A Whole9 guest post by Kate Galliett, creator of Fit for Real Life and The Unbreakable Body, an online strength and mobility program.
Where there has been significant injury, significant recovery is required. When living with a disease or condition that affects your long-term ability to engage in physical activity, exercise can be a double-edged sword. It releases endorphins that help you feel good, a welcome feeling when the frustration of physical limitations is also present. Exercise also has many other health benefits for your body: building muscle tissue, increasing your heart and lung’s capacity to work, and helping you keep brain plasticity now, and later in life.
However, all those benefits are for naught if doing a workout sets you back each time you do it. If you’re dealing with a long-term illness, disease, or injury, exercising can become not-so-wonderful if it makes you hurt worse. Racking up days of ‘no movement’ on the couch isn’t what you’d hope for when you’re implementing an exercise or movement program.
When you have health restrictions, you may also start feeling frustrated at what your body can’t do, instead of focusing on what it can do. Positive thinking is a highly beneficial tactic to combat this, so it’s worth your while to keep it in your arsenal of tools and keep the blade sharp.
So, what’s to be done? How do you include exercise in your life when you also have a long-term physical setback?
Become a ruthless detective
There are, quite literally, thousands of ways to bring exercise into your life. Within the broader categories of exercise there are incredible amounts of sub-categories you can discover and determine if they suit you. Within each sub-category are vast numbers of styles, methods, and coaches for that exercise type.
The trick is to avoid analysis paralysis with the incredible amount of choices, and instead see the cornucopia of choices you have in front of you. Even if you feel like every option is off the table because your body is currently on strict restrictions, there will be an exercise program or movement-style that suits you, you just have to look without judgement.
“Without judgement” is the tricky part. No judgement of yourself that you’re not doing the activity you loved so much before but just isn’t working for you now. And no judgement of other forms of movement and exercise that before you might have paid no attention to.
Your landscape is different now than it was before. Be open and willing to explore alternatives for your exercise practice. If you loved running prior to your long-term setback, and every time you try running now, you hurt, are on the couch for days, and are getting re-injured or seeing a flare-up of your condition, the message is clear – you just have to hear it and accept it.
Just because you remove running as an option for exercise now doesn’t mean its off the table forever. It might be, but you won’t know for some time anyways, so a better alternative is to start exploring other options for getting healthy movement into your life.
One simple way to start your detective work is to type your condition or illness into a search engine with the words “+ exercise”. You will find practitioners and other people who have shared online info about what they are doing, what has worked, and what hasn’t worked; and with your smart detective mind, you’ll sort through what you find, discarding what’s not helpful and exploring further anything that has some potential for you.
You may find a forum where people like you are discussing the type of exercise they’re doing, which you can then do a search for to learn more about, and with that information, can decide if this could be something worth trying for yourself. You might be able to find all the info you need to get started free online, or you might need to buy a few books, or you may stumble on a coach that teaches the method you want to try and you can decide to link up with them.
Whether it’s barbell-training, bodyweight training, yoga, cycling, tai chi, various martial arts, dance class, swimming, or any other movement-based activity you can think of, there are people who are finding great joy in it, and you could be one of them too.
Determine your dosage
Exercising isn’t an all or nothing game. Perhaps you’re not ready to throw out your old exercise method entirely just yet.
If the current workout you’re doing is crippling you, it might not be that the movements in the program aren’t well-suited for you. Consider that it might simply be the volume of movements or the timing that isn’t working for where you stand at this time.
If the program you’d like to do has a set schedule of X number of workouts per week, and attempting that puts you back on the couch, hurt, and in pain, consider changing the volume and timing to something more suitable for you before you throw the program out entirely.
It’s not the end of the world if you don’t do a program as prescribed. Even high-level athletes adapt a program to their own needs. They look at necessary programming that needs to get done, and then create a template that suits them best.
None of us are in the same place, coming from the same location, or heading the same direction.
If your workout buddy Mike thrives on longer duration workouts spread out through a week, so that he has full rest days in between workouts, but you get crushed from that format, then what Mike is doing might be best for him, but it’s not best for you. You might do better with shorter duration workouts but that happen with greater frequency and less rest days.
Here are two ways you can alter your current workout to try out how it might still be able to work for you:
1. Segment the program:
If a program has a full-body workout that you are to do 2-3 times per week, you could instead break up the full-body workout into segments, and work one segment per day, working your way through them all over the course of a week. You may get one full-body workout complete instead of the two to three recommended by the program, but, one is better than none, and ‘none’ is what you get every time you land on the couch because your workout broke you.
