Thursday December 8, 2016 marked one year since I had Arthroscopic knee surgery to fix a pesky meniscus tear I had. I have come so far since that day, and besides being damn proud of the work and results, it has reminded me of the do’s and don’ts of injury recovery.
- Do visualize and envision what you want. With injury it is all too easy to be discouraged because of setbacks and pain. I had many moments where I seriously questioned if I would ever get back to doing CrossFit and running and kickboxing and all the other crazy shit I love. I often would be frustrated as all get out and found myself thinking perhaps I ought to trade it it all in for knitting and bring back step aerobics. It sounds ridiculous ;and once I realized that, I started picturing myself hitting my goals. (I even had a dream once of doing CrossFit. Ok maybe two dreams. Who am I kidding? I lost count). I stopped resigning to what I could not do, and allowed myself to fantasize about what was yet to come. And guess what, over time, those dreams and fantasies became reality.
- Do not do too much too soon. All injuries are different and recovery times vary. Regardless, it is important to recognize that one good day does not mean throw caution to the wind and go all out. Recovery requires a whole lot of patience and self restraint. I learned this when I started squatting too soon. I had maybe a week or so where all felt great. Then, before I knew. it, the knee pain came back , and I was frustrated once again. I am by no means a doctor or physical therapist or even someone who is proficient in anatomy. I just know that recovery means we need to ease our bodies back into things. Surgery in particular (as in my case) is essentially trauma to the body. We need to be kind to our bodies and respect the healing process.
- Do celebrate the small wins along the way. As mentioned above, you can’t do too much too soon. You can’t be frustrated that you aren’t lifting the same weight you used to. Give yourself time, and celebrate all the milestones along the way. Granted these milestones are things you may have scoffed at back in your hay day, but you don’t get somewhere in one leap and bound. It takes many. I never thought I would smile ear to ear just from doing a little old air squat, but guess what? I did. It’s a big deal.
- Do not expect big wins overnight . Small wins lead to big wins. Here is an example of my reconciliation and reunion with squats.
- I had knee surgery on December 8th.
- On March 10th I was doing air squats at about a quarter of full depth.
- On May 20th I did my first full depth back squats at lighter weight (75 pounds and to put that into perspective, my 1 rep max prior to surgery was 200 pounds).
- On July 15th following a squat cycle, I hit a certifiable full depth back squat at 190 pounds (only 10 pounds shy of my PR).
- On October 31, after another squat cycle, I hit a 195 pound back squat (only 5 pounds shy of my PR).
You can see by this timeline, it took me months and intervals to make strides. I did not regain my abilities a month or even two months after surgery. You also are safe to assume that to my point above this, every one of these milestones was just as rewarding to me as those first air squats I took. I also have faith and trust that one day i will hit a 200 pound back squat again, but I am not focused or worried as to when. As long as I get there safely, that is all that matters.
- Do reevaluate the way you had been training prior to injury. For me, as my surgery was (knock on wood) the last of a string of injuries, I was over injuries. (That is putting it mildly. I was actually heart broken-sick and tired-ready to disown my body-kind of over it). I had to really take a long hard look at the way I trained to find out WHY was I getting injured consistently. I found that I was not always smart about the way I trained. I would do a 280 stair climb three consecutive times (for those in LA, Baldwin Hills was my spot) and then go to CrossFit and do a WOD where I had to use a lot of leg muscles that were already fatigued and beat up. I often sacrificed form to hit a heavier weight. I knew I had to train differently as I recovered that was also sustainable long term. Which leads me to the next “Do”.
- Do put programming as your first priority. In reevaluating my injury history, I concluded that smart programming was my absolute #1 priority in how I should train. This lead me (actually prior to surgery as I had knee pain for months before I sought medical help for it) to making the tough decision to switch CrossFit boxes. I chose to go where the programming was insanely good, and where I knew people to have made some ridiculously impressive gains. It also lead me after surgery to stay with Physical Therapy longer than perhaps most people would. I feared going back into the real world on my own and falling back into my old habits. So by switching where I trained and with different coaches/trainers, I enrolled myself on a healthy journey. *Shout out to both Adan and BJ, my coach and trainer respectively, that I do not know how you do what you do with programming,but I am forever grateful for it.
- Do put in the time smartly and the results will come. This is not even necessarily specific to injury recovery but is worth mentioning. With learning to squat again, I did not just attempt squats and do squats all live long day. I had to do many other things to get there, like balancing exercises and strength work (and mobility! Oh how I heart mobility.) There is a tendency to JUST practice the one lift or one skill in order to hit our self imposed goals. Take pull-ups for another example. You can’t expect to just walk up to the bar every day until that one magical day that you can achieve a pull- up. You have to put in time working on engaging the right muscles (note earlier comment, I am not anatomy expert. I am inclined to say engage lats and scapula) and shoulder strength to slowly build up to a pull-up.
