aging · fitness · injury · nutrition

Embracing my growing strength

Red and white printed blanket covering a personBy MarthaFitat55

I’m not a big fan of our winter season. The weather is often horrible, spring seems like it will never arrive, and the multiple layers required to survive the cold make going to the gym a chore.

When the sky is blue, and the snow is soft and fluffy, I can work up the enthusiasm to enjoy a walk or a snowshoe. When it is wet and miserable with sleety snow, I want to curl up under my quilt and not surface until May.

Part of my resistance to winter exercise comes from my fear of falling. I have actually fallen several times, with my first reliable memory being a fall at 14 that resulted in a wicked headache.

I have tumbled over icy stairs (that one within earshot of my mother who heard me use language suitable for blistering paint) and I have skidded across parking lots.

I have also fallen indoors, and while I have been fortunate enough not to experience lasting ill effects, as I grow older, my fear of falling has grown exponentially.

I often ask people if they remember the rubber boots many of us wore as kids, and if they specifically recall how stiff and unyielding the rubber would get as we walked to and from school in January and February. Over time the rubber would crack and the wet would seep in.

That’s how I feel my muscles go in the winter cold: hard, inflexible, and yet ready to shatter at the slightest pressure.

Last year, three of my friends and one of my relatives were laid up with broken bones, all women. Two experienced the breaks as a result of slips and falls on icy sidewalks, thus adding to my fear and resistance.

I shouldn’t be surprised: after all, women are four times more likely to have osteoporosis, and one in five is likely to experience a fracture after age 40. The fact is my fear of falling need not be limited to the winter season, given the data.

Since hiding under a quilt is not really an option I can indulge in, I have looked for ways to reduce my risk of falls. I make sure I have good shoes, grippy sneakers, and sturdy boots. I have learned to walk like a penguin, with my feet pointed out, when going up or down hills and across icy surfaces.

I found some really useful tips here on the BC’s government’s health website. One tip which really stood out for me was eating foods high in calcium and Vitamin D. I had found increasing my fish intake was helping with my arthritis, so I wasn’t too surprised that nutrition could help. I had also long known about the calcium connection for bone health, but was not aware of the importance Vitamin D brings to muscle strength.

Last month, I had reason to be grateful for working on my fitness and nutrition. I had noticed increasing tightness and soreness around the hip joint post training and my trainer had noticed some oddities in my form during a subsequent squat session.

I decided to get checked as I was worried that something new was about to be added to the injury roster. I was somewhat startled to learn that it was the same hip problem. When I asked why the symptoms were different, my physiotherapist said my muscle strength had improved significantly over the past year to compensate for my hip moving out of alignment.

When I thought about the other times my hip joint has shifted, I realized several things. First, the time between injury and the onset of discomfort and pain was usually quite short. This time, it was a little over three weeks before things got really sore. Second, the recovery time post alignment was often quite long, with the pain and stiffness taking as much as three to five weeks to disappear. This time, I was really only uncomfortable for about 48 to 72 hours.

So what has this got to do with my fear of falling? I’m still cautious, but now I have developed my core strength so I am strong enough to reduce the impact. I also know my improved nutrition has helped my muscles recover faster from training, and this is also helpful in dealing with stress and injury.

What this means long term, I am not sure yet. For now, I am happy to continue with the work I am doing with the knowledge that I have made a difference in reducing the effects of injury and speeding up recovery.

— Martha is a writer living in St. John’s documenting a continuing journey of making fitness and work-life balance part of her everyday lifestyle.

aging · fitness · training

On coping with setbacks in the gym (Guest post)

IMG_1575By MarthaFitat55

The past couple of weeks at the gym have been quieter than usual. If all was well, I’d be getting ready to shift into a new level of training.

But all is not well. About four years ago I tripped in my kitchen and hit my knee. Hard. Though my recovery then went smoothly – I was lucky and did not break my knee cap – my doctor warned me that I might have trouble with it in the future.

In mid-January, trouble finally came knocking. Tenderness, swelling, and pain were relieved by rest, ice, and elevation. But I noticed that my knee was stiff and resistant, and my physio recommended a shift in training. Fewer squats and splits, if any, and more rows and pulls, to help aid recovery.

The new routine is helping, and I should be thrilled. To be honest, though, I was peeved and disgruntled. I was past the one-year mark with my hip injury, I had recovered from a pinched nerve in my shoulder, and I was coping well with work arounds for my arthritic fingers. Dealing with my knee was the last thing I wanted.

We don’t always get what we want, as Mick Jagger wailed all those years ago, and this month was no exception. But as the song goes, if you try, sometimes you get what you need.

What I needed was to shake up my routine and refocus. Sometimes we set goals and go after them to the exclusion of all else. We stop noticing the clues and keep on our path without adjusting for new information or needs.

I rely on my trainer to keep me on track, because one of my primary goals is to get fit without causing injury to myself. What I had forgotten was there are many ways to be active and there are many ways to train. Just because I couldn’t do squats didn’t mean I couldn’t do anything.

