Climb Every Mountain

About a month ago, I did a Spartan race at a farm in Barre with my daughter. It was raining, and I got a sizable rope burn on my lower leg that became infected.  I was put on some strong antibiotics, and they killed the leg infection, but gave me a secondary infection that made me very sick.  My leg has pretty much healed, and I am finally finished with all of the antibiotics and feeling back to normal.  For a person who has always been pretty healthy and felt good and advised others how to live a healthy life, this has been quite an eye-opening and humbling experience. 

I was feeling great going into the Spartan: had been running a lot and working out hard and felt I was ready for the race.  However, I was unprepared for the conditions, which were very wet and slippery. Following my rope burn, I had to run through an actual mountain of cow manure (yes, you read that right) as well as crawl and run through some pretty thick mud.  As a result, my wound was very dirty when I was done, and it sat that way until I got home and tried my best to wash it thoroughly a couple of hours later.

I am not surprised my wound got infected given the conditions I had to run in after my injury.  But I am surprised at how difficult my recovery has been.  I thought I would get the antibiotics, take a few days off to give them time to work their mystical medical magic, and be back to my old self in a few days.

It didn’t work out that way.  I got cellulitis in my leg, which made it swell up and hurt anytime I moved.  The wound covered a large surface area and when it rubbed up against my shoe or the skin got stretched out (basically every time I moved) it was painful. Despite my best efforts, I ended up walking differently to avoid the pain, and the muscles in my calf and hamstrings got tight and sore.  The antibiotics burned my throat so much that eating and drinking was painful and they also made me feel nauseous.

Just as I was starting to feel better, I came down with a secondary intestinal infection, which made me feel like I had a very bad stomach virus and made it erally difficult to go to work and teach peppy fitness classes.   I had to change my diet and eat foods I never even think of eating, such as pasta, rice, and other bland carbohydrates, and give up the salads I eat at least once a day, just to let my stomach get back to normal.  All of this has opened a window into another world for me, making me realize just how very difficult it is to exercise, eat right, go to work and deal with household chores when you aren’t feeling well, something some of my clients deal with every day.

The takeaway from all this?  We all face our own adversities in life, but some of my clients have illnesses, injuries, and other mountains to climb before they can even get to the workout, and they climb these mountains each and every day.  No matter what their mountain is made of (hopefully not manure), all of these amazing people have a formidable spirit that keeps them coming back and working to be their best despite feeling lousy, having pain or fighting a mental battle just to get through their day.  Some days are harder than others, and not I realize more than ever just how hard that effort can be, and I am able to appreciate how amazing they are all that much more.  Whatever your mountain may be, always remember that it is so worth that climb. 

The Right Recipe for Workout Success

A couple of weeks ago, I was teaching a class and one of my students said I was like a chef making up a workout recipe.  I really liked that analogy and I think it makes a lot of sense.  I am not the best chef in the kitchen, but in the gym I am very comfortable concocting a bouillabaisse of exercises that are tailored to the people I am working with to help them achieve their goals. 

A lot of people digest a very bland workout diet, consisting of the same workout done over and over each week. This is like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for lunch for years.  Not only is it boring, but it also leaves you tight in some areas and weak in others, making you more prone to injury. 

Many people are repetitive exercisers, doing their one sport (running, cycling, golfing, skiing, or working out on the same piece of cardio equipment in the gym) countless times as they try to get in shape. Repetitive movement patterns force heavy loads on the same muscles, joints and tissues over and over again, which can lead to chronic tightness, pain and lack of mobility. Over time, the wear and tear on these body parts can lead to injuries that can stop you from doing the very thing you love the most. 

You can prevent all this by going to your workout kitchen and choosing exercises that work the body in all the different planes of motion, so that your body can withstand those loads and forces placed against it daily.  Think of your workout like a multiple course meal:  the appetizer is the warm-up to the main course, with foam rolling, stretching and dynamic movements to get the body ready for the main course: strength, core and cardio training geared toward your specific needs and goals.  The final course is the most relaxing part of the workout, like the dessert part of a meal: stretching and foam rolling designed to cool the body down and minimize post-workout muscle soreness. Those are the basic components of a workout.  You can add a little extra spice to your workouts by tossing in some high- energy cardio bursts or some speed intervals. 

Here are a few workout recipes you may want to try:

Are you a runner? You will want to loosen the ankles, hip flexors and thoracic spine and work the glutes, abs and hamstring (core) muscles, throwing in some interval speed work. 

Is soccer your thing? You should do the same mobility work on the ankles, hip flexors and thoracic spine and work the core but add in some single leg training for the quads and hamstrings as well as working on quick shifts in direction over small bursts of speed, mimicking what happens on the soccer field. 

Training for an obstacle course race? Make sure you do plenty of upper body training and rotational training as well as some plyometric work. 

They say that “variety is the spice of life;” that same motto applies to exercise. The best part: these recipes don’t add calories, they burn calories!

An accomplished workout chef knows that adding a blend of  multi-planar exercises to your regime will help you become more balanced physically and functionally, prevent injuries, and make you a better athlete.