Tag Archives: workout wednesday

Couch to Ouch

Glorious fall. In Texas, fall counts as when the temperatures stop regularly cresting 100 degrees Fahrenheit. A high in the mid-80s brings people out of their homes in droves. Including me! Although it’s still very strange to see the September sun and be sweating like a pig, it’s comforting to know that time does, indeed, pass, summer doesn’t have to last forever, and you can go outside without immediately desiccating.

I went for a walk on Sunday. About five minutes into it, I thought, “Self, let’s get out the stopwatch app on our phone here and try out some Couch to 5K-type intervals!” “Well, all right,” I replied to my brain, “as long as we run on the grass and don’t go too crazy. I want to be able to move my muscles tomorrow.”

Sticking to medians, the grassy playground of the nearby school, and other unpaved common areas, I did eight 30-second sprints during my walk, covered 2.2 miles, and felt pretty damn good at the end of my 36-minute outing.

A woman's legs in ankle brace and knee brace and sneakers.

Post run relaxation, aided by my chief medical officer, the cat.

When I got home, I iced down first my bad knee, then my bad ankle. The next day, those joints were just fine.

The only things that really hurt were my right foot (I broke a bone in it several years ago, I think; never got it treated, and who knows how it healed) and my abdomen. I’m still kind of healing from this summer’s injury, which my doctors determined was probably torn scar tissue from my gallbladder surgery two years ago. So running was not the wisest thing I could have done, even though it felt ok at the time and was a major mental victory.

I’ll have to keep moving slowly until I’m fully healed up. If my abdominal problems persist after a few months of taking it easy, it will be time to go to the doc and ask whether I can get an ultrasound or something, investigate whether there’s a tear that needs to be addressed with either stitches or magic.

As many people who live with chronic injuries or weirdo conditions or undertreated medical problems know, it’s a pain trying to stick to a regular workout routine when you don’t know how  your body is going to react each time. A setback can either be a few days of pain, a month of nausea, six weeks of limping, weeks of physical therapy, surgery, or nothing, and you never really know what time bombs are lurking, waiting for you to twist a joint the wrong way or aggravate a weakness or latent problem enough that it comes to the fore of your consciousness through physical exertion.

I think all we can do is keep going and keep trying to improve our health. We can be afraid forever of testing ourselves, or we can reach too far and hurt ourselves, and we never know for sure which it’s going to be. I hope that I can get past the limitations of my body and run one day. My obstacles are not insurmountable. I just have to find out what my problem is and deal with it. A trip to the doctor in the next few months may be in the cards. I’ll have to wait until everything settles down a bit first – my personal life is about to undergo a huge upheaval – but I intend to take care of myself to make my goals more attainable.


Take The Stairs

My abdomen is mending, so I’m going to start taking the stairs again. You should, too!

I work on the second floor of a building equipped with elevators. The elevators are right off the lobby, so it’s so easy to walk in, say hello to the security guard, and glide into an elevator. You have to walk halfway through the building to get to either set of stairs. Out of sight, out of mind. Even though the elevators are prone to malfunction, and my coworkers and I are pretty sure they’re going to eat us one day, force of habit over many years led me to take them all the time, whether my knee hurt or not.

A cartoon of a woman standing before an evil, toothed elevator

The elevators are frequently taken out of service for maintenance. I wonder why that is? Could it be… could it be all the bones?

Back when I was 40 pounds heavier, walking up stairs sucked, because my knee was under more pressure and more prone to hurting. I’m so glad that my doctor’s food lifestyle change has worked out for me as well as it has, because I kind of missed stairs, which sounds weird, I KNOW. My grandma’s house, where I grew up, had stairs that went straight up, then wound back in a semicircle, and when I was a kid, I’d take them two at a time once my legs were long enough, playing counting games and trying not to touch the floor 13 times on my way up. What can I say, we didn’t always have a Nintendo.

I started taking the stairs for a challenge on the Slimkicker app a couple of months ago. Good for points, and good for my body, and once I got into the habit, it was so easy. I only walked up a flight of stairs a couple of times a day, but since I do such little cardio otherwise, I got a lot of benefit from it. Plus, the back exit of the building leads to a decorative tree area where I can walk out into a bit of nature to defrost from the frozen tundra that is my office during the warm months.

Photo of glass double exit doors for an office building

Exit near the stairs – portal to a few minutes of lunch respite, or to the end of my work day.

Since I stopped taking the stairs, I’ve not replaced it with any other form of exercise, and I have begun snoring again. I can’t help but think the two are related.