So I have been doing something, and that is better than doing nothing. I was only modifying my training, not ditching it completely. I was reminded again how much I enjoy my time in the gym with weights, but I also became reacquainted with smaller, gentler, more frequent moves that focused on increasing flexibility, not just strength.

It is a lesson in patience, and it’s not one I am ever eager to learn, or re-learn as the case may be. I lead a busy life, with work, family, and community commitments. Who has time to spend on recovery?

The reality is we all need to take time to recover, to re-evaluate our goals, to refocus our attention on specific objectives; in short, to spend some quality time on ourselves, so we can keep going with our fitness plans.

When I look at what I was doing in the gym, I am still pleased with the plan I have. What I needed though, was to invest some time in focusing on muscle and joint care. It’s like getting that winter tune up your car needs in the fall to make coping with the hazards and challenges of winter a little easier.

So I am engaging in some preventative maintenance. I’ve been taking time to focus on form in training, to work on shifting some sloppy work habits, and to go back to yoga to stretch and relax in between sessions at the gym.

It’s too early to tell what will come next, but I like the variety. Most importantly, I like the fact that I’m not giving up.

— Martha is a writer and consultant who accepts she may never be a pretzel on the yoga mat, but is delighting in rocking the warrior pose nonetheless.

training · Uncategorized

If not Rest, then at least Active Recovery, Right?

Cat in lotus position (cartoon).
Cat in lotus position (cartoon).

Sam has blogged about the importance of rest days. More than once in fact (see here and here).  When I was mostly into weight training and not much else, I had a good handle on rest days as necessary for giving muscles time to repair and, more importantly, to build.  I understood that without adequate rest, I was at risk of overtraining.

That’s not to say that I always respected that knowledge. I get into things. And then I have difficulty taking adequate breaks. It’s one of these tendencies I need to stay aware of. I’m more likely to want to do something than nothing, even if it’s walking to work or taking in a yin yoga class.

The body responds to this stress by rebuilding the bridges between the fibres, because the body doesn’t much like to be disturbed. You see, the body is a funny combo of industrious and lazy. It likes to stay occupied with rebuilding things, digesting things etc. but it also likes things to stay the way they are. It’s like a busy little bee that nevertheless has its favourite flower route. The body’s goal is homeostasis — keeping everything running on an even keel. The body repairs itself to be slightly stronger than it was before, so that next time it will be able to manage the stimulus more effectively.

You don’t really need to remember this; but what you do need to remember is that the building-up and recovering from trauma part happens between, not during workouts.

– See more at: http://www.stumptuous.com/sit-yo-ass-down-the-importance-of-rest#sthash.zgR0fq8G.dpuf

The body responds to this stress by rebuilding the bridges between the fibres, because the body doesn’t much like to be disturbed. You see, the body is a funny combo of industrious and lazy. It likes to stay occupied with rebuilding things, digesting things etc. but it also likes things to stay the way they are. It’s like a busy little bee that nevertheless has its favourite flower route. The body’s goal is homeostasis — keeping everything running on an even keel. The body repairs itself to be slightly stronger than it was before, so that next time it will be able to manage the stimulus more effectively.

You don’t really need to remember this; but what you do need to remember is that the building-up and recovering from trauma part happens between, not during workouts.

– See more at: http://www.stumptuous.com/sit-yo-ass-down-the-importance-of-rest#sthash.zgR0fq8G.dpuf

Lately I’ve learned about something else: active recovery.  What is active recovery? According to this post at Built Lean:

Active recovery could be defined as an easier workout compared to your normal routine. Typically this workout would be done on off day from training. Generally an active recovery workout is less intense and has less volume. For example, a trainee worried about body composition goals could do active recovery by taking a brisk walk on an off day.

When defining active recovery, context comes into play. To a marathon runner, jogging at a slow pace on an off day will likely have little impact on their ability to maintain intense workouts on their scheduled training days; in fact, it ultimately may help their fitness goals.

You’re supposed to feel better, not worse, after you do something that counts as active recovery.

I confess that I still fall short with rest, simply because I have so many things that I’m trying to fit in and I can’t quite imagine what a day without exercise of any kind feels like. But active recovery? I can get on board with that.

Much of what I read about active recovery recommends low to no impact activities, such as swimming, cycling, walking, yoga, or foam rolling.  But you know, any of these (well, perhaps not foam rolling, but I’m not even sure of that) can be gentle or intense.  I’m not sure who I’m fooling when I try to sub in a very demanding 90 minute Iyengar yoga class as my active recovery day.  And my triathlon swim training is not active recovery. It’s an intense workout.

So I need to check myself and watch out for my tendency to want to keep at it and do everything at a high level of intensity all the time.  I have recently “counted” both yoga and swim training as active recovery. I’ve even counted easy but long runs.

And I’m ratting myself out right here and now by saying that the fact is, I do not have a rest day.  Sundays are my prescribed rest day for the Lean Eating Program, but I have my long run with my 10K training group on Sunday mornings.  It’s easy, but it’s long. And I don’t feel as fresh as a daisy afterwards. And my schedule of workouts resumes promptly at 6 a.m. on Monday mornings.

How do you do rest and active recovery? I’d love to hear from people who do a better job at it than I do.