Crossfit part 1

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My friend Aljay has some major balls guts. Earlier this year, he ditched his 9-to-5 an opened a killer crossfit gym, which has expanded via mostly word of mouth into a gym with dozens of members who attend the regular crossfit and yoga classes. Unfortunately, the gym is too far out of my way to attend as a member; however, I’ve been able to try out yoga for the first time and join in on some crossfit action during the gym’s free monthly Fit Mob events, both of which are open to members of the public.

Going to the first Fit Mob event, I had some reservations. Everyone who was attending had to declare their fitness level on a spreadsheet prior to the event, and although most people claimed to be crossfit “beginners” I was still somewhat skeptical that I’d be able to keep up with them. I was also nervous about the crossfit from a general fear of injuring myself.

Aljay used our self-identified fitness levels to organize us into three- or four-person teams. After everyone did a short 200m run and some cross-the-floors (as we called in ballet and colorguard–I don’t know what they call them in crossfit) to warm up, we found our teammates and did a 16-minute set of circuit training where we did each of 8 stations for 1 minute each, twice through. The bootcamp classes at my gym are also organized in this circuit format so I felt confident that I wouldn’t feel lost. Unlike my gym classes, though, these exercises were much more basic and easy to remember: simple squats, push-ups, pulls-ups, and my favorite, rest!

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Doing all the burpees!

At my gym, it’s not uncommon for me to waste a good portion of the set trying to get into the proper position for that prescribed station or modify an exercise to work for me. However, those exercises tend to be more complicated because they’re compound rather than isolated motions, so there’s kind of a trade-off I suppose. Basically, during the Fit Mob, I reaffirmed my preference for circuit training!

The next component of this Fit Mob was a friendly tournament of sorts. Teams were organized into brackets and the winners of each round would advance to the next, etc. During the first found, two people did wall sits while the third did 10 burpees as fast as they could. Then they would rotate and a new person would do burpees while the person who just finished them did the wall sit. Two teams competed to see how many burpees they could complete in 5 minutes.

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Winning strategy: the whole team pulls together!

The next round involved carrying a shit ton of equipment back and forth across the gym. My friend Matt lighted on the ingenious strategy to put all of the weights on the barbell (like 150 pounds or something ridiculous) and carry the bar across as a team. Round three was similar, except it was using the sled thing (not crossfit terminology) to load up increasing weight loads and push/pull the sled thing back and forth across the gym floor.

The whole experience was capped off with some Psycho Donuts, which, if you don’t know what they are, are like not-so-little bites of heaven.

All in all, I had a great time. I confirmed what zillions of people have told me: that I would really enjoy the camaraderie aspect of crossfit and that I would have a lot of fun doing it. I also confirmed that I have a greater-than-normal tendency to get injured during crossfit: I hurt my right wrist during the burpee round. Apparently you can’t just slam the weight of your entire body onto your dainty lady wrists without risking injury. I should’ve listened to Matt and just belly-flopped instead of trying to actually catch myself. But that’s the risk with crossfit or any timed fitness regimen–especially if you’re a beginner, you potentially sacrifice good form for time. Next time I visit SJBB, I could try to hold back and disappoint my teammates by slowing myself down. A better option might be to practice good form on my own time so that it’s second nature.

Would I recommend Fit Mob events to a friend? Yep. Did I enjoy myself? Heartily. Can’t wait for the next one!

 

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Shin splints: prevention, treatment, and recovery

To many runners, shin splints are the bell toll of death for their training plans. This is partly because full-blown shin splints can be pretty fucking painful during both exercise and rest and because a firm diagnosis often goes hand in hand with prescribed rest–the last thing a runner wants to hear.

I’ve been lucky enough to experience shin splints not once but three times. For this most recent doozy, I combed the available research out there and did my best to treat them without having to seek medical attention–just so I could write this post! Not really. Before I list out all of my attempts (some pathetic) at thwarting and subduing my shin splints, let’s talk for a second about what they are.

