I have been so uplifted by my clients lately. Over and over again, I’m seeing women be aware of something hurting or not fully functional in their bodies, and responding to it before a full-blown injury develops. That kind of thoughtful investment in your health is exquisite!
This is a common time of the year for workout related . . issues—injury might be too strong of a word now but it’s important to be cautious when these pains appear lest they blow into something more serious. Our bodies are often more tender coming out of the holiday season than we realize, and, in our desire to meet our goals, we may accidentally overwork them.
Frequently, we indulge in more alcohol and sugar through the holiday season than normal. We are often busier than normal too, potentially in stressful situations with family members or socializing with colleagues with whom we don’t usually socialize. And maybe travelling, overworking, or otherwise disrupting our sleep and exercise schedules.
All of these things act to increase the inflammatory response in the body. This can lead to sluggishness, brain fog, feeling “heavy” or tired. Thoughts may arise that are self-critical or avoidant or otherwise negative, furthering the stress cycle. Your performance in the gym might diminish or you might take a break altogether.
Then the new year begins. And you’re back on your regular schedule and cleaning up your eating and the inflammation begins to diminish. You get back to the gym and it feels great to move again so you go hard. OR it feels awful and, in frustration, you push yourself through. OR your brain remembers the level at which you were working before you had time off, and you pick right back up there, even though the body might not be ready. One way or another, you inadvertently overwork, and your joints or tendons feel the strain.
In my class this morning, I had several women let me know about chronic or acute issues that they are dealing with and then use alternative movements. When I see this, I know these are women who are fully invested in their lifelong health and are approaching it with wisdom and patience.
My heart sings when I see people treating themselves with love and respect. Working hard, showing up, setting boundaries, getting stronger. Culturally, this is a little bit different than the model that pushes bodies through ever more punishing workouts until something breaks, then weaving the narrative of the “bad joint” that means that “I can’t because I have a bad (insert body part here).” Taking time off, feeling better, then slamming through more workouts until that pain or injury shows up again. Over and over, training the bodymind to a pattern of repeated injury rather than progressive growth and health.
Struggling to get off of that injury wheel yourself? Here are some things that you can do right now to keep yourself healthy as 2018 marches on:
- Let your trainer know that you are having pain! This is huge. Any certified personal trainer or group fitness instructor has had to pass multiple tests demonstrating their knowledge in proper form and movement. It’s our job to help you find movements that are safe and effective for YOUR body, but we can’t do this if you don’t let us know that you need them!
- Intervene on pain as soon as it shows up:
o Stop doing the movement causing the pain immediately. If you can’t get the instructor’s attention for a modification in the moment, do the exercise in a smaller range of motion to see if the pain stops. If not, rest until it’s time for the next movement pattern.
o Take steps to draw down inflammation after class, even if the pain is no longer happening. A little anti-inflammatory (curcumin, ibuprofen—whatever floats your boat) and ice goes a long way toward calming those flames so the irritated area can heal.
o Stretch (GENTLY!). Lengthen and mobilize the muscles around the sore area. Your knees will benefit from daily (I like twice daily) stretches of the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves, for example. Shoulders appreciate stretching of both the pectoralis and upper back. But not to the point of pain or strain. Think 80% of your range of motion for 20-40 seconds.
o If a particular area hurts repeatedly, dial it back. You may need to stop doing certain movements altogether OR do them smaller OR with do them with less resistance for a few weeks in order to calm the area down.
o Massage, self-massage, foam or ball rolling, and soaking in warm Epsom salts all help to mobilize and heal tissues suffering from strain.
- Accept the pain as a gift. Here’s what I mean. That pain or injury is alerting you to a sub-optimal (and perhaps downright dysfunctional) movement pattern in your body. Now that you know about it, you can work to fix it! Maybe your deltoids (small muscles that cap the shoulder) are trying to do the work of your pectoralis (big muscles under your breasts). Maybe you’re shifting force into your knees because the big muscles of your tights and rear end are asleep—or overworked from protecting a sore area. Whatever it is, you now know something need to improve—and you will get stronger and healthier as a result
- Consider personal training, especially if the pain is persistent. A trainer can assess your specific situation and develop a plan to help YOU get stronger and heal—and tell you if it’s time to see a different professional (like a physical therapist or other corrective movement specialist) for more complex movement dynamics. Small group personal training is an affordable way to get personal attention to your specific issues.
Health is an investment, and our bodies are worth the work we put into them! Keeping the mind trained on health as your goal will hopefully help disarm frustration that arises when pain knocks at your door. You can and will heal. May your work pay off in spades. Keep breathing, keep stretching, keep growing.
In health and warmth,