A year after surgery, I do admittedly find my life to be of two eras: pre-surgery and post-surgery. It really is because of all the changes to my training and mindset that I differentiate “then” with “now”. Because of these do’ and don’ts that I do religiously live by, they serve as both a reality check as well as a benchmark. I never want to take for granted being healthy nor do I want to ever minimize all the work I do every time I train. I am undoubtedly at my all time strongest (and getting stronger). I am doing workouts now (even many at RX) that I would not have been capable of prior to being injured. I say this not to be a braggard but rather it truly is my wish for all of you to adopt them so you can continue to train smart and to continue showcasing everything great about fitness (particularly CrossFit).
After a week with my family over Thanksgiving week and being a self proclaimed Super Aunt, I feel so much love and gratitude for the innocence and wisdom of kids. Seriously. I found myself marveling at rather basic thing they do that are in actuality rather symbolic of wisdom that adults should take note of. Here are just a few.
- Kids have no problem saying when they don’t want something or don’t like something. My 4 year old niece did not want me to tickle her (or take selfies with her, the audacity!) I respect that she set her boundaries. Adults should do more of this (when appropriate) as opposed to being polite on the surface and seething on the inside.
- Kids show remarkable sportsmanship. I was playing checkers with my 7 year old nephew when his 8 year old sister (my niece) wanted to get in on the action. My nephew was gracious enough to let us explain strategy to her as she was new to the game. We would have her move one of her checkers so that we could visually show her what the outcome would be. We had so much fun playing, interacting, bantering and coming up with strategies. My niece and nephew understand the simple concept that it is not always about winning (which makes for a proud auntie). I always maintain that we should surround ourselves by solid people who challenge us. Besides, easy wins are not nearly as fun or fulfilling than ones you have to work for.
- Kids read actual books. Not social media feeds or text messages. Old fashioned books that have characters, plots, beginnings and endings. It expands their minds, thinking and creativity. The last few months I have made it a point to get lost in my kindle before bed as opposed to seeing what everyone else in the world is doing. It is nice to escape reality, well if you consider social media to be reality (and have Jamie Fraser be the last thing on my mind instead of some god awful Trump update before I drift off to la la land).
- Kids take quiet time. They go in their rooms and read or play quietly on their own. They get down time. Granted, I have no clue what kids are thinking during this time. Are they pondering recent recess drama? Or perhaps fantasizing about an ice cream treat? Maybe they just get lost in their own imaginations. Whatever it may be, they take some time each day to themselves and check out from the rest of the world. As adults, we tend to feel like we always have somewhere to be or something to do or someone else to do something for. Take a few minutes to clear your head in whatever form works for you. Revel in your own thoughts and see where they take you.
With the fun filled yet hectic holiday season upon us, it is so important to slow down when we can and take stock of all the important and fulfilling things around us. I vote to get lost in our families, friends and relationships and ourselves. Dare I say take a break from the political madness around us and recruit a child to play checkers with instead.
When you work out regularly with the same people, you will inevitably notice their quirky habits, like the guy who always picks the same spot on the rig for squats. Or the woman who makes sure the weights on both side of the barbell are matching in color and facing the same way (sound familiar Ashley Heiselt of CrossFit SouthBay?). I have even seen someone sweep his platform every time before he lifts.
I admit I have my own set of quirky CrossFit habits, and I dare you to confess that you share some of these!
- Frequent refusal to be an adult and decide how much to lift in a workout. It’s like I don’t trust my own judgment as to whether I should RX or go lighter. I occasionally (by occasionally, I mean every day) ask my coach how much I should lift. I don’t want to sandbag but I also don’t want to die. Maybe it is because of a lack of confidence or not wanting to be that ahole lifting more than she should? Is it as a simple as I am just a nervous nelly?
- I really hardly ever wear pink, except when I work out (ok and on my nails but that is perfectly acceptable). Growing up in an obnoxiously pink room, I have developed an aversion to it. I typically do not allow it in my life yet when I survey my workout clothes, I see pink socks, pink pants, pink shirts, pink shoes, pink headbands. I even have pink barbell clips. It’s like a bad Dr. Seuss story.
