The pieces of the puzzle were finally starting to come together. Things were making sense. After we talked for a while about Vocal Cord Dysfunction my ENT went to get a scope and then did a quick procedure right in his office to confirm the diagnosis. While it wasn’t fun having this tube run up my nose and down my throat, I about jumped for joy when he confirmed that I indeed have Vocal Cord Dysfunction. I know that sounds weird, but now that I knew what was causing the symptoms, I could take action. My ENT referred me to a speech pathologist to work on ways to treat the symptoms.
The last few weeks have been quite eye-opening to me. I received a diagnosis that made so much sense, but seemed kind of silly at the same time. Why? Because surely one of the medical professionals I had seen over the past 10 years would have diagnosed this, right? Because reading about a condition on the internet, sitting there as your chin drops and your mouth is wide open because the blog post just described every symptom you have been experiencing, and then telling your doctor seems kind of nuts, right? Nope. This really happened.
Vocal Cord Dysfunction. That’s the official diagnosis. Before I get deeper into what that means, let’s back up a little bit.
Do you exercise with purpose or are you just going through the motions? I know you’re probably thinking, "What do you mean? I do the work, that’s what counts, right?" Yes, it does count, and is certainly better than sitting on the couch, but there’s more. There’s connecting your brain to the muscle that is lifting the weight and then lowering it. Activating that muscle. Feeling the contraction of the muscle doing the work. Controlling the movement.
Muscle actions control the movement of the body. Without getting too technical I want to briefly touch on a few of the muscle actions.
1. Eccentric - Occurs when a muscle develops tension while lengthening. The muscles lengthens because the contractile force is less than the resistive force. A great example of this is the 2nd part of a biceps curl or when the arms are lowering back to the starting position. Also known as deceleration or negative because work is being done on the muscle as opposed to the muscle dong the work.
2. Isometric - Occurs when the contractile force is equal to the resistive force. Also known as a pause during a resistance training exercise between the lifting and the lowering phases.
3. Concentric - Occurs when the contractile force is greater than the resistive force. Characterized by the shortening the muscle and visible joint movement. A great example of this is the first part of a biceps curl or during the lifting part of the exercise.
Read below about how one of our clients applied this to her workout:
"Every time I go through a strength training session, I learn or realize something new. (Or maybe - because I’m “old-ish” - I’m re-learning something. That is entirely possible!)
When I was in the gym the other day, it dawned on me that I was kind of just going through the mechanics of the exercise instead of intentionally focusing on the muscle or muscle group that I was working on. I felt like I was on “auto-drive”, which meant I wasn’t really putting in the effort that I should have been doing. Once I realized that, I intentionally shifted my focus. And I remembered what my trainer keeps reminding me when I work out with her: it’s not only about the initial (concentric) movement part of the exercise; it’s just as important to feel the resistance in the eccentric part of the exercise. So when I’m doing biceps curls, if I focus only on the lifting but then just let the weights drop to my sides, I’m missing out on half of the benefits of that exercise. Instead, I need to lower the weights slowly, feeling the resistance as I’m doing that. So for the rest of my workout, I set my mind to focus on doing that - and it made a huge difference! My arms and legs could really tell that I had worked out - and I hadn’t really increased any weights. I just focused on both the concentric and eccentric movements, and that had a significant impact on how I felt about getting in a strong lifting session.
Hopefully I can sustain this focused approach during my upcoming sessions!" - L.S.
Knowing what we now know, think about how you have been lifting weights. Are you going through the motions or are you really focusing on the movement?
Do you sit at a desk all day long for work? Do you drive for work? If so, you have probably experienced some of the aches and pains that go along with sitting for long periods of time. You know the ones I'm talking about...neck pain/stiffness, back pain/stiffness, stiffness all over. I don't know about you, but when I stand up after sitting for more than 30-45 minutes I feel like I need help stretching out my hip flexors and low back.
So what can be done about this? Quitting our jobs isn't an option, so let's look at some ways to help ease the discomfort we experience when sitting for long periods of time.
1. Set a timer/alarm on your phone to remind you to get up and move around. Recently I've started to use timers/alarms for all kinds of things because once I'm focused on something, everything else is out of mind. The length of time you choose is up to you and how your body responds to sitting. Some people may need to get up more frequently than others. If you have a "smart" device...FitBit, Garmin, Apple Watch, etc, many have alerts you can set to remind you to get up and move around at least once an hour.