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My extensive medical knowledge, earned from a steady diet of “House” and “E.R.”, combined with my ability to read Wikipedia articles tell me that shin splints, or medial tibial stress syndrome as we TV-doctors call it, is a common overuse injury among runners that is characterized by pain along the shin bone. There is more than one type of shin splints, depending on where the pain is focused, according to this, but essentially it boils down to this: as your shin and calf muscles become fatigued during a run, they are less able to absorb the shock of each step, leading the connective tissues between the one of the shin muscles and tibia (one of the lower leg bones) to become damaged and the periosteum (the membrane that surrounds the shin bone) to become inflamed. Muscle tightness in the calf can also contribute to the condition. I personally have been battling posterior shin splints and have never experienced its anterior counterpart, although I imagine the strategies for dealing with either would be similar…

Shin splints have many, many possible causes or sources but are ultimately, as I said, an overuse injury. In layman’s terms this translates to “too much, too soon.” Let’s talk about some other things that can lead to shin splints!

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  • Shitty shoes: Traditional running shoes are often heavier in the heel, which can cause the wearer to run with a heel-strike stride, where their heel hits the ground first and then the foot rolls forward to push off with the toes. This form contributes to shin splints because the foot/leg does not absorb the shock of impact as well.
  • Shitty form: If you suffer from excessive pronation, an inward roll of the foot during walking or running (the leftmost example in the diagram, which I got here), have flat feet, run with your toes pointed outward, or lean too far forward or backward while running, you might be susceptible to shin splints.
  • Shitty running surfaces: A few years ago, an article in the New York Times seemingly debunked the myth that running exclusively on soft surfaces will prevent or minimize the risk of injuries like shin splints. There was a lot of backlash against this theory but the consensus was that it’s best to run on varied surfaces/terrain during race training, including the types of surfaces/terrain you’ll be running on during the race.

Now that I have got you thoroughly freaked out, let’s talk prevention. I’d like to make a key distinction here that prevention is NOT treatment, so although some of the strategies for prevention might still work for shin splints in-the-making, if you feel like you might already have shin splints, skip on ahead.

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Stage 0: Prevention

  1. Build up your shin muscles: If shin splints can be caused by fatigue, stave off fatigue by making you muscles stronger. Try to build your shin and calf muscles up evenly to prevent weird muscle imbalances from creating other problems.
    • For shins, try: toe taps (like you’re impatient), tracing the alphabet with your toe, heel walking (#9), and the exercise with the light dumbbell shown here
    • For calf muscles: while standing bend down and touch your toes (this is a calf and hamstring stretch), standing calf raises with or without weight, running on sand
  2. Check your form:
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    Supination!
    • Make sure your feet aren’t rolling inward as you run and that your toes are not pointed out. If possible, try running on a treadmill that faces a mirror or arrange to have yourself filmed or photographed while you run. That sounds totally ridiculous but it wasn’t until I saw the hi-res photos of the first race I did that I realized I actually supinate or roll my feet outward a little. I blame marching band.
    • Since heel-strikers are more prone to this injury, may I suggest barefoot-style running? It’s certainly different and might take a little getting used to, but I credit a large part of my commitment to continue running to this minimus toe-strike form.
  3. Check your shoes:
    • This is a traditional, knee-jerk piece of advice from doctors and running enthusiasts alike. Running is unique to many sports in that it requires little equipment–but the most important piece of running equipment to invest in is the shoes. But don’t just go out and buy the most expensive pair you can find. Some stores specialize in fitting shoes to a runner’s feet and running style, and are certainly worth checking out if you aren’t sure what shoe is “you”.
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    • Running shoes wear out, sometimes after a couple hundred miles and sometimes after more. I’ve put probably about 200 miles on my shoes, running on a variety of surfaces, and the tread wear is beginning to show. Granted, this is likely because these shoes are trail running shoes and are not meant to stand up to the wear and tear of pavement.
  4. Try compression equipment, like compression or recovery socks. Both work by lending some additional support to the shin and calf muscles so that less stress is placed on the shin’s connective tissues.
  5. Check yourself before you wreck yourself
    • It’s perfectly acceptable, in my opinion, to start slow. Many running apps these days have plans that take “from the couch” to the distance of your choice over a few months. Building up your distance gradually will help avoid overuse injuries like shin splints.
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High-tech!
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Low-tech…

