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How to build strength without injury

My goodness, where to even start. That’s how I’m feeling on this chilly afternoon day as I sit down to write about this subject that is very near and dear to my heart. But the image in my mind is not one of strong and toned muscles or lean slender bodies. It’s not even exactly an image

of exercising or fitness, although that is an element.

When I think back over all of my years of injury and pain, the many surgeries, and that particularly rough patch of attempting to regain my peak acrobatic athleticism and return to the aerial circus stage after 9 months of rehab, there is one thing that comes to mind. I do not think about the many boring repetitions of knee extensions or the specific exercises that I did. The thing that stands out most is the strength of will, perseverance, and the deep and active belief that healing was possible for me. Because if I didn’t have that, the rest of the process would not have happened.

So, dear reader, where do you stand currently on your own spectrum of belief in regards to your own healing journey? Do you feel that spark of determination, the hunger and desire for pain-free living, and the belief that there is a solution out there (even if you don’t know what it is yet?)

I suppose the opposite spectrum is one of blind faith or blind optimism. Thinking we can go from zero to 100 without injury or insult and then we’re frustrated when that isn’t the case.

You might be saying to yourself, what does all of this have to do with just getting back into shape without flaring up old injuries? Or, I’m just trying to stay active, keep my body healthy, and live a good life.

My invitation for you is simply to examine, just a little more closely, the assumptions and expectations that you might be placing on yourself. As we dig in a little deeper, I encourage you to think really specifically about your current situation and specifically what you imagine when you think of where you’d like to go. Let’s start with some questions, these may seem very general, but give yourself some time to ponder these.

What do you need to be strong for? What does your lifestyle demand of you that you currently do not feel strong enough to withstand? When particularly do you feel weak or in pain? Can you identify something specific? Has something recently changed that is requiring something more of you?

If you notice that your low back pain is aggravated by gardening, riding bikes with your kids, or sitting for long hours at a desk, then you might cultivate a specific goal around building strength to withstand those demands. If the above situation was already your daily existence, but then you spend a weekend building a rock wall in the backyard then you might find yourself in real trouble.

Let’s just keep going with this example. If you know that there’s a good chance you’ll be building rock walls but you experience pain simply by riding a bike and sitting at the desk, then it would be wise to set a goal of achieving the strength required to consistently achieve and maintain such activities pain-free.

Okay, so what is that for you?

Hopefully you can see that I’ve just walked you through defining specifically for yourself the level of strength and relative fitness that you would like to achieve. It’s liberating because it does not necessarily mean we all need to be Hercules or have a perfectly chiseled body in order to live a pain-free active life. Those are not the same things.

Next, we need to look at where you are currently. Back when I was recovering from knee surgery and working to get back on the stage and performing as an aerialist I made one crucial mistake. At that point, I didn’t have the awareness or the professional guidance to identify the stepping stones that I needed to take from a post-rehab situation, where I had completed my physical therapy, to progressively getting back to a peak level of performance. Instead, I started to do the same types of training routines I had done pre-injury but at an easier level. I gave myself a performance date to encourage myself to train consistently and I attempted to return to what I knew and loved. It didn’t work.

You see, I had been on crutches for 3 months. My body had very specific needs that were never going to be addressed by simply doing gentle core strengthening exercises and slowly making them harder. After walking around on one leg for 3-6 months my whole posture was distorted (you probably wouldn’t have been able to tell from just looking at me, but I could feel it.) One hip was higher, my spine felt stiff and wonky, and I was especially annoyed one day on a shopping trip when I found the perfect pair of pants only to discover that they fit everywhere except for my right thigh, which was much larger than my left.

Here’s another set of questions. How wonky do you feel? How long has there been a fear of re-injury, chronic pain, or a feeling of weakness in your system? How often do you experience flare-ups? What level of activity can you manage pain-free and have you identified that yet? Are you doing too much or too little?

I work with clients one on one to help them identify these types of misalignments or wonky patterns that can be hard to identify on your own. I also offer many resources to help you get starter on your own but the thing I’d like to underscore at this point is that there is no one size fits all solution.

Above all what I am suggesting is to map out a plan for yourself. Something that spans at least 2-3 months and maybe longer if you’ve been dealing with this for a while. Start slow, define your baseline and try to keep the variable to a minimum. Gather some additional information. Take a picture of your posture and see if you can identify your specific wonky patterns and write down your findings. Start checking in with your foot pressures on a regular basis. Take your key discoveries to a trained professional. Create an action plan and stick with it for a while (3-4 weeks say) aim for consistency, and then re-evaluate where you are then.

One of the ways that I love working with clients is to see them for a one on one session about once every 3-4 weeks. We create an individualized training plan and then they work on it for a few weeks before their next session. I like this model because it is economically sustainable for many folks, which means that it’s possible to stay consistent for a longer period of time. If you’re interested in scheduling a free consult you can follow this link here.

Whatever course you choose, remember to take it slow and be specific. Track your progress and identify where you’re trying to get. Ask for help, get support, and above all else, remember that you are worthy of the effort and that healing is possible!

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