things I like about her approach – useful, well-explained exercises, a visit from her dog, some goofiness, and a Wonder Woman t-shirt.

In addition to her videos that just demonstrate the movements and tell you how long to hold them, she also has a variety of ‘real time’ videos (Here’s an example of one of her ‘real time’ full body stretch videos) in which she keeps you company for the stretches. I particularly enjoy those because they make it easier for me to stick with the program.

I also really like the videos in her ‘Top Ten’ series that demonstrate her 10 favourite exercises for a variety of frequently searched issues.

Exercises for knee pain AND a T-shirt that says ‘Dog Hair is my glitter’ ? I am HERE for this.

Obviously, if you are having major or chronic issues with specific muscles, you need to see a medical professional in person, if at all possible.

But, if you are having a small issue with one body part, if you need a refresher on how to do the exercises that were recommended to you, or if you just need some video company while you work out a few tough spots, give Doctor Jo a try.

I’m tempted to say ‘Tell her Christine sent you.’ but since I don’t actually know her, that would be weird.

fitness classes · flexibility · stretching

Sam is not a big fan of stretching but thinks the new fancy stretching machines are okay

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.

Image description: Sam’s right leg in a hamstring stretching machine. She’s wearing black capris and purple sneakers.

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?