Stage 1: So You Think You Might Have Shin Splints

  1. Do everything I just said in the prevention stage.
  2. Ice: If your shin bones are throbbing a bit after a run, ice is your new best friend. I recommend icing for 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off, repeating for about 2 hours total if possible. Complete this process after your run and keep your feet elevated. I just discovered these wraps, which I haven’t tried but look amazing. They’re filled with gel which can be frozen (a step up from my gel ice packs or Ziploc bags of dishsoap that I usually use) or heated for heat therapy treatments.  I recommend icing even on days that you don’t run if your shins are still inflamed. Once the inflammation is gone, usually after about 48-72 hours of icing, switch to heat and apply a heating pad to the injured area.
  3. Use a foam roller or your two hands to massage the bejeezus out of your calf and shin muscles.
  4. Anti-inflammatories
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    • For occasional use, try an NSAID like ibuprofen. Beware, though, you can’t be popping NSAIDs like they’re candy or you’ll risk liver damage. Also, if you have a predisposition toward nausea while exercising like moi, then you probably want to avoid medications such as these, which claim nausea as a side effect.
    • My mom bought me an anti-inflammatory topical cream called Topricin to use on my shins, which you’re meant to apply 3-4 times a day. I wasn’t too good about keeping up with it, so I’m not sure if its ineffectiveness was just the product’s fault or my own.
    • Not all anti-inflammatories have medicinal sources. Try adding foodslike blueberries, salmon and other fish, green tea, leafy greens, nuts, sweet potatoes, papaya, olive oil, and kelp and herbs and spices like tumeric, cinnamon and ginger to your diet, which are natural anti-inflammatories.

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      KT tape: the two pieces running perpendicular to your shin should be about 6 inches apart. Try to “frame the pain” with these pieces.
  5. Kinesiology therapeutic (KT) tape can help reduce pain from shin splints by taking some of the pressure off of the shin bone. Put one piece of tape vertically along the shin bone of the affected leg and then put one horizontal piece each above and below where the pain is located along the shin. I’ve taped a few times, and would recommend that you make sure that your legs are clean and dry to prevent the tape from falling off during the run. Also, in my picture, the horizontal pieces are probably a bit far apart, but I reasoned that my entire shin hurt, so why not frame the entire shin? During the three or four runs I did with tape, I had mixed results, mostly because the tape kept falling off. I had one “successful” run where the pain was practically unnoticeable, but it returned instantly after removing the tape afterward.

Stage 2: So Your Shins Hurt a Lot and You’re Kind of Starting to Freak Out

If your shins hurt even while you’re not running or the bones themselves feel tender to the touch, GO SEE A DOCTOR.

I probably should have taken my own advice when I reached this point a few months ago, but I already knew from a previous check-up that my doctor didn’t know anything about sports injuries (her running knowledge had a very 1970’s flair to it, and she didn’t know anything about forefoot-strike running styles) and I was too scared to be told to stop running because I’d had a race coming up that I couldn’t afford to not train for. The biggest reason why shin splints spell utter doom for runners is that really the only cure for shin splints is REST.

If you don’t rest, you risk your shin splints, a temporary injury, developing into stress fractures, which can be a permanent injury. Stress fractures are exactly what they sound like: microscopic fractures in your shin bone due to repeated stress or impact. Often the pain is localized, rather than a dull throbbing, and persists long after the activity is over. My shins used to hurt even when lying on my side in bed if one leg was putting weight on the other.

There is not a very sophisticated way to diagnose stress fractures. You can either:

  1. Go to the doctor for an X-ray, rest for about 6 weeks, and then return for a follow-up X-ray. If your shins show signs of healing, you probably had stress fractures. I opted out of this because I feel like it’s a throwback to the 17th century witch trials where you throw a woman in the water and if she sinks, she isn’t a witch. Great, and now she’s dead. Say I didn’t have stress fractures and I just rested six weeks for no reason? Well, at least you’d also get rid of your shin splints too…
  2. Get a bone scan: You’ll be injected with a radioactive tracer that will light up on the scan to highlight areas where your body is making repairs to the bone. Unfortunately, this test is very expensive, and isn’t very good at distinguishing between stress fractures and other types of soft tissue injuries.
  3. Get an MRI: the magnets and radio waves of a magnetic resonance imaging machine will produce images of internal structures. Again, it’s pretty expensive, but is better at diagnosing stress fractures even in their early stages.