- Because I work out at 6 am, I am asleep before 10 pm. I have been known to count my expected hours of sleep every night to ensure that I am adequately rested before lifting a heavy barbell over my head. I have always been sleep obsessed and CrossFit has given me good reason to keep it in check. Also, after once dropping a barbell from overhead on less than desired sleep, it skimmed my entire calf knocking me on my behind in pain. So yeah, sleep matters.
- CrossFit requires recovery and being that I am no spring chicken, I need extra help in that department. I recently started having a teaspoon of fish oil a day. Flavor it something fruity all you want but at the end of the day, it’s still herring and sardines that I am sucking down. For anyone who knows my weird issues with food, this is a big deal.
- I have been known to plan out the night before how much weight to the pound I will be lifting the next day in the strength portion. Every pound matters and I am not going to cheat myself nor am I going to make it any harder than it needs to be. Back when I did the Hatch cycle for back and front squats, I used to map out the plates I would need for each set. It’s one of the few things I have ever been OCD about.
- I own my battle wounds. I constantly find bruises and scratches that other people may found horrifying. I own them as they are a reminder of how much I pushed myself and challenged myself. Whip marks on my calves from triple under attempts, bruises on my chest from cleans. Even my tiny knee surgery scars I am proud of in a weird way. They remind me of where I have been and how far I have come.
- I compare everyday things to CrossFit movements. I estimate the weight of my grocery bags and the distance in which I must lug them to a farmer’s carry. I ask my nieces and nephews how much they weigh before I pick them as if I am about to do a kettle bell swing. I also find it funny when I throw visitors’ luggage into the trunk of my car and they in alarm say, “Oh no, let me help you!” Trust me friends, I have lifted more than that bag weighs.
Ok so those are (some) of my quirks. What are yours?
With recently wrapping up the last of Physical Therapy/Personal Training, I leave with understanding so much more about myself in terms of how to train smart and all that goes into being healthy when it comes to fitness. (A side note and added bonus is it has taught me what sets a great therapist/trainer/coach apart from the rest).
- Seeing is just as important as feeling. (As a CrossFit enthusiast, I do strongly believe that one of the things missing from boxes are mirrors). There is a lot of benefit in actually watching ourselves work out. (I’m not talking about giving yourself a gun show although there’s no shame in that). It is seeing the details and breaking down a movement where you can actually pinpoint what you are doing right and wrong. At Physical Therapy, there are mirrors everywhere, and as much as I dislike seeing the agony on my face while I struggle through a workout, I do appreciate being able to see what my body is actual doing versus what I think it is doing. I tend to base how well I am doing a movement off of how it feels, which is important; however sometimes I can’t feel everything my body is doing at one time. Seeing gives insight into being able to correct form. For instance, I used to feel like I was off balance when I squatted after surgery, but I did not really understand why. When I was able to actually see myself squatting, it was obvious I was favoring my right side. My trainer (BJ) was able to give me physical queues while I was squatting to correct form.
- Form is more important than lifting heavy or getting a faster time. After having 1:1 PT sessions, I was lucky to have the chance to not be distracted by anything else. I solely focused on what I was doing which meant dissecting movements. (Seeing a theme here based on #1 as well?) It taught me that it’s ok at times when my body feels fatigued or something just feels wrong, to not worry about adding weight to the barbell or trying to power through to get a faster time or score. I had quite a few strength portions where I would lift very light weight to get in the habit of good form. I also had more than a few instances where BJ had me scale down mid workout when my body was fatiguing resulting in bad form.
- Get mobilizing! I spent a lot of time stretching out before a workout as well as having a pro stretch me out after. It’s painful. It’s grueling. It’s time consuming. It’s worth it. Often when form is off or something feels wrong, it could be your body’s way of telling you to stretch out. I am not an expert in stretching and mobility so I won’t spend much time on this point. I just want to say in my humble opinion, everyone would benefit for spending more time doing this, whether it is on your own, in a mobility or yoga class, via massage or one of my personal favorites, the hot tub. For those of us who CrossFit and do other equally aggressive workouts, our bodies need reprieve. We need time to recover and loosen all the muscles and tendons and whatever else we have to avoid injury (and to just feel good!)
- It is important that your coach/trainer is supporting your goals. *I am putting a disclaimer that this is personally important to me, and so I am assuming it is to others. If it isn’t, well then I owe you burpees. One of the key factors that has gone into my recovery and getting stronger by the day is that I had a team backing up my goals and being just as vested in them as I am. When it comes to my own health and fitness, I am always working towards something. I am a woman who likes a plan, even if it’s a plan that someone else is putting together for me. It is no secret that plans are only as effective as whether they coincide with goals. Having people who understand you and your goals is fundamental.