When your knee is borked, do you want to take the stairs? Understandably, no. When your abdomen is healing from surgery or from torn scar tissue, do you want to take the stairs? No, no, no. Ack. Related question: do you want to just never move again and never test your body’s healing process, just opting out of using body parts as they break down, and get less and less fit? Um… no? I guess not?

I remember doing my favorite pilates workout for the first time several months after my 2010 gallbladder surgery. I don’t know if my discomfort was more physical, stretching muscles that had healed but hadn’t really been worked very hard, or mental, thinking about what could go wrong, imagining worst-case scenarios, as I’m apt to do. I got through it, though, with the thought that hell, I did a fundraiser walk two months after going under the knife, why am I afraid of twisting around on a mat on the floor?

Your body heals and rebuilds itself if you feed it properly and if everything is working correctly on a chemical level. The hardest aspect of restarting a workout routine after you’ve had a surgery or an injury is mental, and there are two sides of the same coin: overdoing it too quickly because you think you can do more than your body is capable of handling, and you wind up reinjuring yourself, or you are so afraid of experiencing that pain again, of aggravating the soreness of a sore spot, that you avoid exerting it at all. There’s a middle ground to be found through both listening to your body and having the courage to try, no matter what you’ve been through.

With that in mind, I think it’s a bit too soon to get out my mat and throw on my favorite pilates DVD. My healing abdomen needs another few weeks, occasional twinges of pain reminding me that I’m still knitting back together. In the meantime, I have vowed to take the stairs – slowly and carefully – as often as possible, unless my body tells me to take the elevator and ice down my abdomen.

So: being more cardiovascularly active, potentially improving my snoring, strengthening my leg muscles for walking or running endeavors, and using those abdominal muscles – benefits of the free mini-workout my office makes available every morning, if I’d just make myself get back into that habit. Better than trusting my body to the man-eating elevators.

Is My Knee Up For C25K?

My doctor took a look at my knee last summer during my first-ever visit in order to evaluate my knee pain. I tried to shove aside the embarrassment of having missed a spot when shaving my legs earlier that day and listen well to what he said so I’d know how to proceed with my fitness goals… and whether I really had arthritis, as I self-diagnosed myself as having in my early twenties, since one of my siblings with similar knee problems had arthritis already.

After extending it and palpating the sides, he said, “Feels like you may have a torn meniscus.” That’s not arthritis. That’s not so bad, right? He said he could do more tests to find out what was going on, if I cared. I could do physical therapy for it (not a high priority at the time, since I was still suffering frozen shoulder and was totally focused on that). It was possible they could do some surgery to repair or rig up something, but once you start in on the knee, he went on, it’s pretty much surgeries for the rest of your life. “Well, you don’t do a lot of running, do you?” Wait, how could you tell, me being obese and having knee pain?

All photos of me being active over the last few years depict me in a Velcro knee brace that minimizes the pain during the activity, and I elevate/ ice my knee down after anything strenuous just in case. That joint has been behaving rather well for all dog walkings and the several 5k events I’ve done since I began losing weight. There’s been less stress on it and therefore fewer instances of pain. I’ve even been taking the stairs up to my office as much as possible, partly to save electricity, partly to add just a little bit more exercise to my life, and partly to benefit my leg muscles.

A woman in athletic clothing and a knee brace

From Komen 2010: “Braaaaace. Brace? Braaaaaaace!”

When I did the local 5K in May with my dog, we ran in short bursts, and it was a lot of fun for both of us. And it didn’t hurt me that much; I elevated and iced my knee right after the race, and I was fine the next day save muscle soreness, which is a whole different, wonderful beast than joint soreness. It would be fantastic to take both my dogs out to run more often… once the Texas summer is over (so, in October? Sigh).

I tried the well-known Couch to 5K program back in 2006, but I was a little bit more out of shape and was about 40 pounds heavier than I am now, and I didn’t own a knee brace or an ice pack. I lasted about two weeks before it just became too painful. It didn’t help that, at the time, I lived on the third floor of an apartment building with no elevator, so when my knee hurt, I had to tough it out and walk back up those stairs. Exerting oneself to build strength and test strength is one thing; stressing a body part that needs to heal is another. As a previously injured person, I wasn’t doing myself any favors by trying too much, too soon.

An MS Paint drawing in the style of a video game looking at a tower of stairs.

BUSTED KNEE TOWERS: THE VIDEOGAME didn’t sell very well, for some reason, despite its graphics being slightly better than Ski-Free and Donkey Kong.

I wonder now if I’m ready to start running. I would love to test it out, though I’d rather start in a field on dirt and grass. And maybe I should get my strength up in other ways, too – start out with a month of pilates to work on my core and get everything used to moving again. And I should continue with my at-home physical therapy for my weak shoulder. I have missed a few workouts due to being ill the last several days, but I feel better when I get it done.