Resting from shin splints might be torturous and you might feel restless and antsy, but it’s better to stay off your legs (or crosstrain) for a few weeks rather than not being able to run ever again.

Stage X: Recovery

I’m starting my recovery phase now. I’ve rested for about five weeks since the half marathon in early October, only doing short (1-2 mi) jogs to assess how things are going and crosstraining to keep up my aerobic-ness. I waited until I didn’t feel any unusual shin pain during the shorter runs before attempting longer ones last week, starting with a few 3 milers. They were okay, but I feel like I’ve reset myself by about three months, which is a little discouraging.

I’m sticking with it, though. Yesterday I did 5 miles, but definitely starting feeling some twinges near the end. Forcing myself to go shorter and slower than I know I’m capable of will be challenging, but my fear of my shin splints returning trumps almost everything else!

If I could’ve done anything differently during my rest period, it would have been to maintain my good stretching habits. I tended to do some long stretches after my runs that kept me loose, but those sort of fell by the wayside once I stopped running.

In summation, shin splints really suck, so you should do everything you can to avoid them. If you’ve already got them, there are some ways to treat them, but rest is the only surefire cure. They’re not just going to spontaneously go away, unfortunately.

For even more reading on shin spints, here are some additional resources:

Shin Splint Treatment: How Improving Your Calf Strength Can Fix Your Shin Splints

Suffering from Shin Splints? Try This

WikiHow: How to Get Rid of Shin Splints

Foods that Reduce Inflammation

Five Foods that Reduce Inflammation

Nutrition for Shin Splints

 


 

 

Getting real part 2

I grew up with a friend who came from a musical household and was practically born holding a violin and bow. As we got older, he took lessons and performed in local recitals before deciding to major in music in college. Even before graduation, he was auditioning and fielding offers for entry positions in symphonies and orchestras across the country.

It inspired me to learn violin too. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to learn and it wouldn’t be long before I could audition for a local community orchestra–I’d attended many orchestral performances throughout the years, so I knew how a violin should sound, and I already knew how to read music, which is probably one of the bigger hurdles to learning an instrument. But to my disappointment, even playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” sounded scratchy and terrible, like a third grader’s playing. Why was this happening? Why couldn’t I play Beethoven yet? Why wasn’t I as good as my friend already?

If you think these questions are totally ridiculous, it’s because they are. This story is made up (except for the part about my awful violin playing, which is true), but illustrates a key point: I compare myself to other people constantly, even though we may not only have different goals but also a different foundation, which leads to unrealistic expectations about performance.

That is, we may be doing the same thing (e.g. strength training, running) but we may have started from different points (e.g. 5 pound or 10 pound dumbbells, a 12 min/mi pace or an 8 min/mi pace) and ultimately have different goals (e.g. run a 5k or run an ultramarathon). It’s silly to make comparisons between these scenarios, and yet I still do it all the time. And I doubt I’m the only one. It makes almost no sense.

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Why, yes, I do maintain an excel spreadsheet to track my pace.

I have a lot of friends who lift and/or run, which is great because that’s a huge, readily available mine of information or even just conversation. Many of them are proud of their accomplishments–and rightly so–and post updates or pictures about their workout regimen. Mostly I am in awe of my friends’ superpowers, but a small, small part of me is envious. Will I ever be able to run a 7-minute mile or a marathon? Will I ever be able to deadlift my own weight? Why can’t I be like “that”?

Then I remember that I am a unique person with challenges and successes that apply only to me. I can’t run a 7-minute mile yet, but I started at almost a 12-minute pace about six months ago and am down to about a 9-minute pace–that’s a result! See that trendline in the graph? It’s going down–that’s me getting faster! I have had results, but mine might take longer to achieve than they might for other people, either because I started with puny, useless muscles, no stamina, and old-man joints, because I eat like a 15-year-old boy (i.e. crap), or because my workday can be up to 13 hours a day with a commute. These aren’t excuses, but they’re reasons for why I shouldn’t make myself feel like shit for not being able to run a marathon in 20 minutes or having six pack abs, 6% body fat, and bulging biceps.

