Monday, April 7, 2014

Lowering the bar - new fitness goals

I have this idea of being in great shape, of being really fit and healthy. This idea, if I let it expand into the realm of daydreaming, includes me doing 50 push-ups and 100 sit-ups and running up a mountain and doing a pretzel in yoga class and getting a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu and having the physique of either a professional ballet dancer or kick boxer. Kind of like this:

Ultimate abs: the holy grail of fitness.

Anyone with a bucket list has at least one fitness or health goal, whether to lose a certain amount of weight or climb Everest or whatever, and I'm no exception. Since I was a kid I'd wanted to run a marathon, which I accomplished in 2011, but I also had this idea that if I did that, I'd be in ridiculously good shape and the momentum of intense regular exercise would keep going and develop into a life-long habit of maintaining great cardio fitness and solid muscle mass.

I couldn't have been more wrong. 

First, I developed IT band syndrome from over-training, and once I finished the race I immediately lost all motivation to keep running because a) I'd accomplished my goal and b) running was now painful. 

Second, everyone has different reasons for how much or little to exercise. I've never had a problem with keeping myself thin because of a high metabolism, so I've never been motivated by reasons of body weight to work out. This means I haven't done as much as I should/could have throughout my life to stay healthy (cardiovascular strength and prevention of osteoporosis to name just a couple of good reasons) and because I'm not very athletic I've avoided team sports because they only remind me of getting picked last for the kick ball team in elementary school. If I ever did exercise in my 20s, I just did it without thinking and it was never a problem. 

I do have a few items on my life list that relate to fitness, and which for reasons of pure stubbornness, I still intend to cross off. These include, getting a black belt in a martial art, entering a fencing competition, getting my PADI (scuba) certification, doing a 360 turn on a snowboard, and the purest test of physical prowess I can think of: doing 20 pull-ups, 50 push-ups, 100 sit-ups. But the most number of push-ups I've ever been able to do at one time is 15, and that was when I was 26 and working full-time as a landscape labourer. 

And now that I'm in my 30s and currently injured, I realize I have a long way to go before I'll be able to do any of the above. Right now I just want to be able to walk again without being in pain. 

Here's what happened. On February 19 I slipped and fell on a patch of ice at work and landed on my coccyx/sacrum. I was taken to the ER where they did X-rays and then immediately sent me home because nothing was broken, with only a prescription for Tylenol 3 and the advice to apply ice, even though I couldn't walk more than two steps without collapsing from pain and weakness in my legs. I spent about 90 per cent of my time in bed over the next few weeks, in horrible pain, which got so bad one evening I had to be rushed to the hospital again by ambulance, where I spent the night getting pumped full of morphine and Toradol and Diazepam (Valium) to calm my spasming lower back muscles. The pain was so excruciating I was shocked I didn't pass out cold before they gave me the drugs. In the morning they did an MRI scan, which also showed no structural damage – nothing wrong with my vertebrae, nerves or discs. No one has given me a diagnosis other than the vague "impact injury/soft tissue strain," which is both a relief (thank God I didn't break my tailbone or crush a disc), and a serious frustration. 

If there's nothing structurally wrong with me, then why does walking, standing or sitting for any length of time still cause extreme pain in my lower back, almost two months after I fell

Since then I've been seeing a physiotherapist three times a week, doing the stretches and simple exercises at home the other days, icing and heating, and taking narcotics every day. As I write this, I'm lying in bed on a heat pad, waiting for the morphine to kick in. My quality of life is pretty low, and for a while I felt what it must be like for many in their senior years, having to rely on others to feed them and run their errands. At my age, this is total bullshit. I need to get myself back into shape. 

But I'm going to have to lower the bar. 

Right now, at this very moment, not having a black belt has no negative impact on my life. Not being able to walk three blocks to the grocery store definitely does. So I need to re-think my idea of fitness and what it means and why it's important. I need to get over my all-or-nothing attitude to working out and just start taking baby steps towards getting back on my feet. 

So my fitness goals are now: 
  • do daily full-body stretching, focusing on lower back
  • hold plank position for two minutes
  • walk two blocks without pain or weakness

Have you ever had a tailbone or lower back injury? How did you deal with it?

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