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Like heart-rate training for my core...

Posted Feb 15 2013 6:02pm
I've always been afraid to go do my testing and try out heart-rate training for my running.  So many people have told me it's been revolutionary for their them but how difficult it was at first because they had to take many steps backwards before they could take any steps forwards.  And by that I mean that nearly everyone has told me how much they've had to slow down (like nearly to walking) and how incredibly difficult it was to run slower in order to learn how to run faster.

But, I feel like I'm going to be getting a great big taste of what that's like after going to my physiotherapy appointment last night.  It's been ages since I've gone to physio regularly and since my back has been so darn horrible these past few weeks I knew I had to find some time and get back into the clinic.

So last night I got myself an appointment and let me just say it was like going to a refresher course on everything back-injury-related.  At first when you get hurt your whole life is about your injury and you could recite the details backwards and forwards.  But 8 years later, when your life has resumed and you've been living in that "new kind of normal" body for years, it's easy to forget all the details and lose sight of what you need to be doing and maintaining to stay strong.

And I feel like I have this epiphany every few years but I feel like lately, I've just kind of lost my way when it comes to what I need to do for my back.  And I'm suffering because of it.

After tons of discussion with my most-amazing physiotherapist last night, I was reminded that it's not simply that my back and tummy are "weak".  I am forgetting that your "core" is made up of big muscles (like your rectus abdominus) and stabilizing muscles (the multifidus in your back and the transverse abdominus in your tummy) and each group has a very specific job.  Together with your pelvic floor, these stabilizer muscles form the functional core of your body.

When your spine gets injured, your stabilizing muscles often quit working and therefore the big muscles in your lower back and abs end up compensating.  And when they take over the business of doing what the stabilizer muscles are supposed to be doing, they easily get overworked and therefore start causing pain themselves.  Throw in a really damaged and repaired pelvic floor from a couple of traumatic births and that whole idea of "stability" kinda goes out the window!

So voila!  That's how you get a lower back like mine that is not being supported in it's daily motions by any of the correct stabilizer muscles and instead is being overworked trying to compensate.  It's like the light bulb went on again.

Anyhow, building those stabilizers back up is tough business.  Although they perform the HUGE job of supporting your spine, they're small and they're fine and require only "small" and "delicate" movements to get them functioning again.  Where your abdominals and lower back muscles work at full bore, apparently your stabilizers only work at about 40% of that when functioning properly.

I've always struggled with these exercises because they don't even really feel like exercises.  They are more just "movements" and they'll rarely make you work up a sweat or feel like you've done anything but it is essential they stay small in order to fine tune those stabilizers.  They require focus to ensure you're using the right muscles and you must only do them for as long as you can hold proper form or else you're hurting more than helping.

My problem comes from not knowing where to go next after mastering the first level of stabilizer exercises.  You don't just go from basic transverse abdominus activations to full-on planks on your toes.

Activating your Transverse Abdominus is pulling your
lower abdomen in, kind of like if you brace yourself for someone
to punch you in the stomach...
( Source )
There are increasing levels of difficulty and I think I skipped too much of the middle stuff and did too much.

I've pretty much narrowed down my latest back episode to the fact that I was experimenting with the #plankaday challenge at the start of February.  I thought planks were what I needed to strengthen up but I was actually doing far, far too much for what my poor core could handle.  Full 1-minute planks on my toes were wayyyyy more than what my weakling little stabilizers could handle and so my back compensated and whammo, major spasm and I'm down for the count.

Anyhow, my physiotherapist recommended an amazing program of retraining my core stability and from what I can tell so far, it's going to be like doing that heart rate training.  I'm going to have to crawl before I can ever run when it comes to retraining these muscles.  And that's hard.  We all wanna do those thousands of crunches and plank like for an hour like it's no big deal, but before I can ever move on to any of that kind of stuff I have to put in the work on building these muscles up slowly.

I have to admit, this sounds like far more daunting a task than training for my Goofy Challenge ever did.  It's hard to stay focused on something so small, yet important.  But just like I committed to my Goofy training plan, I'm going to follow this core stability program even when it feels like it's too easy because I'm tired of all this pain.

I'll post more about the actual program in posts to come.
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