Even though I am a slacker of a blogger in recent years, I actually did a fairly decent job of chronicling my workout and body change story roughly a year ago.
Keep in mind, this was from June 2013 when I’d only started this program 3 months prior. 3 months…and I was already seeing marked results.
Suffice it to say, my feelings and thoughts on this a year later, after I have continuously stuck to the exercise program, are a bit more defined.
Honestly, I still don’t know where the heck to even begin with this whole experience. I think the easiest way may be to tell you what I’ve learned as a whole…my biggest take aways…and then take you through how I got there!
Let’s talk about my first few workouts. Yes, the first training session was hard. So was the second. And you know what…my training session coming up tomorrow is going to be just as hard. But it’s a different hard now due to changes I started making for my body a year ago. More on that different hard in another post!
Roughly a year ago, I went to the gym with the intention of completing 30 min on the elliptical. I was nervous because it was my first time doing this in years and I feared my ankle wouldn’t handle it.
Immediately, it was a strange sensation. My left ankle was cracky and poppy, but not painful. Think of the motion of your ankle on an elliptical. Point, down, flex, up. Repeat. The elliptical was forcing me to take my ankle through a full range of motion, something that hadn’t happened in years. I kept thinking about what my doctor told me: if it hurts, stop. And I had a hard time deciding if it was actually hurting or if it just felt weird. Note: I know now that you will know without question when something hurts and you need to stop. I made it about 10 minutes and stopped because it freaked me out.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
The next day, I woke up and it was fine. I did this a few more times, building strength and flexibility but always stopping when I felt like it was time to stop. I never exercised until it hurt; I somehow innately knew when enough was enough.
Same thing with Zumba. I really feel like my trainer empowered me when he told me I didn’t have to do the whole class. Really! It made an immediate mental difference that I knew I was going into something that I didn’t have to finish. That I could be finished on my own time. It made it a lot less scary.
I’d simply get to class in time to introduce myself to the instructor, explain that I may not be able to finish and that I was not being rude by leaving, and I was then mentally free to do what I was comfortable with physically. I never met an instructor who wasn’t ok with that. And let me tell you- the first time I finished a whole Zumba class, I almost burst into tears when the instructor grabbed me and told me how proud of me she was as I was gathering up my things to leave.
There’s no crying in Zumba, right?!?!?!?
This mindset let me explore activities I hadn’t tried since pre RA. Spinning: you’ve had enough and feel like you can’t do the up and down with changes in resistance any longer? Get rid of all the resistance and have a leisurely seated bike ride for the rest of the class, or leave. Yoga: you just don’t think you can handle anymore up dogs or down dogs? Sit on your mat or sit on your mat in stretches that are comfortable for you or leave. Personal training or weight training: can’t do what you’re being asked to do? Ask for a lower weight or a modification. Or ask to move on to something else. Any trainer worth their salt will be able to find something you can do, even if it’s very basic and low intensity.
I realized over time that I was finding ways to make my own modifications and finding new ways to work with a body that can no longer do it all. You may not be that person who lifts tons of heavy weights…but there are ways and tools you can use so that you can at least do something.
Looking back at what I wrote last year and what I know now, the biggest theme I see is fear. Fear of getting injured. Fear of not being able to do something. Fear of trying. All of this mixed in with not trusting my body. While I certainly have some physical limitations, I had to find a way to overcome this fear to even try to see what the body I have with RA is even capable of doing.
By giving myself a mental ‘out’, I learned over time that my body with RA can do a lot more than I ever gave it credit for. But overcoming this fear is a hard thing, and something I still struggle with today.
So how does one do this? That’s a tough question and one that I imagine varies from person to person. I especially understand that we are all in different stages of disease activity and mobility, and what worked for me won’t necessarily work for others.
For me, creating a safe, judgement free, supportive environment where I was allowed to stop early or to modify or to sit out with no problem was half the battle. Seeing I was able to do even a small thing I didn’t think I’d be able to do was another piece. Seeing physical results through increased joint mobility and flexibility/strength was huge for mentally encouraging me that maybe I could try and be successful at something else.
And if a picture is worth a thousand words, this is what a year and change of very guarded yet consistent effort looks like .