- Have a connection to your coach/trainer. This is more like #4 part 2, so really the same disclaimer applies. (I have a lot more to say relating to the importance of connecting that is for a blog to come soon. Stay tuned). It can really take your fitness journey and goals to the next level when you truly feel like the person training understands you. They know your weaknesses and your strengths. They know your goals.
Injury recovery and working out can be just as mentally and emotionally trying as it is physically challenging. I had many moments throughout PT of feeling utterly discouraged. I got through them because I had the best Physical Therapist and trainer who talked me through it, without judgment. I was able to be open and express what was going on in my head as much as what was going on with my body. It is normal and par for the course to have a therapist ask how your body/injury is doing. It is not as common but possibly more important that they ask how YOU are doing. To this point, here is a perfect example. After I did my most recent body scan, I was completely crushed by the weight I had gained. I told them about it and they gave me solid advice (like reevaluate my diet and throw in extra cardio) as well as just gave me a pep talk. They did not discount what I was feeling nor did they make me feel crazy about it. They continued to be supportive throughout my dieting journey by checking in and asking how I was doing with it. What was working? What wasn’t working? They paid attention and it made a difference. (I would be a total liar if I did not admit to thoroughly being pleased with the compliments they gave me as the pounds started coming off. I will never grow tired of hearing about any muscle definition someone else sees in me!)
As much as I do not like to admit, I have gone to physical therapy quite a few times over the years. For many of those instances, I went really to just fix whatever was broken or not working right. I wanted to get in and get out so I could get back to my regularly scheduled programming. The last year and a half though that I have spent in PT has been life changing for me. Seriously. It is why I strongly believe this time around departing from PT will end the long reigning slew of injuries. It is because of all these 5 lessons I have learned that are setting up me for success and a healthy journey here on out. It has taught me how to train smarter and how to take everything I learned at PT with me in my journey.
I blogged recently about lessons learned in 2015. Along those same lines, here are some other things that made this past year educational and informative. Oooh we are going to get deep. Get ready!
- Tough decisions sometimes need to be tackled like removing a band aid: Stop avoiding it and pull it off fast. Often your gut instinctively tells you what you need to do but you chose to ignore that. Or justify the opposite of what your gut is saying because change is hard. So stop worrying about it and just do it.
- You can’t get what you want without letting something else go. Life is a give and take. Some examples are more obvious than others. You want to lose weight well you may have to sacrifice your favorite meals or late nights to allow time to hit the gym. You want a new car well then you need to give up dinners out to save money. You want to feel happy well then you need to remove yourself from negative people and things in your life. It is such a simple formula yet not always easy to implement.
- It is ok to not take on other people’s stuff. Yes we want to be loyal and good friends and be there for someone else. There is an important distinction though between being there for someone versus letting their negativity be toxic to your well being. I pride myself in being a sounding board for friends and a sanity check for them. I love doing that for my friends when they recognize their own accountability in a situation or are on a path to getting to a better place, whatever that means to them. I do not however care much to be around negativity that does nothing but bring me down. I have fought so much throughout my life to try to be as positive as I can because I spent much of my existence being a glass half empty kind of gal. I do not want to revert to that and know how easily that could happen if I am around the wrong company or take on other people’s stuff.
- If something doesn’t feel good or right to you, just don’t do it. Like I wrote in my other blog, what worked for you yesterday may not work for you tomorrow. So stop agonizing over trying to fix it or make it right. Sometimes it’s ok to walk away.
- People have a tendency to go into difficult situations or conversations with the wrong attitude. We expect the other person to meet us where we are and to just take and agree with everything we say. Then of course we are floored when a conversation escalates and are appalled that the other person didn’t “get it.” Try going into a conversation with a let’s meet half way attitude. If you truly want to resolve conflict, you need to accept that the solution is probably not necessarily what you expect it to be. (One key take away I took from a work training recently is that sometimes the best solution is not one that you thought up on your own. It’s something two or more people came up with together. Why? Because you get their buy in. Without buy in, it’s very difficult to achieve an agreeable outcome).
- Have more empathy people! I have been talking about getting buy in and being perceptive of other people’s feelings. It feels pretty shitty when someone dismisses how you feel or tells you how ridiculous you are being. You may not agree with how someone is feeling but it is not for you to dictate how someone else “should” feel. If someone is offended by something that you did that seems quite trivial, try first being, you guessed it, empathetic. Validate how they are feeling and it’s way more likely to have a more positive outcome.
So with that, start 2016 off right and get after what you want. Much love!