I had to deal with two illnesses in January, first a severe sinus infection and then a case of near-pneumonia. (I’m convinced the one led to the other.) All in all it was not a very fun month for me. I was out of commission for a total of 19 days. Needless to say, I wasn’t working out a lot during that period. In fact, “not at all” is an apt description.
Adding insult to injury, I was on a fairly high dose of Prednisone for a while. Prednisone belongs to a class of drugs known as corticosteroids. It decreases your immune system’s response to various diseases to reduce symptoms such as inflammation, swelling and allergic-type reactions. One of the things about this drug is that you can’t just stop taking it, at least, not without unpleasant consequences. Another is that it supercharges your appetite.
So, between being inactive and hungry all the time, I put on 11 pounds while I was sick. Fortunately, I’m nearly done tapering off the Prednisone, and tonight I start my workouts again in earnest. I hope the weight comes off as easily as it went on, but I’m not counting on it. Tally ho!
No pain, no gain. We’ve all heard it. Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s not entirely accurate. In the short term, a buildup of lactic acid in the muscles produces soreness, fatigue, and achiness. This is not what we’re talking about. As your body recovers after a strenuous workout, these symptoms disappear. When you overdo it in a workout or work with an untreated injury you can strain, sprain, or outright injure a muscle-in other words, there’s physical damage. That sort of pain provides little immediate benefit.
Notice that I qualified that last statement. There is at least one benefit to persistent pain, only if you pay attention to it. It’s a red flag that something is going on that needs to be dealt with. Your body is doing what it can to get your attention. You should take heed, because a minor annoyance can become a major problem if you continue to abuse a damaged muscle or joint.
The best thing you can do for a simple strain or a sprain is RICE: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. If the damage is not yet that severe but is still persistent, a day or two of low intensity use and a lot of gentle stretching (yoga, foam rollers, and so on) can work wonders. You can also use Tiger Balm or a similar salve after you have finished your stretching, for minor pain and soreness relief. Above all, pay attention to your body.
There is a significant difference between being sore and being in pain.
I’ve been researching delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS is the presence of muscle soreness or muscle stiffness in the day or two following a particularly tough workout. The soreness is perceived as a dull, aching pain in the affected muscle, often combined with tenderness and stiffness. The pain is felt only when the muscle is stretched, contracted or put under pressure, not when it is at rest, and is not debilitating in its intensity. People often experience this when beginning a new routine or dramatically changing the duration or intensity of an existing routine. DOMS is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of an adaptation process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and increase in size.
This sort of muscle pain should not be confused with the fatigue you experience during exercise. DOMS is also unlike the acute, sudden and sharp pain of an injury such as a muscle strain or sprain. These definitely require rest and may require treatment depending upon severity. The severity of DOMS is generally at its worst within the couple of days after a new, intense activity and slowly subsides over the next few days. In contrast, honest to goodness debilitating pain needs to be treated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Delayed onset muscle soreness is thought to be a result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercise and what type of exercise you do. Any movement you aren’t used to can lead to DOMS, but eccentric muscle contractions (movements that cause muscle to forcefully contract while it lengthens) seem to cause the most soreness. Examples of eccentric muscle contractions include going down stairs, running downhill, lowering weights and the downward motion of squats and push-ups. In addition to small muscle tears there can be associated swelling in a muscle which may contribute to soreness.
There is no best way to treat delayed onset muscle soreness. You can try gentle stretching, use a foam roller as a part of your cool down, use R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation), or take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. However, I have found if you simply wait it out, soreness will go away in 2 or 3 days with no special treatment. Furthermore, I look at DOMS as a sign that I have had an effective and challenging work out, sort of a variation on “no pain, no gain”.
I discovered this morning that I have put back on nine pounds over the past couple of weeks, as I recovered from pneumonia. That kind of stinks! I’m back to 181 pounds, and I can see the beginnings of a gut coming back. I understand intellectually that there’s not really much I could have done which I didn’t, while I’ve been recuperating. Emotionally, well, that’s an entirely different matter. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I worked darned hard to drop that weight, and I admit to being a bit discouraged by this setback.
On the other hand, it is just a setback. It’s not the end of the world. It’s certainly not the end of my fitness journey either. Last night I started working out again, with Body Gospel Live, a 30 minute light cardio workout. I took it easy, paid attention to my body, and even took a break for a few minutes about halfway through. It wasn’t the hardest effort I’ve ever put in, but I’ll tell you the simple truth: it felt GREAT to be moving again!
There is a school of thought which maintains that how we deal with adversity is at least as important as how we deal with the good things in our lives. I think that there is merit in this perspective. It’s easy to be happy and optimistic when everything is working to our advantage. It is much more challenging to maintain a positive attitude when obstacles and setbacks lie in our paths, to see the good in the adversity. The big challenge in such cases is to channel the negative emotions we feel into something better, to use them as fuel for change or even just perseverance. I choose to view my situation as a challenge to be overcome, not as a reason to throw in the towel. Stay tuned!
What do you do when everything falls apart on you? How do you cope with drastic changes in circumstances or status? Right now, this is not so theoretical for me. I have been unable to work out for eight days now because of a bout of pneumonia, and I’m finding it incredibly frustrating. Mentally and emotionally, I’m ready to jump right into a round of P90X Kenpo X. Physically, I got tired just walking upstairs to take a shower this morning. Clearly, there will be no “X” in my immediate future!
I suppose, from a practical point of view, there is little to be done except give my lungs a chance to fully heal. It would be counter-productive at best to try to push my system before it is ready. At worst, I could easily land myself back in the hospital. So, while I am recovering, I need to find something to help me get through this transition period. Alternately, I could just let my frustration grow until I end up in an all around bad mood. Nah-that’s no good!
Here’s my short term plan. First, rest as much as my body wants. Second, every couple hours, make an easy walking lap around the house. Third, do a few seated bicep curls with my lightest resistance band, once a day for a few days. Fourth, pay attention and back off when appropriate. I know that my health is improving and that I will eventually be back on track. I just need to be patient and accommodate my current limitations.