Monday, December 16, 2013

Observations from my Exercise Detox

A snowshoe selfie.
I am six months into my "Exercise Detox." I think it's fair to say I don't consider what I'm doing an exercise detox anymore, it's just how I'm choosing to be active. After I finally let go, really let go of what I thought I needed to do for fitness, or achieve, or expected from myself, I realized, hey, I like this approach and better yet, I'm healthier for it. What's more, so are my kids because often they are included--as they should be--in the walks, hikes, and explorations we take on foot.

I just finished reading Katy Bowman's "Alignment Matters," a compilation of blog posts that she categorized for easier reading and I came away with a bigger appreciation for movement and the distinction between movement and exercise, health and fitness. Movement, she says, is the meal. The work necessary to keep muscles at an optimal length and joints mobile are the vitamins. Exercise is the dessert. Makes sense to me now, but I've come along way from the despair I felt in May. I've stuck with it and learned a few things along the way:

1) I still get sore from my workouts. What's the news here? Well, if you had told me 15 years ago I would be swapping 15-mile runs and 80-mile bike rides for walking, Pilates, yoga and alignment videos I would not have believed it (nor would I believed it if you had told me then I'd someday be the mother of four). One thing Katy says in one of her Alignment Snack videos is: "Exercise does not need to be hard or vigorous, it just needs to be different." I'm one of those people who likes being sore, which might be one reason I gravitated toward the hard and vigorous. But now I've discovered that moving muscles in ways they are unaccustomed--even stretching--is a challenge and can tell me so in that "good sore" sort of way.

2) I still get stiff from my bad body mechanics. Thanks to an alignment makeover, I'm constantly  pulling my head back and up, rotating my shoulders (without crunching my shoulder blades together), keeping my ribs from thrusting, standing with my pelvis over my ankles, and walking with my feet parallel and under my hips. And yet. Old habits often return and when they do I can feel the difference.  I'm amazed at how I can still feel tightness in my hip or shoulders even though I'm not running 15 miles or riding my bike 80 miles. This tells me that my body problems were less caused by the exercise (or the exercise with bad alignment) than how I held my body up (or apparently didn't) all those hours I wasn't working out.

3) There is no "there" with good body alignment. Well, yes, actually, you can put yourself in the best alignment and then, unfortunately, you have to move. Go about your day. It's a lot like laundry, always playing catch up, or getting everything folded and put away and finding another basket of dirty clothes in the closet. In this same way I am constantly reminding myself to pull in my chin or push my hips back and then there's daily stretching for all the offending body parts--the shoulders that curl in on themselves, the calves and hamstrings that shorten, shorten, shorten with every minute in a chair.

4) I haven't gained weight. When I decided to stop running (long after my body decided to stop running) I felt like I had to prepare for a body change. I have gone months without running before, but I had a back up calorie burn: breastfeeding. I can be a wet nurse for no one these days. So, I just felt like I had to accept the big mid-life body change. And here I am. Still waiting, but moving a lot while I do. My Fitbit tells me I average 5 miles a day walking. I might be covering more ground than I was when I was running.

5) Walking requires skill. Who knew? I always thought that walking, our human default fitness activity, would always be safe. So, you can imagine how frustrated I was when I stopped running in May, took up walking, and still suffered from an aching hip. It wasn't until I started taking the Alignment Snacks that I learned about important biomechanic markers (feet parallel and hip width apart), proper arm swing (yes, you can do this wrong, too), which muscles to use to pick up the foot (lateral hip) and which muscles to use to push off (max glute baby!). Learning how to walk took months, but as soon as I started making changes I felt immediate relief in my sore hip. I was such a bad case, I had to work with a physical therapist to get my right glute to fire when I walk. It just wasn't doing it's job and had gotten away with doing nothing for so long that getting my butt engaged with my walking took a lot of thought. Needless to say, my body does better on a walk when I'm solo. When I walk and talk with a friend, I fall back into old patterns ("quack, quack," says my duck feet or my glutes go take a smoke).

6) I'm satisfied. I have no urge to do more than I'm doing. In fact, Katy sent me the "next stage" exercise prescription months ago and I'm just not ready to move on. I like what I'm doing for now. I spent more than 20 years putting my body through incredibly tough challenges. I can say with satisfaction that I pushed my body beyond what I ever thought it was capable. Those experiences were incredible and I am amazed at what my body has accomplished. When you go to those extremes you start believing that "hard" is what you have to do in order to be satisfied. I don't believe that anymore. My body doesn't need hard to be and stay healthy, it just needs different movement to adapt and activity to maintain cell-turnover. I run now and again. I still love it, and someday I might run more, but for now I choose to walk. I always want to go for a walk.

