Last week I wrote about the wonders of walking lots, even if it won’t help you lose weight. At the end of the post I promised to talk about cardio exercises for those of us who can’t walk very much at all. I can manage a dog walk with my knee brace but I’m pretty slow moving and nervous with my seriously arthritic knees. Stairs are okay going up but impossible coming down.
I walk sometimes just for the joy of being outside but it’s not my go-to fitness activity.
But also it’s winter, in Canada, and some of my fitness time these days is in the gym.
My go fitness activities at the gym used to include running on a treadmill and that’s completely out of the question now. So with the help of a personal trainer (hi Meg!) I’ve been exploring some new cardio machines at the gym. Rowing was already on my hit list and I’ve left out cycling altogether. You’ve heard me talk lots about that. Yawn. Sometimes I go to the gym and just do 5 min of each of the following things and then repeat. It’s not a bad routine. Also, these machines are usually free even at the busiest of times. That’s one advantage of not using treadmills, elliptical machines, and the like.
These won’t work for everyone as some of them involve standing.
My gym, the campus fitness center, has all of the following machines:
Hand cycle: You can do both steady state and sprints with these. It’s more work than you might think.
Ski-erg: This was completely new to me and it feels like a pretty good full body workout.
Jacob’s Ladder: I’ve blogged about that before here.
Rowing machine: I’ve spent a lot of time erging, as rowers say. It’s a terrific workout. It’s the thing to me that feels most like the treadmill in that I can do it for awhile and listen to music. I often start my workouts with a 2k warm up and then try to do a speedier 2 k at the end.
There are also non-machine options, like aquafit and swimming, but I’ll leave those for another day.
How about you? What do you recommend for cardio that doesn’t involve knees very much?
First, the February good news. I’m counting down the days to spring. I’m loving the added evening light. There are days when it’s clear spring is happening soon.
Also, February contains Valentine’s Day. And that’s a good thing.
The rest of February is a mixed bag of feelings.
With my knee surgery within the year, I’ve been trying to push myself. I want to be in the best shape possible before it’s all knee rehab all the time. I’ve been watching another athletic friend go through the work that’s required in recovery and that was her goal. Go into surgery in fighting form. (Go Patty!) That’s my focus for the year.
My knee and knee surgery isn’t really bad or good. It just is.
But it’s also a challenge in that there a lot of things I just can’t do. Have I mentioned how much I miss running? Aikido? Soccer? CrossFit? Blerg. Yawn.
Here’s a green belt Aikido selfie from four years ago.
But focusing on what I can do…
Mostly it’s strength training, yoga, and Zwift these days with the odd dog walk thrown in for good measure. There’s also a lot of tedious knee physio. That’s not a bad combo but by temperament I’m a Jill of All Sports.
It’s also a lot of balancing. Workout hard, let my knee recover. Gentle exercise, hard thing, rest. Repeat. I’m edgy about it. I want to bite peoples’ heads off when they say, listen to your body. (Sorry friends!) Our bodies don’t have singular messages. They don’t speak with one voice. My heart and lungs want to push harder. My knee says slow down. My strong core is ready for anything but again the knee doesn’t like quick, unexpected movements on unstable ground. Okay, so maybe I should just listen to my knee since that’s my focus for the year. But my knee isn’t always the most helpful voice. My knee says, nothing hurts on the sofa. Grab a book! We can wait for surgery with a backlog of unread fiction and pots of tea. Lots of Netflix to catch up on.
Also, for the first time since this whole knee falling apart thing began I’m self conscious exercising in public. I’m noticing my incapacity more and feeling embarrassed. I shouldn’t have that attitude. I wouldn’t have it if others had the same disability. And then I get angry at myself for being so self-judgey. That’s not a very good mood cycle.
When I do Modo Yoga in the studio now I’m very conscious of my limitations. There are things I just can’t do no matter how modified. That’s you, hero pose. I can manage tree and eagle with my right leg as the sole leg but not the left. I imagine I can see people looking and wondering what’s up.
This month I went to my favorite lunch hour fitness class at work, the full hour TRX class plus a “playground” add on that’s like calisthenics. The regular instructor was away and instead we did a Tabata style thing with circuits and partners and there were a couple of things–like sprinting for 40 seconds and jumping jacks for 40 seconds–that I just couldn’t do. I felt rotten and I nearly left the class. Instead, I told the instructor about my knee and I did planks instead. I’m glad I stayed even though my abs are sore.
As you can tell even my mood has taken a hit. I’ve become crankypants Sam. This is not normal for me. My mellow disposition is somewhat legendary. It’s part of what makes me a good academic leader. I’m hard to ruffle and cheerful and generous by nature. I don’t work at it. It’s how I wake up. It’s who I am. But I’ve been realizing lately that it takes a certain amount of exercise to keep me that way. As other people have been counting up to some really big numbers in the 220 in 2020 group, I’m having to workout less than usual to keep up with knee issues and recovery.
Also, it’s been extra busy at work. If January feels like it lasted forever, February is the month that flew by.
Also, unlike January when I did a lot of riding, February has been all indoor riding. I think that’s been part of the mood issue. My plan is to get back on my bike and make some plans for summer riding.
So Sarah and I got out for some fat bike riding on the weekend. That was fun!
