What I Learned From Not Working Out For A Month
June 21, 2016.
It was the day after I returned from my trip to Mexico. I hadn’t worked out for the five days I was there because I had tweaked my back during a previous workout and figured I would let it reset while frolicking on the beach.
I can pinpoint the exact moment I hurt my back. Being the overachiever I am, during the 10 seconds of rest in a tabata workout, I decided to use the kettlebell I was holding and bang out a few swings before getting back into the original movement.
I took one swing and my entire back clenched up. I’m not even sure how to describe what happened except I dropped the kettlebell and immediately knew something was wrong. I had trouble turning and breathing felt like someone was stabbing me each time I inhaled.
So of course I decided to continue the workout, just at a lower intensity. I did bicep curls instead of burpees. I attempted tricep extensions instead of hopping on the rower. Not even five minutes into my modified workout and I knew that I had to cut it short. I had never felt anything like this and any type of movement was extremely difficult. I tried foam rolling and using a lacrosse ball to get into the places where it hurt, but since it was so aggravated, I was probably making it worse.
I left, trained a client (smart), and went to an urgent care clinic. I told her I was in recovery and didn’t want any kind of serious pain medication, so she held back on even prescribing muscle relaxers and I left with ibuprofen. (sidenote: ibuprofen does nothing for someone who spent years with an opiate addiction). Ha.
She told me not to work out for two days and rest and that if it persisted, call her back and she would prescribe the muscle relaxer.
It absolutely did not get better, so I called back only to find out that she wasn’t in the office and hadn’t put that direction in her notes so they couldn’t prescribe me anything. This was a Thursday, and by Monday I finally went BACK to urgent care, told the same recovery info, and the doctor agreed that I definitely needed to try a muscle relaxer.
I put Neil in charge of the medicine and took it for a few days, but stopped after it really didn’t seem to do much except put me to sleep. It’s not a narcotic medication, but for me, any of this can be a slippery slope so I figured I’d be safe.
I finally got a sports injury appointment the following Wednesday (it had been 8 days at this point), and I started on an intensive program of adjustments, exercises to correct my form and breathing, and some of the worst (but necessary) pain ever from trying to work out the strain.
This Tuesday marked four weeks of not working out and trying to rehab an issue that apparently had been building up over time. I was given the ok to resume my workouts, so I took the same tabata class that originally broke me and I survived unscathed! I modified a few things and took it a little easier, but it felt great to get back to something that is such a big part of my life.
I wanted to think out loud today by sharing with you what I learned from not working out for a month.
1. Exercise and my mood are related
I already knew this, but knowing and experiencing are two different things. Actually not being able to work out for a month was pretty discouraging. I would teach classes and watch everyone breaking a sweat and trying their best and then I would leave and eat frozen yogurt because I was sad (tip: emotional eating not advised).
I missed the community and I missed the challenge. I didn’t feel quite as clear and ready to take on the day. I didn’t sink too low, but I definitely felt the effects of not being able to join in.
2. My body is my job
You know the saying “you never know what you have until it’s gone?” Yes, I still had my body, but I had lost a lot of my functional mobility. Soon after the injury, I had trouble walking down the street without my back spasming and I had to have Neil help me with a lot of the household things.
As a personal trainer and instructor, my body is my job. I need to be able to demonstrate movements and correct form. During several classes, I needed to have someone else show the moves and thankfully a lot of my clients already knew the ones we were working with. It’s scary to be taken out of commission like that and it made me realize how much I need to take care of what I have.
3. I won’t start back at zero
Although realistically I knew this wasn’t true, I panicked that I would lose all of my fitness abilities and have to start over again. I thought I would lose all my muscle mass and EVERYTHING WAS RUINED. Not so. I worked out this week and it was like riding a bike.
4. I won’t gain 500 pounds
I also thought with the amount that I eat (and what I eat on the weekends) that I would gain weight. Also not true. I think I softened up a bit, but all my clothes still fit and I looked basically the same as I did before. Bodies are weird.
5. I need to take care of my body
As I get older, I need to be very careful about what I put my body through. I was told that I had a lot of old damage that had been accumulating, which culminated in this back strain.
Gone are the days where I can get hurt and just work through it or ignore it until it goes away. Every injury is your body telling you that something is wrong, and if I hope to continue exercising, I need to listen to those cues.
