Saturday, 21 September 2013

Let's get down to business

Yes, “To defeat the Huns” did just run through my head. Mulan ruined that phrase for me. I also can’t pack anything substantial without “Hockety pockety wockety whack!” skipping through my head either (“Books are always first you know!”)

(Growing up is overrated anyway. Image source unknown)

Stop it with your raised eyebrows, I can see you.

As I promised – an exercise post!

In light of my previous post I feel I should set out why I engage in the amount of exercise I do, which is a fair bit. From childhood I’ve always been very active – we had a dog to walk every day, and also lived just over the border from the Peak District which as anyone who has been will know is a beautiful part of the world and also the biggest and best kind of adventure playground when you’re young. Like most active children I tried plenty and not everything stuck, but the two main loves were horse riding and skiing, both of which I’d pretty much given up by the time I started looking into Pilates.

I wanted something I could do inexpensively in my own home – I had been swimming regularly but found there were too many opportunities to get cold in the process and that I was pretty reluctant to venture out in the middle of winter to get wet – there’s something about it being dark upon leaving work that makes me incredibly disinclined to go back outside.

About six months before starting to have symptoms I decided to try my hand at Pilates. I had a nasty fall from a horse at 13 which left me with a back injury nobody spotted until at 17 I had to start extensive physiotherapy to rebuild the interconnecting muscles in the lumbar region which, after years of being tensed around this hidden injury, had pretty much given up working. Pilates was sold to me on its central core strength elements and its low impact nature, making it a safe option for me as far as my back was concerned - although pretty much recovered I’m still very cautious.

I don’t exercise with a specific body shape in mind and I don’t have excess weight to shift (I don’t want to sound like I’m showing off but I may as well be completely honest) so in the first instance it was mostly purely for enjoyment.

Looking around on the internet I found many recommendations for the 10 Minute Solution series. I bought their “Pilates for Beginners” DVD and spent a few weeks doing the full fifty minute workout once a week (the workout comprises of five ten minute sections) and soon found it wasn’t particularly challenging. I progressed to the “Pilates Perfect Body” DVD and have stuck with this one since. The DVD’s five sections are:

  • Arms
  • Bum and Thighs
  • Stomach/Abs
  • Silhouette
  • Stretch (I use this as a cool down personally)

(My DVD, available on Amazon for very few pounds. Image from

I’ll be honest that in the strictest sense it’s in no way pure Pilates. There’s a core element to every exercise, but the full programme comprises some moves derived from Hathi yoga and even classical dance training. There’s also more resistance work using your own body weight than you might imagine upon hearing the word Pilates. Most exercises have some modifications to make it easier if you need to – the leg section in particular makes plenty of allowances for knee and hamstring difficulties (my hamstrings are terrible).

I continued with the workout as much as I could through the pain and found it actually did work as a pain relief to a certain extent. What I failed to notice until the following winter (this one just past) was just how much stiffness I had now become prone to. I gritted my teeth and upped the number of times a week I completed the workout and slowly noticed improvements in flexibility.

This is in no way a miracle cure, I’m still in pain on a daily basis and I still have a lot of stiffness to combat, but every little helps and this is something which has worked to an extent for me.

At the moment I aim to do the full workout three times a week whenever possible, and have a tendency to do sections only on other days if I spot a particular problem. What I had to learn (and fast) was the difference between pain which could be alleviated a little by exercise, and pain that exercise would exacerbate tenfold.

I’m not sure if this is in any way typical of Fibromyalgia, but I’ll get it down and feel free to open discussion with comments below as I’d be interested to see comparisons. The pain associated with stiffness tends to be a dull ache that’s always there with occasional stabs of sharper pain upon movement. The other kind I think is to do with the weather as it seems to rear it’s head whenever it’s damp or cold, or due to be. It’s a much more deep-seated ache and throbbing and the only way I can describe it is “nauseating”. It completely invades my concentration and is pretty much a guarantee of a bad day or an oncoming flare.

It’s also why I hate the winter, as I spend most of winter riddled with the latter and with episodes of the former.

(If wishes were horses.... Image from

What I’ve found is the latter just can’t be relieved and I have to sit it out, but the stiff and sharp pain tends to be lessened to a degree by doing the exercise. It’s not a perfect solution and I still muck up my judgement badly sometimes, but better to have relief some of the time than not at all.

I also used to pole dance, and I’d ask you to put aside whatever preconceptions you may have involving scantily clad ladies in nightclubs for the purposes of this post. It’s a fabulous strength exercise and I found it to be a surprising amount of fun. I had two friends who taught me on their pole at home in Sheffield, and I intend to pick it back up in York when I have the opportunity. Surprisingly, if done properly it doesn’t aggravate my joints, but mistakes are painful so it’s a great incentive to learn fast and strive for excellence.

I wanted to return to it this year but the day of the classes changed to later in the week, and as by about midway through Wednesday I’m usually dead on my feet it was a bit too much. It is something I’m keen to go back to though. There’s also a jive class my other half used to go to which we are going to try. I’ll know very quickly if I’m exceeding my limits and will be sensible if that’s the case, but it’s worth a try.

So, what’s changed? The improved flexibility has certainly taken the edge off some of the stiffness, even now the weather is turning damp and cold I’m not as stiff as I was last year at around this time. The downside is I’m far more muscular and what little fat I carried has slewed away, which does have the negative impact of heightening the allodynia when it’s bad as there’s little between the skin and the burning, aching muscle underneath. The somewhat intoxicating rush of endorphins released after exercise is also quite helpful in terms of pain relief.

I always follow up exercise with a bath as hot as I can stand it to soak in and then make sure to keep all the worked muscles warm for the rest of the day/night, and as long as I stick to this routine I find it relatively non-disturbing and I don’t have too many episodes where I regret it the day afterwards.
What also happened as a result of the jump from once a week to three times at least is my entire body shape changed. It took me a while to come to terms with this (nobody likes having to replace half their wardrobe all of a sudden) but I’m coming to like it now. I’m the slimmest and yet heaviest I’ve ever been because I’m becoming far more muscular, which wasn’t something I aimed for but it’s not a bad thing to gain some definition and shape.

Or to put it in the rather deprecating vernacular I usually use:

 “Great Scott, where did that arse come from?”

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting and something I definately want to try. I need to learn to distinguish between exercise that helps and exercise which exaserbates things. I did Zumba for a while (I really need to get back to it) and I LOVED it. 1 class a week. It did hurt quite a bit to start with, but I found soon, even though I was exhausted by the end of the class, I really enjoyed it!