Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Review and February Goals

My goals for January were:

  • Do whatever rehab is necessary for my back
  • Skate four times a week


It turned out that the rehab necessary for my back involves NOT skating, so that was the end of that goal.  However, I do believe I've made some progress toward figuring out what to do for my back, and I have my PT marching orders.  Also, now that the pain has calmed down and I can at least do cardio, I was able to close out the month strong.  This week I did all my PT plus two spin classes and one High Intensity Interval Training workout on the treadmill.

In other fitness news, my gym has opened a branch within walking distance of my apartment.  This is exciting news because even though the other location has the best powerlifting equipment and setup, it will be easier for me to get to classes (like spin) at the Capitol Hill location after work and on the weekends.  I upgraded my membership so I can work out at both.

Also this month, I learned about Foundation Training.  My physical therapist has me doing this short but challenging lower back workout three times a week in addition to my other daily PT exercises.  I think this is going to help me with my deadlifting in addition to just strengthening my back overall.

Here are my goals for February:
  • Daily PT Exercises
  • Foundation Training three times a week 
  • Cardio three times a week 
  • Off skates training (boot camp type fitness stuff) with the travel team once a week
I feel good about this.  I think this is a good plan.  Although the doctor also said I couldn't do any hitting until I've had six weeks of PT, I'm hoping I can get back on skates non-contact sooner rather than later.  We'll see how the PT goes.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Three Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Started Skating and Lifting

Regrets.  I've had a few.

My recent back injury has shown me how little I know about anatomy.  I knew, conceptually, that strength training helps prevent injuries and as I learned more about strength training, I also learned that muscle imbalances could lead to injuries.  That's why we do assistance work, to strengthen the smaller muscles that support the three big power lifts.  But really that's all I knew.  In the interest in helping other people learn from my mistakes, I thought I'd share three things I wish I'd known, plus one thing I wish I had done, before I started skating and lifting.  If I'd known and done all these things, maybe I wouldn't be injured now.  First, the three things I wish I'd known:

Imbalances are a big deal.  In case you aren't a skater, let me explain what imbalances arise in derby.  Roller derby is played in the counter-clockwise direction.  This means that we are always turning left and never turning right.  Therefore, our turning-left muscles get really strong, and our turning-right muscles, not so much.  Do you think it's a coincidence that this back/hip problem of mine is on my right side?  I don't.  When she evaluated me, my physical therapist actually said, "Can't they change the rules of roller derby so you can stop doing this to yourself?" Sadly, that is not likely to happen.

Think about the sports or other physical activities you do.  Do you think any of them strengthen some muscles at the expense of others?  Think about it.  If you are a roller derby skater, skate in the clockwise direction as much as possible in warmups, between drills, whenever you can.  And if you are a derby trainer, think carefully about what drills must be done on the track.  Last year when I went to Northeast DerbyCon, Barbara Ambush made a big deal of doing her entire workshop in straight lines perpendicular through the track to make the point that a lot of the drills we do, don't and shouldn't be done in derby direction.

Your core muscles aren't strong enough.  Roller derby is so amazingly great for strengthening the core.  My core is so much stronger now than it was when I started skating.  Power lifting is also great for the core.  All three big lifts (squat, deadlift and bench press) strengthen the core.  I thought my core was in great shape.  But those smaller and deeper core muscles, like my problematic transverse abdominis, need special attention.  According to my physical therapist, all the crunches and sit-ups in the world won't help these muscles.  She suggests barre or pilates.  And in my case, physical therapy.

Assistance work should be strategic.  I always knew that assistance work was important and shouldn't be neglected just because lifting really heavy stuff is more fun.  But I didn't fully grasp the importance, nor did I have the knowledge of strength training anatomy or my body's own imbalances, to be strategic about choosing assistance exercises.  I started to understand this better over the summer when the personal trainer at my gym augmented my power lifting program with some derby-specific strength training exercises, but even that change in programming wasn't targeted at my specific weaknesses.

This leads me to the one thing I would do differently if I were starting skating and/or lifting now:

Get a functional movement screen!  A functional movement screen is an assessment of the way your body moves through a variety of basic exercises.  The assessment is designed to uncover weaknesses and imbalances that can be corrected through training.  As this article notes, "You can't put fitness on dysfunction."  Or, as I said to my physical therapist while she was working on me, "I guess if I'd come to see you before I hurt myself, I wouldn't be here right now, huh?"  I really wish I had focused more on understanding and correcting my weaknesses.  A functional movement screen, followed by a consultation with a physical therapist or personal trainer to develop a training plan to address them, would have been a good way to start.  Roller derby fresh meat, weightlifting newbies, and other workout aficionados take note.  And if you think it's too expensive, consider this: My PT charges $60 to do a functional movement screen.  I have spent about ten times that so far between chiropractor, orthopedist and PT for this injury, and I'll be spending more before I'm better.