I’m a horrible stretcher. I never stretch unless it’s with clients and even then it’s not for very long. On top of my back, I have a tilted pelvis (which I’ve known for awhile), which causes me to arch my back and not fully engage my glutes during lower body exercises. My hip flexors and pecs are incredibly tight and basically I’m just a mess. I was forced to work on these areas and having them brought to my attention makes me think about my posture during the day.
Bottom line: self-care isn’t just about meditating, buying yourself something you want, or doing activities that you value. There’s also physical self-care that sometimes I have trouble adhering to. I’m going to try and treat my body with more respect and take care of it so that it’s able to give back to me for as long as it can. Bonus: this also justifies getting my first massage 🙂
- Have you ever been injured and out of commission?
- How did you cope with it?
- What did you learn?
31 comments on “What I Learned From Not Working Out For A Month”
Anytime I have to skip workouts or need to rest for a few days/week due to an injury I struggle with these same fears. “Will I lose all my fitness?” As if 10 years of regular working out will be lost in 1 week of rest…. Thank you for sharing this! SO much of it rings true for me.
Anytime Michelle! Glad you were able to relate 🙂
I think with time off from the gym, we can really grow mentally and realize that just as you said, we won’t gain 500 pounds! I definitely think time off can be very beneficial. I tore my ACL junior year of high school and was out for a while. And one thing I learned was that the gym isn’t everything! It’s just a small part of life 🙂
Alyssa recently posted…What’s serving you?
Absolutely. And ACL recovery is no joke!
My knee went out of whack in the middle of June that was caused by a chain reaction of other problems in my back and hip. It takes a lot of time to get your body right (especially when you’re trying to rehab yourself, but still teaching others). Just take it easy coming back so that you don’t repeat the injury! I am saving up the $$ to get a 90 minute massage and really tackle the deep tissue issue in my back that I’m trying to work through. Isn’t it amazing how connected every part of your body is?
AmberLynn recently posted…Yoga Is My Savior
I’m learning more and more just how important it is to take care of EVERYTHING. and why do massages have to be so expensive??
Tell me about it! It will take over two weeks of teaching yoga for one massage! I wish that I could honestly say that yoga will cure everything, but right now I’m even having to warm up before I teach…..body is a miracle for sure!
AmberLynn recently posted…Yoga Is My Savior
That last point totally hits home for me and my weird, tight-everywhere-but-also-super-flexible body. I try to get in for monthly massages, but I don’t stretch/foam roll nearly enough. But I need to get better about it if I’m not going to get injured!
Ellen @ My Uncommon Everyday recently posted…Thinking Out Loud #56
Before I always thought I didn’t have time for it and it was a waste, but I’m learning how important it is and need to MAKE time
Check out the Rock Your Roller class at TRIFACTIVE Sports Injury + Performance to learn full-body techniques to keep your body feeling great!
Haha I definitely should!
As someone who’s suffered multiple injuries, I know this all too well. I feel like there are always weak spots in our body and those need to be priorities in our fitness because otherwise other parts of the body compensate for them which can turn into injuries. I’m glad you’re feeling better though!
Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious recently posted…Simple Ways To Cut Calories Every Day
Me too! A couple injuries ago I was out for 3 months! I couldn’t run but I could still do some weights which was good.
I agree with these completely. Exercise and my mood are SO related. I used to struggle a lot with being grumpy and now it’s almost never. I realized a while ago it was 100% related to when I started exercising regularly.
Jen @ Pretty Little Grub recently posted…Thinking Out Loud #76
It’s so great! I always feel much better after a workout 🙂
It’s amazing how the mental battle with rest is probably the hardest battle. And yes, our bodies are incredible, aren’t they? The way they can heal, not gain 500 pounds, and repair is just wonderful. The older I get the more I realize how I used to be so focused on pushing through, no matter what, but I realized how hurtful that mindset is. You have a really amazing mindset Erin, and I’m glad we can learn from you.
Emily recently posted…TOLT: Clothes, Grace, Wonder, and Exercise
Thanks Emily! Yeah, I’m working on prioritizing the things that are important for my health in the long run 🙂
I am glad you are on the mend, this sounds like a painful injury! Fortunately, (knock on wood!) I have not been injured for an extended period of time. I used to be afraid of losing my fitness or gaining weight if I were to take an extended break, but now fitness and running and spending time outside hiking have become such an integral part of my life and social life. I think the impact on my mood and feeling “left out” would be the biggest side effect!
