Taken Aback

Recovery seems to be a neglected theme in a world of fitness. We cannot fault trainers too much, as their job is usually to correct a situation by adding activity to someone’s life because the lack of it has led to health and size issues. Yet, what about the clients, or trainers themselves, who are too active? Here lies my personal struggle and confession of late.

I have always been athletic and very physically capable. I did not realize until recently what it feels like to be limited, and the toll it would take on my psyche.

In January, I began to notice a recurrence of back pain, mostly surrounding my right shoulder blade. I spent a few months rotating through the following routine… Exercise. Pain. Aleve. Stretch. Ice. Discomfort. Exercise. Pain. Etcetera. Sometimes the pain was striking like a knife. Sometimes it was dull and achy. It would go away for a day or two. Unfortunately, that only prolonged me not seeking help sooner.

In April, leading up to my wedding, I finally decided to nix the “walk it off” mentality that had been engrained in me since childhood sports and see a highly recommended physical therapist.

A part of me was relieved to discover that I really did have a limitation on my right side, mobility problems with my first rib, pectoralis major, shoulder capsule and upper trapezius. I was not crazy or a hypochondriac. The pain was real. And, it made sense that the back was not the cause. The back, being very strong, and the body, being amazingly coordinated, was working overtime to assist the other muscles dysfunctioning. I was taken aback by back takin’ a beating!

With my therapist, I realized that my right shoulder had been chronically abused. Basically, I had been over-using and under-resting it. That’s definitely harder for me to bear than if I had some standout injury to point to as the source of my ailment.

For one, we worked together on movements to improve range and lessen pain and discomfort, in weekly sessions and assignments on my own. Foam rolling, down-and-back motions, engaging the lower back and tennis ball massages were all huge. The biggest goals were to not stress it with exercise and to rest long and often.

For two, aware of this ride side domination, I began thoroughly contemplating my regular daily activities. Unhappy to admit, I found that I was doing just about everything with my right arm – carrying my backpack, scrubbing dishes, using a computer mouse, weeding the garden, brushing my teeth. I also found that my sleeping positions rounded out the right shoulder, like sleeping on my right side a lot or when sleeping on the left still curling the right shoulder around hugging a pillow.

For the sake of recovery, in the last two months, I have not done any lifting or pressing. I have only officially worked out three days per week. I have laid on the couch in the evenings strapped up with ice packs.

I feel held hostage, and I hate that I didn’t notice all the small things building up. I am deflated by my condition and see my physique and power declining. Maybe no one else even pays attention. But I have to manage feelings of frustration and inadequacy. Now, I want to turn it into a learning opportunity.

Opposite of many, I want to be active so badly. However, my willpower challenge is not giving in to that desire and taking the time off my body needs. Like what I ask of clients, this means I have to adapt and behave differently for a stint. I have to recognize what’s best for me and do that, not just do what I am inclined to. In all fairness, it also means I would benefit from a lifestyle adjustment, balancing out my ratio of work to breaks more.

Going through this bind helps me closer understand my clients’ limitations. A hardship helps me relate to the hurdles they face when making behavior changes, how tough it can be to do something unusual. I can empathize and tell testimony.

It also pushes me to promote that lost theme of recovery, how important it is as a part of the cycle, especially for beginners or life-changers. Because an injury, illness or fatigue – all brought on by over-activity – will be the first thing to shred motivation and keep that person from the gym.

So as you are killing it with resistance training, cardio endurance, group exercise classes, hunkered at your desk, lugging your kids around or doing domestic chores, remember the two types of recovery – the very normal short-term period you take between activity bouts that keeps you from having to take the very excruciating long-term period you may find yourself in while climbing out of a hole you created by depleting your systems.

Continuing with rehabilitation then, June is my month of recovery. I am human. I have goals and a plan as well. It will not be easy. But I will be focused these next few weeks. I will get better. It matters that much.

New rotation… Warm up. Exercise. Cool down and stretch. Still ice and massage if necessary. Listen to the body. Get enough rest in between. Then exercise again!

P.S. Thank you, Premier Physical Therapy.  🙂

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