Here are 3 ways you can play with the segmentation of your workout program:
- Do you do better doing the full-body workout as one go but then taking the next 1-2 days to do other, lighter, more recovery-based things?
- Do you do better doing a smaller segment of the full-body program and doing that consistently each day?
- Do you do better taking your segment and breaking it up even further to be a ‘morning’ and an ‘evening’ segment where you complete the segment in one day, but not all in one go?
After you sort out your segmenting, sort out part 2: the type and nature of rest days.
2. Evaluate the timing of rest days:
Consider these suggestions and questions to find the type and nature of rest days that will work best for you.
- Do you do better having two exercise days in a row to start the week, and then take a rest day before you do two more exercise days?
- Do you do better having an exercise day followed by a rest day, repeating that schedule throughout the week?
- Do you do better incorporating tai chi or yoga on a rest day or do you do well taking a full rest, doing no real movement of any kind?
- Do you do better when you get extra sleep, eat extra food, and or use a sauna on your rest days?
Enjoy the journey, not just the outcome
After you’ve done your detective work, and you’ve figured out a good dosage for yourself, take a deep breath and relax into the journey. It’s an old maxim, but its the truth: it’s about the journey, not the destination.
What you want to get out of exercise is to feel good, get better, and have fun. ‘Getting better’ may be incremental and feel slow to you as you work exercise into your life alongside your long-term condition, but the alternative is bleak. You’d much rather move your ball forward small notches regularly than have the ball rolling back on you, smashing you every time you try to push it.
Learn to enjoy the act of slowly pushing your ball forward. Find things about your body and its ability to push the ball forward, whatever that may be, that motivate you to keep the journey going.
What have you found helpful as you work to find the right exercise routine for your long-term health restrictions? Tell us in the comments.
Kate Galliett is the creator of Fit for Real Life where she brings together body, mind, and movement to help people become highly-charged and fit for real life. She coaches clients in-person, online, and through her foundational strength & mobility program, The Unbreakable Body. She holds a BS in Exercise Science and has worked as a fitness professional for 12 years. Her secret ingredient is always smoked paprika.
(Photo Credits: Daquella manera, jjay69, and familymwr via cc)
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Mariah Thompson says
I needed this article today. I am currently in a cast on my left foot and my right wrist and cannot weight bear on either. Feeling trapped in my body has been very challenging as a previously very active person. Now if only I can think of something I can do with these restrictions!
Wishing you a speedy recovery from your injuries! When you’re able to get into the water, jogging in the pool could be an option. Working around the hand won’t be a big deal, but I’d encourage you to sit tight until the foot is out of the cast. The height difference casts make on really throws our pelvis off and can cause more pain down the road. Once the foot cast is off, you’ll be scooting around on both legs in no time at all – either on a bike or on terra firma. In the meantime, make relaxation strategies your friend: meditation, tai chi, etc. Best wishes!!
Virginia Larioza says
I found the MELT Method a few years ago and using it made such a difference in how I felt, I became an instructor. Honestly it’s so gentle and helpful to such a wide variety of injuries and conditions. It’s helps you feel better and perform better whether you are a professional athlete or aging boomer. I work also with a wide variety of children as we find it’s helps them with anxiety and attention as well. You can take classes and learn but the idea is to be able to do it for yourself on your own. When you feel better any type of activity or exercise is much easier and enjoyable. It’s been featured on Dr. Oz, Nightline, Good Morning America, Rachel Rey etc. ( in fact it will be on Dr. Oz again tomorrow!) I highly encourage everyone to look in to the growing field of research and movement therapy based on our Fascial ( connective tissue ) system. It’s far more powerful and important than was once thought.
As a once highly active person (running 1/2 marathons, in the gym 6 days a week, etc) this article was definitely needed. Dealing with a shoulder injury (rear ended by a drunk driver), patellofemoral syndrome in one knee, planter fasciitis in both feet, (the list does actually go on) it seems like my body breaks with the snap of a finger. My body hurts from just everyday living, so going into the gym is a SCARY thing. I’m not sure if it’s psychological, but it seems like when I workout, I eat better- when I don’t workout, I eat whatever…. That’s not working for me. This article was so beneficial- time to change my thinking about the gym being scary, time to investigate what I can do in the gym and segment in, and time to get over my “all or nothing, leave it all at the gym” mentality….
