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?