Here’s how I wake up most days: Sit up, move the neck in a circle (crack, crunch), twist the lower back side to side (crack, crunch), stretch my feet (cramp!), stretch my arms over my head (oh THAT’S where that rotator cuff tear is!), and ask, “How do I feel today?”
My workout clothes are usually laid out on the dresser – optimistic leftovers from the night before. I gather them and my Blackberry – which laid obediently on my nightstand all night – and walk downstairs to the office and turn on my computer.
I sit down at my desk and think about my workout intention for the day. I have a plan. I always have a plan. It’s carefully laid out, minute by minute, on an Excel spreadsheet. But my plan doesn’t take into account a swollen knee or tendonitis that sprouted up overnight, or the plain old restlessness of busy mind, which is the worst for my exercise plans. I can’t take Advil to relieve restlessness.
There are countless times I’ve felt some pinch of pain and decided not to do a work out, or have gotten on the elliptical only to be 10 minutes into my workout and unable to continue because my mind says, “You MUST do this or that or the other thing you planned!” Sometimes these are legitimate excuses, but I confess that many times they are not.
Sure there are days when the physical takes precedence over the need to exercise. Pain and inflammation is real and I take it seriously. But in every instance I have to honestly assess if it’s real pain or my head making excuses for not wanting to work out. Damn arthritis. It’s a double-edged sword. There are days, no doubt, when arthritis pain SHOULD prevent us from working out. But there are many more days, I would argue, when moving (within moderation) would be of more benefit than the heating pad.
Most days, when I move I feel better. Trying to convince my brain of that before a workout is 99 percent of the battle, however. So I’ve developed a new strategy: instead of doing all or nothing of what I’ve planned on my nifty spreadsheet, I do a little. I try five minutes at a slow, easy pace. If that feels good, then I up it a bit. Staying mindful, I adjust accordingly. What a change from the days of, “My schedule says I HAVE to do 30 minutes at high intensity today!” and when I couldn’t, I’d feel guilty. Now, I do whatever intensity my body says I can do on any given day, despite what the spreadsheet says.
The same is true with restlessness, only with a twist. When I’m restless, there’s no “excuse” to not do a full workout. My new strategy with restlessness is that instead of seeing it as an enemy, I try to be friendly and compassionate. I can only concentrate for 10 minutes on the cardio? No problem. After 10 minutes, I do a strength training circuit then return to the cardio for another five or 10 minutes. What I’ve found is that not only does this break up the workout, it demands more concentration, thus disrupting that restlessness, at least for an hour or so.
In many ways I’m still an all or nothing kind of person. But I realized there is middle ground between pain/restlessness and doing nothing and doing everything just because it’s part of the plan. Just one more thing that amazes me in this world of maintenance.