Here's a video that explains the functional movement screen:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Aching Back (Or Hips, Maybe): The Physical Therapist

Today I went for an initial evaluation with a physical therapist.  I chose Karen Bonney, the physical therapist who works at my gym.  I like Karen.  I've taken her mobility class at the gym, as well as a boot camp class she did for my roller derby league a couple years ago.  She also helped the Strongman recover from shoulder surgery.  And most importantly, I feel confident that a PT whose practice is in a gym understands how to deal with athletes.

Karen's initial evaluation lasted at least 30 minutes and was more thorough than the evaluation I got at the chiropractor or the orthopedist.  It turns out, she disagrees with both of them about the cause of my pain.  She says my hips are out of alignment and thinks I have: muscle imbalances, hip mobility issues and problems with my sacroiliac joint, aka SI joint.

Karen told me she thinks I should put the MRI on hold and see how the PT works out.  I agree!  Especially since the orthopedist didn't seem to think it was super important either except to dissuade me from power lifting.

After the assessment, Karen spent another 30 to 40 minutes working on me.  She ran me through a series of movements where she provided resistance for me to push against with my legs.  After every few movements she would check the alignment of my hips.  She said that the exercises were having me activate specific muscles that would help move my hips back into proper alignment.  Once she got my hips where she wanted them, she taped my lower back to help keep them aligned.

Lastly, she did two exercises with me that are the foundation of my therapy plan.  First, she taught me what it feels like to activate my transverse abdominis muscle.  The TVA is a deep core muscle that helps stabilize the lower back.  Second, she taught me how to tilt my pelvis to achieve a neutral spine.  Have you ever heard a yoga or pilates instructor tell you to maintain a neutral spine and had no idea what they were talking about?  I have.  Do you know what a neutral spine is supposed to feel like?  I didn't, but now I do.  Neutral spine is basically just correct posture, and I have had notoriously bad posture my entire life.  This article explains how bad posture leads to muscle imbalances (including weak core muscles like the TVA) that...wait for it...pull the hips out of alignment.  (And speaking of pilates, Karen suggested that barre or pilates would be an excellent new activity to add to my derby cross training plan in the long term.)

Let us just stop here for a moment to appreciate all the things this injury is teaching us about anatomy and the wondrous complexity of the human body!  And also to wish I had paid more attention to my health and science classes when I was in school.

After teaching me how to feel my TVA and neutral spine, Karen gave me a set of daily homework exercises that focus on maintaining good posture (TVA activation!  Neutral spine!), stretching the hips, and strengthening the small core abdominal muscles.

It feels good to have a plan.  And I feel good about the plan and about Karen.  I'm excited to finally have something I can do to start making things better.

Friday, January 22, 2016

My Aching Back: The Orthopedist

My back is not getting better, so I decided to visit an orthopedist for a second opinion.  It was the same orthopedist I went to see when I hurt my back two years ago, the one who told me I shouldn't be  power lifting "at our age."

So I went back and told him I'd hurt myself power lifting again.  (At our age.  Two years older, in fact.)  I told him that the chiropractor thought I'd strained a muscle in my back because my gluteus medius wasn't firing properly.  The orthopedist doesn't think it's a muscle.  Or rather, he thinks I've injured a disc which is the cause of the muscle spasm.  Either way, he's sending me for a MRI and six weeks of physical therapy.  So, yeah, I'm going to miss at least half the home team season.  And who knows when I'll pick up a barbell again.  Sigh.  I am at least hopeful that if physical therapy goes well, I can do some body-weight strength training and non-contact skating before the six weeks are up.

The orthopedist told me the MRI was more to give me a clearer picture of the health of my spine than to confirm his diagnosis--I guess because he's convinced he's right.  I think he thinks the MRI will provide compelling evidence that I should stop power lifting.  He told me today that statistically the more times you tweak your back like I have now done twice, the greater the chance that it will happen again.  I said, "But I really love power lifting!"  He said, "Do you love not being able to do anything for months at a time?"  I guess he has a point, but we will see what the MRI shows.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Irony and Anatomy: My Aching Back

Examples of irony:

  • When you hurt yourself doing the cross training activity that you were doing to prevent injuries.
  • When, after many months of soul-searching, you finally get your head in the right place to start a new roller derby season and give it your all, and you can't skate because of said injury.
My return to roller derby brought a nasty surprise.  Hitting hurts my back.  This was completely unexpected because it is the first time since I initially injured my back in August that doing anything on skates has caused me pain.  In September and October when I was taking a break from lifting to rest this injury, I was able to skate without any back problems.

Last Saturday was the first practice since the break where we did a lot of hitting drills.  My back started hurting as soon as we started hitting, but I kept going for the rest of the practice.  I tried practice again on Tuesday and pulled myself out of scrimmage after twenty minutes.  The chiropractor had told me to pull myself out if I felt any pain.  If I were being completely honest with myself, I should probably have pulled myself out after five minutes, not twenty, but I was trying to be tough.  So dumb.  On Wednesday I could barely move without a lot of pain.