I go back to my doctor in a month or two. I will start preparing myself to run by continuing shoulder therapy, doing pilates at least twice a week, and researching exercises I should be doing to strengthen the muscles supporting my knee. Then, I’ll discuss it with my doctor. I hope to have lost even more weight by the time I see him, blowing right past the goal weight he set for me back in February. I’m sure that will help my chances of being able to run more comfortably and with less chance of seriously hurting myself if I start running.

If running is completely taken off the table, I’ll have to suck it up and content myself with walking, which I already love, and weightlifting, when my shoulder is ready. I’ve got a backup plan based on my current reality, but I am shooting for a goal that’s seemed out of reach for most of my adult life.

Restarting At Zero

A while back, I strained my shoulder while lifting weights. I lifted too much too quickly, and I didn’t give my long-term injury enough time to heal, or enough build-up to what I was trying to do.

I’m not in serious trouble with the law offices of Left Shoulder and Buttkick; I can still lift my arm above my head just fine, I can still wear my bras, and it doesn’t hurt when I shrug. But I can feel soreness again, an all-too-familiar pain, when I have carried something that was too heavy.

So it’s time to start building up my strength again and stretching those ligaments and muscles. This is my “Super excited to be shackled to this routine again” face. But like I said, this isn’t me trying to talk my arm into moving normally again; now, I’m just building up strength and stamina. And it’s been far too long since I stuck to an exercise routine.

Last fall, while I was doing at-home physical therapy workouts 2-3 times a week, I was also pretty good about throwing in walks, pilates, and other kinds of workouts on the other days, giving myself one or two rest days a week. This routine gave me stamina and strength, but it wasn’t really budging the scale, mostly because my diet was still crappy.

There’s nothing more boring, though, when you’re not aching for physical relief, than holding a stretch for several seconds. I had 7 exercises of stretches to do, each 5 sets of 15-20 second holds, and as I lay on the floor this evening with my elbow perpendicular to my body, pushing my forearm arm down parallel to my body, and holding that gentle push for 20 seconds, I thought, “Oh, my god. I am never going to get through these.” There aren’t that many? Yeah, I know! But doing them twice per day? You mean, I have to exert myself? The horror.

Doing the wall push-ups isn’t so bad, as there’s a lot of coordination involved in keeping me upright enough, pushing off, breathing out when I push, all that crap. There isn’t time for my mind to wander, and my sets are counted with completed push-ups, not arbitrary seconds that I can shave or bloat based on how quickly I count. Not so when I’m sitting in a chair trying to read my screen as I pull my head slightly forward, wondering how long I can take sitting there before my pose is over and I can finally scroll down the screen.

Cartoon of a woman struggling to get through timed physical therapy stretches.

Resolute stretching: “I am going to get through this, damn it. Why do we never vacuum this stupid rug! The dog is licking my knee!!! …Oh, hey, set’s over.”

I’m a quiet, patient person, and I can contentedly sit in silence letting my mind wander if there’s the leisure to do so. I’m the only person I know who can go on long road trips with nothing but occasional radio to keep her company; letting my brain chew on threads of thoughts and digest others without the interruption of distraction is something I rather enjoy. When I have uninterrupted periods of idleness, I can adapt much more easily to doing nothing than if my concentration lasts only 20 seconds before I have to move. These exercises I’m doing are small oases that I don’t have time to appreciate, little meditations on the value of taking recovery slow, but I occupy my space, get into my position, and count down the seconds, anticipating the change and wanting to be done already.

I should be more grateful that I have the tools to repair myself, that my body is adaptable enough, and that I’ve had medical advice to get me back to where I want to be, and all I have to do is exert myself just a little, no matter how boring.

It’s going to be worth an hour’s worth of staring at the carpet to not have to worry that the longer I ignore the twinge in my arm from sleeping on the affected shoulder, the more likely it is that my injury is going to slowly creep back into my life and make it incrementally harder to move that joint and more painful to do everyday activities. I have to take it slow. I have to make myself take it slow, and make myself take the slow route of careful, measured steps toward increased strength. There’s no fix besides effort, so like it or not, I have to suck it up and get it done.

I’ll probably give this recovery, if I can sustain the necessary energy to continue with my stretches and some exercises, till the end of the summer, then go to my doctor and get a recommendation as to whether I can start lifting weights again. I might even consult my old physical therapist to seek his advice.

My life has been drastically improved by seeking help for my injuries and sticking with a recovery program of physical therapy and rest. I will honor the time, money, and energy I’ve spent so far on making myself better by continuing to take care of this body as best as I can.