Danielle @ Wild Coast Tales recently posted…My Marathon Training Essentials Part 1: Favourite Clothing
Yeah, I was definitely feeling all that. Now I just have to take it easy coming back into things so I don’t hurt it again!
This totally takes me back to my post about what I learned from my injuries and highs/lows of the past year.
And you can ask Alex–my physical health and my mental health are completely intertwined. I wish it didn’t take just a little bit of being off physically to derail me, but it really does just take a little bit of pain. But on the other hand, I have learned that I can always survive.
Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…Pre Blogfest Thoughts : My Mission, Fertility, Men in Tights
Totally. You were out of commission for a LONG time!
Thankfully I have never been injured (knock on wood!), but as a spin instructor I am very careful when I am presented with opportunities to roller skate or ice skate with my kids! I worry that I might get injured. I have been out of commission for surgery for about a week and it was actually nice to slow down. However, by the end of the week I was getting very antsy. The whole mind/body connection is so fascinating to me. I love all of your observations above and I can relate to all of them! I hope you are having a blast in LA!
That’s so great youve never been injured! Keep it that way!
Ugh, injuries are for the birds. I remember when I naively jumped back into group fitness after having my son and I could barely walk for 5 days because my oh-so-tight quads were probably pulled/torn. I’m glad you are now on the mend and were able to realize that your world wasn’t ending – while also realizing that exercise IS something very important to your body AND mind. I have a wonky body, too, so I feel the (figurative and literal) pain. Oh, and funnily enough, I used to hate stretching, too, but now it’s one of my favorite things. Sitting at a desk all day will do that you 😉
Catherine @ A Cup of Catherine recently posted…Is Your Motivation Healthy or Harmful?
Yeah I was impressed w my ability to modify and take it easy when coming back. That’s definitely not like me haha n
Okay, so this is really weird. I put my back out too!!! IN Mexico, but mine was lower back (I think yours was higher back because of how you described having trouble breathing). I called my physiotherapist ($$$$$$$$$$$) and on speakerphone, he guided Andrew on how to mobilize my SI joint. It worked, so I could at least walk (I COULD NOT EVEN EFFING WALK) but when I got home I had to see him so he could fix it properly (it was twisted, too). I had no pain medication other than tequila, and the pain was so great that it stood front and centre in my mind (everything that entered my brain went through the “holy shit my back hurts” filter first). I not only stopped running, but I decided to lower my weekly mileage forever and ever and ever. I used to run 80-100 mile weeks, and now I promise to cap out at 60 (I’ve only hit 40-50 now). Our bodies tell us all sorts of things, and it’s up to us to listen. I’m glad we are both healing well, as exercise is so therapeutic. Woohoo!
Suzy recently posted…Contrast
OMG that sounds awful! It’s not like you can sit still with all those kiddos running around too. Glad you’re working on taking a step back instead of ignoring it. Smart lady 🙂
Ahh back pain is terrible! I injured my back shoveling snow of all things a few years ago. It was a huge heavy snow and like an idiot I was trying to get it all done at once by myself. I took one scoop and then something in my back just like snapped!! Agh yet I continue to shovel! That night the pain progressively got worse to the point of excruciating and I couldn’t sleep or move! I didn’t have insurance so I couldn’t go to the Dr or get drugs. And yeah ibuprofen did NADA. After a day of lying on the floor motionless and intense pain it slowly started to get better. But there are still days I tweak it and feel remnants of pain back there. No idea what I did to it!
I feel ya on the not working out thing. When I’m injured/sick/working too much and can’t exercise I just feel all wrong. I do not feel like myself at all and am kind of on edge. Need that running high!
I hope you are feeling 100% again asap! And enjoy blog fest!
Oh man that sounds awful!! Yeah, I’ve been paying more attention to how I’m moving and what I’m doing. So important!
This was nice to read! Although I actually struggle with the fact that I don’t have the motivation to work out, I can kind of relate in a way. I love taking classes though, it’s so much more motivating, but more expensive!!
I agree though, with the way I eat, and the physical inactivity that I often feel is not intense enough, it’s amazing to know that indeed, we don’t just gain weight that easily, just how we don’t lose weight or gain muscle mass that easily either!
Totally! I was definitely sore the next day but it was fine!