So I'm done being dumb.  I'm staying off skates until I get this injury under control.  The chiropractor thinks I injured one of my rotatores muscles.  These are some of the smallest and deepest back muscles.  He thinks this because he had been doing dry needling on my back and wasn't able to hit a trigger point until he switched to a longer needle.  He might be right.  I can't deny the dry needling seemed to help.  On the other hand, how long does it take a muscle to heal?  It has been since August, although I guess I have continued to irritate it by trying to resume lifting and now skating.  But still.  It is this unanswered question that is sending me to an orthopedist next week just to make sure there's nothing else going on.  

I really cannot believe this is happening to me after I got myself all psyched up for skating.  And it is coming at a terrible time for my team because we have a very short roster for our season opener bout next Saturday.  It sucks to feel like I am letting down my team, but I am reminding myself that skating injured would probably just mean I would take longer to heal and let them down even worse in the long run.

So what now, besides the chiropractor and orthopedist?  The chiropractor says as soon as I'm pain-free he'll start giving me physical therapy exercises to wake up my lazy gluteus medius and fix the source of this problem.  In the meantime, I'm hoping in another day or two I'll feel well enough to run and at least keep my endurance up while I can't do any skating or strength training.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 Review and January Goals

I didn't make any major New Year's resolutions last year.  My goal for the year was to stay consistent, and I set a goal of 250 workouts.  Despite being injured and depressed for basically the last third of the year, I got surprisingly close to that goal, logging 222 workouts in 2015 which is an increase from 191 in 2014.  I honestly cannot believe I worked out more in 2015 than I did in 2014 given how much time I have spent not going to the gym, but I guess numbers don't lie.

The only other goals I had in 2015 were to squat 250 pounds and deadlift 300, both of which seemed reasonable given what I was lifting at the end of 2014.  Alas, my back had other plans.  I did manage a 225 pound squat PR, but I struggled with dead lift all year until I hurt myself and stopped doing it.

As for my December goal, I simply wanted to move every day.  I did pretty well in the first two weeks, and then I stopped keeping track, and I honestly didn't do much the last two weeks of the year.  It was an anti-climactic end to an anti-climactic fitness year.  So long, 2015.

But 2016 is here, and roller derby starts up again next week.  I expect it to be a bit of a shock to the system after all this time off, and to be honest there is an idea in the back of my mind that this might be my last season.  I haven't decided yet.  There's a lot changing in our league this year, and I need to see how it all plays out before making any decisions.  But one thing I do know: I have to commit fully to this year.  If I don't give it everything this year, then I won't be in any position to make a good decision when the time comes.  If this does end up being my last season, I don't want to feel like I half-assed it.  And who knows, if I throw myself back into derby with all the commitment I had when I first started, maybe it will start to feel more rewarding again.

As for lifting, I'm not really sure what I'm going to do.  My back is still not better.  The pain went away for awhile, but then I went to the gym with my sister while I was in Ireland and tried some light assistance work, and it came right back.  A similar thing happened this week--I was feeling good until I started moving some stuff around the house, and then the pain was back again.  I don't think I'm going to be doing much lifting for awhile, but hopefully the chiropractor can fix me up and eventually I'll get back to it.

My goals for January:

  • Do whatever rehab is necessary for my back.
  • Skate four times a week.

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Resolution: Stay Open

On my last night in Belfast, my sister and her husband drove me to catch a bus to the airport.  As we sat in the car waiting for the bus, I held my adorable baby nephew for the last time.  There have been very few times in my life when I have felt so sad to say goodbye to someone, and I had to work hard not to cry as I thought about all the months that will pass before I see him again.  

I have said many times before that our capacity for love is infinite, but I have never felt that more strongly than I did during my visit.  There is a baby who didn't exist at this time last year, and the magnitude of the love I felt holding him on my lap for the first time was astonishing.  I had the same feeling when my first nephew was born.  Now I have two nephews and, miraculously, twice as much love.  That is what I mean when I say infinite.

Leonard Cohen wrote, "There is a crack in everything.  That's how the light gets in."  But when I try to explain how it felt to meet my nephew, I think of my heart cracking open and light spilling outward.  Love has a way of breaking us open, and that is a beautiful thing.  It's also a scary thing.

The Summer Romance broke me open this year, too.  I think that is what made me so sad when it ended--what do you do with that outpouring of emotion after your heart's been broken open...and then just broken?  The Summer Romance and I had a talk a few days before I left on my trip.  I think we managed to normalize relations.  One of my favorite podcasters, Minx, says that relationships find their own level.  I would add that this is true if we let love, in whatever form it takes, have its way rather than allow ourselves to be driven by fear.  I think my relationship with the Summer Romance will find its own level in 2016.  I think we will have a beautiful friendship.

How do you put your heart back together?  Maybe the answer is, you don't.  I have been thinking about this a lot since I returned from Ireland.  This heart of mine is bursting with love, and yet most of the time I live like a hermit.  I call it pulling the shades in my heart, this tendency of mine to withdraw.  Maybe the lesson of 2015 is to stop pulling the shades.  I think what I need to do in 2016 is give more love to my friends, maybe even some I haven't met yet.  Engage more.  Don't pull the shades.  Stay open.  

That's my resolution, my mantra for the new year: Stay open.