From head to toe – it’s all connected

It’s ALL connected

I’m figuring out this back/shoulder pain mystery.

Turns out, it’s not just my lower back that’s throwing off my upper back and shoulder. It’s my hips and legs, as well.

I stretch at night to relax, and my left leg and hip have been extremely tight. It’s been this way for a while. I usually don’t think much of it, but the other night, when I was stretching, I spent some extra time loosening up my left hip and hamstrings, and lo and behold, my upper back “let go”.

Deep Muscles of the Back
This full color stock medical exhibit illustrates the deep muscles of the back and spine. The following structures are labeled: semispinalis capitis, spinalis, cervicis, spinalis thoracis, rotares, splenius capitis, longissimus cervicis, iliocostalis cervicis, iliocostalis thoracis, longissimus thoracis, iliocostalis lumborum

It actually makes sense — looking at the deep muscles of the back, you can see how they run from shoulder to pelvis, and while they don’t appear to be exactly what’s been paining me (localized between the shoulder blade and my spine), it’s all connected, so if they’re pulling down, they’ll be pulling off the other superficial muscles that are connected to them.

It also makes sense from a where-did-this-come-from point of view. When I drive (and I’ve been driving a lot, over the past few weeks), I usually keep my left leg bent, and I use it to stabilize myself while I’m turning. That’s great, but it also shortens the muscles in my left leg — especially in the front. So, those shortened muscles pull on my pelvic bone, which pulls the deep muscles, which pull on the surface muscles.

And I’ve got persistent back pain that won’t seem to go away.

Now I’m pretty sure I know what’s causing it. Stretching helps. All the time.

The key is to not let it get a hold of me, but to keep myself strong and limber on a regular basis.

So, that mystery’s dealt with.

Now, to start my Monday.

Onward…

Committing to failure – on a regular basis

Good to be back

With the long weekend, I have had time to rest up and pay attention to things that normally sneak by me in the course of my busy life. I’m getting back the energy I had lost to that horrible commute to and from that horrible job, and I’m noticing things that I let slide for about three years.

My level of physical fitness (or lack thereof) is front-and-center with me, these days, as I am wearing lighter clothing and noticing how weak and spindly my arms and legs have gotten. I’ve also been having a lot of back and hip pain, which partly came from those years of driving so much each day, and partly came from poor posture — which came out of the commute, I’m sure.

Also, my level of cognitive fitness is getting my attention. I have made huge strides, over the past several years, however I’m not quite where I’d like to be. I still have issues with feeling foggy and slow — much moreso than I am comfortable with. And while I have been reading more and making more sense of things, and my ability to respond to ideas and comments by people has improved by leaps and bounds, since I started juggling and also having my butter-coffee each morning… my brain still feels foggy and slow, and I need to address that.

I know what has helped me in the past, on both counts — exercise. It’s one thing to want to keep fit so I can have a longer life.  I do, absolutely. At the same time, I want to get fit, so I can have a higher quality life, here and now. In the past, I have exercised deliberately and regularly, and I really benefited from it. Back in 2010, I read about how exercise helps the body AND the brain, and I developed a morning routine that was satisfying and also challenging.

Then it became regular – routine – and it got boring. So I stopped.

And ever since I’ve been on a downward slide. The slide didn’t start right away – it probably took me about a year to see the benefits erode. But for the past couple of years, I’ve really felt like I’ve been declining. Back to being fuzzy and dull — not sharp, like I used to feel.

In the past, I had a routine of lifting relatively light weights for 10 reps of a set sequence of exercises. 10 arm raises to the front, 10 arm raises to the back, 10 press-ups, 10 flys, 10 rows, 10 biceps curls, 10 triceps extensions… It was all very predictable and measurable, and it felt good. It helped my brain as well as my body. And I felt very sharp, indeed.

However, I did it every single day, and there were days when I used heavier weights, and I did not rest afterwards to give my body a chance to catch up. So, I overtrained. And it wasn’t much fun anymore.

I needed to give myself time to catch up, but I frankly overdid it on the “rest”  — and now, after several years of resting, I am pretty much a lump, and it’s not only draining my energy but also my self-esteem, as well.

I used to be in terrific shape — not Ah-nold Schwarzenegger shape, but more of a “swimmer physique”, and I was able to do just about anything physical I set my mind to. Now it’s very different, and the concept of myself as being physically capable has really eroded.

So, I’m doing something about it.

I have made a pact with myself to remedy this by working out on a regular basis and pushing myself to failure each time. Pushing to failure really strains your muscles, it creates micro-tears in the tissue, which then rebuild later to make you even stronger. At first, it’s tough and painful, but eventually the body rebuilds (if you give it a chance) and you end up stronger than ever.

I won’t exercise every single morning, but I will do it at least 3 – 4 times a week. I will go to failure each time, and I will not exercise the same muscle group two times in a row, to give my body time to rebuild and restore. I’ve doubled the weight I was using before, and I’m doing fewer reps, which feels good.

Half an hour of vigorous exercise in the morning, 3-4 times a week, is what I’m setting my goal at. I’m going to go to failure — gradually working my way up, and concentrating on specific muscle groups each time. I’m going to keep my caloric intake the same, and cut down on the carbs (yet again — the 4th of July weekend, with its chips and potato salad are killer). I’ve kind of gone off the reservation on keeping to my diet, eating coconut or almond milk ice cream with abandon (it’s almost as good as dairy ice cream), and chowing down on chips and popcorn while watching t.v. at night.

I’m also back to doing intermittent fasting (IF) — I did that on Friday, until I broke my fast at 7 p.m. with hamburgers, potato salad, and chips. And I’m going to do it once a week, to get myself trained to not be so driven by food. Each time I do IF, it gets easier for me, so I need to keep at it. Going without food for 18 hours, one day a week is not going to kill me. If anything, it’s going to make me stronger in mind and body.

I’m feeling really positive about all this. And I want to keep that positive mood going.

I did this new workout routine this morning, going to failure on my biceps and shoulders. I might have done things a little differently — and I will next time. But for today it feels fantastic. My arms were tired after I was done, and I could feel the effects. And then the good energy set in. I notice that when I really wear myself out with exercise, it may make me feel terrible for a while, but then the good energy kicks in, and it lasts a long time. It also helps me sleep.

I have no idea why I quit exercising like that. Maybe I was afraid the headaches would come back, and I might have a stroke or some other injury. Or maybe I just didn’t feel like having a headache all day. So far, my head isn’t feeling too bad. It’s a little tight, but it’s not pounding. And that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, speaking of energy, I’ve got to run and take care of some things before my weekend is over. I have removed an afternoon-long commitment from my calendar, so that takes the pressure off… and it leaves me more room to move at my own pace, while getting a whole lot of things done.

Yep. Onward.