I’m reading Bill Katovsky’s and Pete Larson’s great book, Tread Lightly, and hit something that I think is both really interesting and incredibly powerful.
I am someone who has had a history of constant injury sidelining me from exercise. My story gets repeated over and over – I start making progress toward my goals and doing well with a particular exercise or set of exercises. Then something starts hurting. I tighten a brace and try to work through it, but it gets worse, and I end up abandoning the exercise for some stretch of time, if not indefinitely.
Chapter 3 of the book goes into why we get injured and what we can do to keep it from happening, but then also ways to try to keep from getting derailed when it does. Obviously, the focus is on running, but it’s clearly applicable to many situations. Larson talks about how he overdid it (ok, for him, overdoing it means he ran 2 marathons too close together), and had some serious pain in his knee, ankle and foot. He took some time off, and his knee pain subsided. When he tried to run again, though, his foot pain was still there. His solution – change shoes. Very interesting. His reasoning being that you strike differently – even if only slightly – in a different pair of shoes since they’re all designed differently, and thus the impact of forces on your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments is different. This stresses them differently, but also your body ‘fires’ differently as it moves through the motions. It’s brilliant. He was able to run through this ‘injury’ without missing a beat, and overcame the pain faster than if he didn’t try this since he was strengthening his way through it.
What he’s getting at is how we make little injuries to our structure when we work out. Building muscle involves making tiny tears in the muscle fiber that heal back stronger. Running, jumping or any other exercise puts stress on your bones that causes weaker bone cells to be stripped away and new, stronger bone cells grow in their place. This process takes time, so he talks about the point at which you stress things faster or in a greater way than the self-repair process can handle – landing you on the DL list (DL = Disabled List, for non baseball fans…though I suppose the way it’s always referred to as DL list means Disabled List List).
So, rather than sitting out for a long period of time while the pain subsides and then trying again the same way, there are two key messages here. 1. Don’t overdo it in the first place, and move from building strength to injuring yourself. 2. Vary your approach and your workout regime, especially if you get injured. For example, when I was making the move into running, I overdid it, and strained my quad really badly. It was a terrible pain in even the simplest movements, let alone trying to run (and I did it trying on a pair of running shoes at City Sports – no glorious story of running 2 marathons in a month like Larson). I did take a couple of days off, but then I did an intense walk with inclines for short intervals. This didn’t work my body like a run, but it kept my leg muscles going, kept me sweating, and it wasn’t painful. I think it aided in my recovery by strengthening different muscles I wouldn’t have been firing if I was running (at that time, I only ran on the treadmill with zero incline since I was only in my third week of running and it was cold out). After I felt no pain anytime during the day, I started back jogging, and was running within two days of that.
So, now I try to vary my workout routines on a daily basis (or will once I finish my recovery from my hernia surgery), and will definitely try things like changing my grip on the pull up bar, switching shoes, doing the elliptical in reverse, etc, when I’m feeling pain to see if I can keep doing what I’m doing, but differently enough to avoid real problems.
By the way, I’m not a doctor, PhD in biochemistry or anything, so if any of what I’m saying is off scientifically but you get the overall message, please forgive my medical stupidity. And if you haven’t, you really need to read the book. It’s fantastic, and it will help you enlighten.your.body.