After one of my exercise detox posts a reader asked for my favorite alignment exercises.


To figure this out I had to do all the videos (over and over) take notes and make a spreadsheet. I could not pick one. I couldn't even pick one after I categorized them. Here are my top eight out of the 22 Alignment Snacks (and you can try one free at that link):

Upper Body:
1) Within Reach
2) Can't Get Enough Shoulders

Lower Body:
1) Quads and Hams
2) Balanced Approach to Hip Strength
3) All Around the Thighs

1) Twisting the Night Away (Good restorative stretching)

Upper and Lower Body:
1) Adductor Madness
2) Stretching the Standing Muscles

Even if you bought all eight of these the grand total is only $40. You can't buy a massage for that. Maybe that would get you two yoga classes or two Cross Fit classes. These would be just as satisfying and then they'd live in your iTunes library for whenever you need them.

And there's more. I highly recommend four more Alignment Snacks (I swear I don't get kick backs from Katy, this is all my opinion, or I should say, my pain-free body's opinion). I call these the "walking series." Katy explains proper walking technique and every muscles involved in "right" walking gets stretched and strengthened. For $20 you can learn to walk without creating friction in your joints, without continually burdening your psoas muscles, without overusing muscles and joints that are crying for a freaking break already, and pelvic floor strengthening is included!

1) Walk This Way
2) Arm Swingtown
3) Balance with Lateral Hips
4) All Fo' the Pelvic Flo'

I'm all done blogging about my broken body, happily because it's not broken! I'm going to move on to new adventures. With snow finally on the ground I plan to share my exploits in cross-country ski lessons.


Christina Mroz said...

I really enjoyed reading this, I myself and finding all this to be true. I'm hoping to empower and educate people in this as well.

Katy B. said...

Kara, what a beautiful post, thank you! AND I SWEAR, I'M NOT PAYING HER TO SAY THESE THINGS!!! A former runner, swimmer, and sometimes triathlete, I too love physical fatigue and soreness -- the challenge of DOING IT when you don't really want to. It is so hard to stress to someone who hasn't made the transition from exercise to movement, that it's usually MORE work, although of a different kind. It's greater frequency (although usually less intensity), more calories spent, and more mindfullness...all the things we are looking for. And, after taking my kids to the park yesterday MY arms are sore from swinging and clambering. I LOVE THIS FEELING! And, you too, for sharing your story. Thanks again! xx KAB

Kristine said...

I pretty much could have written paragraph #6 about myself! So, your experience resonates with me a great deal.

I, too, am a huge F.O.K. (fan of Katy) and am amazed at how much the alignment work has improved my overall well-being.

I am a fitness instructor and, in the middle of one of my gait / alignment pauses during class the other day, my clients asked me whether or not this all ever becomes natural. Or, they wondered, do you always have to be thinking about it.

I told them that my pelvic position has become natural for me now, but that I am still really careful and mindful when I walk. Like you said, if I get distracted or, for me, tired, then that right foot goes duckward and that psoas lights up. I think it will always be an issue, but hopefully I will develop the musculature and the neuromuscular firing to eventually be able to relax into it a bit.

Thanks for sharing your journey. I think it's a great and important message to share.

Unknown said...

I am at the "my body is broken" stage. I am experiencing multiple failures due to old and persistent muscle weakness (my coaches never told me my lateral hip muscles were weak and that I had compensating muscles all over my body and my right foot turned out and my pronation wasn't congenital). Anyhow…I enjoyed reading your blog because despite the fact I know I have a lot of work to due (thanks Katy), there is light at the end of the tunnel and I won't always feel broken and frustrated.

Kara said...

Thank you all for your comments. It is comforting to me to hear that others have been there, done that. I also want to let those of you still in the broken stage that, yes, there is light!!

julie said...

Hi Kara, thanks, I've been looking forward to a follow-up to your story and love this article! My alignment is a bit like yours in the blog Katy posted as I have kyphosis too and I wondered how you are looking when you correct your alignment and line everything up. Are you still all hunched over, or have you straightened up a bit?? Do your ribs sit more often in the stomach cavity now? Thank-you Julie