I also need to remind myself constantly that these things (i.e. muscles and body fat percentage) are not my goals but physical manifestations of my goals, and they should not be what I’m aiming for. Mentally, I feel like I’m getting closer to my personal goal of approaching fitness as a lifestyle and not something that promotes self-evaluation, but I know I won’t be there until I can look at fitspiration pics without wanting to hang up the towel in self-defeat because I don’t look like a fitness goddess.

About 90% of the time, I am okay with how I look and feel about myself. The other 10%, however, is scarily intense hatred of every part of my body and fitness aptitude. It’s more than having a “fat day” and there’s not much that treats it. More often than not the fitspiration pictures that are meant to, go figure, inspire fitness just exacerbate or even trigger the problem because I am subconsciously jealous/incredulous of the results other people are able to get. How do I fight my instinct to compete with this image of the ideal or avoid just waving the white flag and accepting my life as a lazy loser?  At the same time, motivation based on physical appearance scares me the way that hanging around smokers might be unpleasant for someone who has just quit. What if I slip back into my old ways of habitual self-evaluation/hatred?

I think the key thing to remember here, again, is to be realistic about foundation, goals, and results. I may think that fitspiration or progress pics are making jabs at my inadequacy, but I clearly don’t have the same level of investment as the people in the photos, so why should I expect the same results? Do I even want to have to make the sacrifices they must make to perform the way they do? Do I want to cut out carbs and sugar? Do I want to go to the gym for hours a day? Not really. I can only do what I can do, and focusing on making fitness a sustainable part of my life is all I can do for now.

I feel like this is a recurring theme that I keep coming back to, but I suppose it still requires a lot of reinforcement. I’m going to punch that 10% in the face once and for all!

 

 

I’m a runner now?

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I enjoy pointing at my bib.
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First-ever race: 2 miles!

Long ago in prehistoric times (that is, May), my boyfriend and I were talking about running and the point at which you know you’ve become a real runner.

He told me that when running seems like your preferred method of mobility, then you know you’re a runner. At the time, I didn’t really understand what he met. I was still in the phase of beginning to run where everything hurt, my only contributions to running conversations were breathy grunts, and no Springsteen songs applied to me whatsoever.

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Hanging loose…

I knew I’d reached some milestone when I overheard my boyfriend telling my family how objectively impressed he’d been with my performance during our most recent run. It had been about a month since we’d last run together, and we decided to kill ourselves with a nice, long 8-mile trail run around a very scenic lake. What had been mostly grunts on my part the month before had become an actual conversation. At the time it didn’t seem like much but impressing my boyfriend at all with my running was a feat in and of itself. (Some context: the Boyfriend sounds like an asshole but is actually a natural runner who is not only very, very encouraging but also a good resource for running knowledge, whereas I am a magnet for injury and brokenness.)

Then the other day, when we were walking through the IKEA parking lot of all places, a month after running the half marathon and having only completed a few test-jogs to assess my shin status, it struck me: the urge to run. I wanted to get to the IKEA entrance; walking wasn’t fast enough. I started feeling this urge everywhere. At work, walking leisurely from the printer back to my office was taking too long. Picking up packages in other buildings seemed to warrant a nice jog. Without even really meaning for it to happen, running became my preferred mode of transport. When I wasn’t doing it, I was thinking about it.

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New running buddies!
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Fitness Face-off!

Perhaps I was just missing it, having taken a break from regular running to rid myself once and for all from shin splints, or perhaps it has finally hit just how great running has been for my life.

And it has been great–really, really great! Allow me to elaborate.

 

  1. Running gets me out of the house. I run past pretty things during pretty sunrises and pretty nature-y places.
  2. Running has helped me discover common ground with a ton of people. I’ve resumed friendships with people I’d lost touch with or with whom I hadn’t had much in common, I’ve made conversation with new acquaintances, and I’ve strengthened existing friendships–all because of running.
  3. I’ve found some awesome running partners–even if we don’t actually running together.
  4. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my boyfriend have been during runs–once I could actually hold up my end!
  5. Running has helped me think of food in a healthier way–as fuel. I still eat how I want but I’m careful to get the right kind and an adequate amount of energy to fuel my run. (What I eat after the run is sometimes another story…)

I can’t run forever and I can’t run fast but I can run. I’ve never been a runner because I could never surrender all of the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to become one. I’m not there yet, but thanks to so many friends and my family, I’m one minimus stride closer.

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Color Run!