Sarah, Joh, and I have registered for the Ride for Heart. It’s 75 km pretty early in the season. We’re really looking forward to it.
Thing 1. I am really tired. I don’t usually play the “I’m busier than you” game. I love my work. But March in the academic world is not a fun month. My former Dean used to say, when I was a department chair, that we should never introduce anything new in March. Faculty will hate it, guaranteed. Also, nothing anyone says in March really counts. Professors have been teaching all year and they’re tired. However, all the faculty also retreat to their research cocoons in April and so there’s some pressure to get projects that require faculty input and involvement finished. Add to that the tension around our provincial government’s budget and cutbacks to universities, we’re all busy, tired, and stressed. I work 12 hour days quite often and then I come home and do this. (Note though, unlike other Deans I don’t work on weekends other than showing up to events and though there’s lots of those they mostly feel fun and celebratory.)
Thing 2. My left knee saga continues: This is neither up nor down. But it’s official. I’m in the queue for partial knee replacement. The wait time is 6-12 months which is good because that’s after the 5 Boro Bike weekend, my Newfoundland bike adventure and likely also after the one day bike rally and the tri-adventure. Priorities. It’s not certain yet that I’ll go through with it. It’s scary stuff but I’m one step closer and I’ll get (yet more) expert advice.
Here’s an image of knees from Unsplash but they aren’t mine.
Thing 3. My riding: I kind of hoped to get outside riding more in March but thanks to the weather that didn’t happen. Instead, I bought a monthly membership for unlimited indoor trainer riding at the Bike Shed. I’ve left my bike there with the goal of making it in three times a week. I love it there. I’ve left my bike there and I’ve been Zwift riding around New York City and London, UK.
Oh, and Facebook and Google keep reminding me that in Novembers past I was riding outside in March. Thanks, I guess.
I recently blogged about my inability to just walk away from Aikido. I still love it. I miss it. I found myself back on the mat Sunday morning when the opportunity presented itself. Of course, I logged it in the 219 in 2019 group. I wrote, “Most of an Aikido class including some partner techniques, not just basic movements. Still trying to figure out what I can and can’t do with my knee in this condition.”
It’s not like running. I’ll never run again. I can’t. Even if I got new knees, I couldn’t run.
Obviously, I can’t kneel and some of the breakfalls are off limits. But I found I was able to practice some of the falls which made me happy because with the stiff, sore knee I’ve been more worried than usual about falling on the ice this winter.
And the thing is if I met someone with a knee like mine, I would tell them that Aikido is worthwhile. All the things I love about Aikido remain the same as when I wrote about it in 2012. I love how gentle it is. I love the rhythm and ritual. I love learning to fall. I love the age range and the diversity of the participants. I wish there were a class with modified movements where I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t do all the things.
The question is, can I keep my ego on the shelf and not wish for the knee I used to have? I think maybe I can.
I think, come fall, I’ll visit the Aikido dojos here in Guelph.
Oh, old European cities. I love you. But I hate your stairs. SO MANY STAIRS.
Why do I hate stairs? They hurt my knees. It’s seriously painful even on days when I’m walking pain free. Down is way worse than up. Handrails help. I’m now a person who notices when they’re there and when they’re at the right height. I also sometimes worry that the stairs are making my knees worse.
So I turned to the Internet with my question. Dr. Google, do stairs simply hurt my arthritic knees or do they make things worse? Here’s a good a survey of the relevant literature.
“Stair climbing increases loads on the knee joints. And if we take into consideration the mechanical factor for appearing and progression of degenerative joint disease, it is clear that damage to joint cartilage increases with stair climbing. So reduced loads are beneficial for knee arthrosis.”
“Combination of stairs and weight or better loading and repetition of it is discussed as having some effect of knee joint degeneration. It is calculated that when someone is walking on plain ground he puts about 5 times the body weight or load in every step into the joint. When stairs are used or walking up or down hill the person is loading the knee up to 7 or 10 times the body weight or load according to the speed used. So repetition (circle of loading) – weight (and load) – and inclination of the ground has possibly effect of degenerative knee disease”
“The reasons why patients are advised to avoid them when OA shows up is that stairs are stress raisers, especially descending them. The point is that OA knees regardless the severity, are often unstable and in these conditions stairs may induce shear stresses on the cartilage and speed up the degenerative process. “
So I guess I should try to avoid them. I raised the issue at the knee surgery clinic on Monday when I was there for my regular appointment. Their message was clear. “You need to modify your activity. Avoid stairs when you can.”
See you on the escalator/in the elevator!
Though in these old cities there isn’t much choice.
My knee survived a week in Europe with many days of mega steps. I paid a lot of attention to how it felt, wore the knee brace sometimes but not at others, took anti inflammatory medication regularly, and stretched lots. Sarah helped lots too.
Now that I’m back home physiotherapy continues, massage therapy continues, personal training continues, and I’m back to my bike on the trainer, bike commutes, and dog walks. All of that counts, except the massages, on my quest to workout 219 times in 2019.
I’m so happy to see all the hard work paying off.
Next up: NYC 5 Boro Bike Tour in May.
After that, lots and lots of training before our 10 day bike tour of Newfoundland in June.
Weight loss is hard. (We all know this.) You might think that if you had a serious medical reason to lose weight, then you’d do it. But your body doesn’t know your motives. It doesn’t care what your intentions are. It’s super hard.