Linda Sand says
When a lower back injury meant I couldn’t do Zumba I went to class anyway. Sitting on a chair and doing the arm movements is still fun. I loved it when the instructor danced over and gave me a high five during one number.
Kate Galliett says
That’s awesome Linda! Where there is will, there is a way. :-) -kate
Natasha W says
Thank you so much for this article! I have been coping with a chronic illness for many years now and it has been challenging trying to adapt to my limitations. I will never give up trying to get healthier and stronger but it’s not always easy staying positive… Thanks for all the useful tips!
Kate Galliett says
You’re welcome Natasha! I’m so glad you decided a chronic illness wasn’t going to be the end of your ability to go do things. No matter what you can do, some amount is better than no amount! You got this. :-) -kate
Sue Brittain says
Just found Whole9 and love it! I am currently wanting to find out if I have an autoimune disorder of some sort and I’m finding it difficult to find and evaluate a Dr. that will test me for it. I am frustrated that most Drs. look at me and say that because of my weight I just need to exercise and drop several pounds. Excersice squite often leaves me feeling worse than I already am. Some days it’s hard enough getting out of bed for work. I have read a few books that seem to pinpoint some type of autimune disorder so where do I start? I know I need to eat better but what type of excercise would be right for me?
Any help is appreciated
If you feel worse after exercise, it may be better to do what I note in the article – break up your “workout” into tiny chunks throughout the day, so that you have just a few minutes of movement or activity at a burst, and then you get a long recovery time. This will also help you build up your ‘activity capacity base’ (how much work you can handle at any given time). Be patient, know that there may be a few steps back along the way, but overall, your journey will indeed move forward.
Best wishes as you follow your path toward optimal health.
Natasha W says
I am not an “expert” but I have been almost exactly where you are now. I think you may be underestimating how important your diet truly is, I know I did! I found an amazing Dr, a D.O. that gave me a blood test called L.E.A.P. that test for inflammation markers from specific foods. For me, once I got off of these foods, my extreme fatigue and muscle pain almost completely went away. Each bite of food we take can either heal us or poison us. Food Matters and Fat, sick, and nearly dead are wonderful documentaries about the importance of our food. This may start your healing process and allow you to exercise and truly make progress! Also, if your doctor doesn’t believe in getting to the cause of your issues, find a new one! Don’t give up! I didn’t and although I still have issues, I am probably 85% better than I was 5 years ago. Hope this helps!
Sue Brittain says
Thanks Natasha and Kate,
Just did the research on a D.O. Dr. and found one within my medical benefits. She’s about 35 miles from where I am but that may be ok as she is in the same city my sister and her family is in so that is a win-win. I’ll call her tomorrow and ask a few questions. Based on what I find out I may just go see her. It can’t hurt!
Look into Functional Medicine doctors as well, they focus on root causes, rather than just treating symptoms
As a group fitness instructor and crossfit enthusiast I felt that my Total Knee Replacement on April 10th was my death sentence. This article along with unwavering support of friends and family has shown me that my active life will resume and I will eventually have an exercise regime that suits my needs. Thank you for bringing this issue the attention it deserves!!!
Kate Galliett says
I’m so glad to hear that you’re seeing the light down at the end of the tunnel and that it looks like it has activity and exercise in it. You will indeed find the right movement solutions for your body with the knee replacement. Best wishes on the journey, it will be a good one!
This article is too close for comfort. I’m exactly the sort of person that works out too hard and ends up benched. After a few times, it seems easier to throw out exercise altogether, and with it, healthy eating, like another poster mentioned.
I have rheumatoid arthritis with fibromyalgia secondary, hypermobility, mild scoliosis, sjogren’s syndrome, celiacs, PCOS, diabetes… the list goes on. It is so scary even trying to find something that works, knowing first hand the result could put me on my back. It takes everything I have to work full time, so overdoing it risks job and finances. When I’m not working I can develop a regimen and do very well, but I’ve never figured it out with a job.
Kate Galliett says
Just want you to know I support you and believe in you. Breaking up “workouts” into smaller bundles has been an effective solution for many who deal with a similar situation as you – barely any time to fit anything in, and health issues that set you back if you workout too much. Best of luck to you. You got this. :-)