2. Learn some stretches you can do at your desk or in your office. Coworkers staring at you or making fun of you? Tell them to enjoy their stiff/achy muscles or join you. Check out these stretching videos, as many can be done at your desk. Again, use the timer on your phone if you need a reminder. Siri and Alexa are just waiting for you to ask them to do something.
3. Take your breaks and lunch breaks. I know, I know, we are all busy, but if you don't take care of yourself now, you may end up missing more work down the road. Move around during these breaks. Go for a walk with a friend/coworker. Get others involved in moving more...perhaps a contest/challenge at work?
4. Walk to talk to coworkers instead of using email, messaging, or calling them. Take the long way to their desk/office.
5. Drink lots of water. Not only will this keep you hydrated, but you will have to get up to fill your water bottle and also to use the restroom.
BONUS TIP: If you drive for work, you can apply most of these to your day as well.
Do you have any tips to add?
1. Find something that works for YOU. There is something out there for everybody and it may not be the first (or the second, third, or even fourth) thing you try. Don't give up - your health is important. Don't settle - if you don't enjoy the workout, the chances that you will continue to do it are slim.
2. Find a trainer that works with women over 40. Women over 40 have different fitness needs than a 25-year old woman. Consider this an investment in your health.
3. Weight training can protect bones and help prevent loss of bone density.
4. You are never too old to start. If you've never lifted a weight in your life, that's okay. Everyone has to start somewhere. Refer to #2 on this list.
5. Fuel your body properly. Don't skip meals. Eat before your workout so you have the energy to exercise. Eat within 30-60 minutes after your workout to refuel and help build those muscles.
6. Hydrate properly. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of women that aren't hydrating properly. Keep a bottle fo water with you all day and sip on it often. Water intake requirements vary from person to person. The easiest way to remember how much you need is this: 8 cups of 8 ounces of water.
7. Wear proper footwear for exercise. If you are unsure what this means, visit your local running/walking shoe store. The employees at these stores are trained to evaluate your gait and put you in the shoe that will best support your body while you are exercising. This is key to help make sure your body is in proper alignment and to help avoid a potential injury.
8. Get your cardio in! The current recommendation from the American Heart Association is 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 5 days/week.
9. Monitor your heart rate while exercising, especially during cardiovascular exercise. This is important to help make sure you are working hard enough (in the right zone) to get the benefit of cardio exercise, but not too hard. If you are interested in learning more about this, email me.
10. Get a workout buddy. Make a "date" to exercise just like you would for any other activity. Sign up for shared personal training, take a spinning class, or hike at one of the local metro parks. You are less likely to skip a workout when someone else is depending on you.
11. Include your doctor in your fitness plans. Make sure you are cleared for exercise. Don't hesitate to reach out if something hurts. Some aches are normal during and after working out, but ongoing or sharp pain is not normal. It is much better to be safe than sorry.
12. Don't let past injuries or chronic conditions hold you back. We work with clients of all fitness levels. Some of these women have autoimmune diseases, knee/hip replacements, and fibromyalgia. Many of these conditions can be improved by exercising regularly.
Even though I touched briefly on this topic in an earlier newsletter, now that I am on the other side of my recovery and things are getting back to normal, I want to share my thoughts in order to hopefully help others who are struggling - whether it be from injury, illness, stress, etc.
Sometimes when I have a break in my routine, for whatever reason, it is difficult to get back into the swing of things. This goes for exercise, writing, blogging, etc. Some things we can change. Some we can’t. When we are faced with obstacles, it is best to meet them head on and acknowledge them and then shift your focus to what you can do right now. I've faced some physical obstacles recently with my bone spur foot surgery and then a nasty stomach bug. When my focus was on the things I wasn't able to do, I was a cranky, unhappy person to be around. When I shifted that focus to the things I was able to do, my whole demeanor changed. I had to make a choice - did I want to continue to wallow in self-pity or did I want to feel better? No brainer! I wanted to feel better, so I chose to focus on the things I could do that I knew would make me feel better. For me that included rest, exercise I was able to do, proper nutrition, spending time with friends and family, and unplugging from my iPhone/internet when possible.
My mother has a saying she’s been using for years that really used to frustrate me when she said it. The saying goes, “This too shall pass.” I think it frustrated me because it did little to alleviate whatever I was going through. However, as I’ve matured, I’ve come to believe that it is true. It will pass. Everything does pass. Maybe that is why it frustrated me…because it was true and sometimes the truth is hard to hear. It’s only when I get a glimpse of clarity that I can truly see that, “This too shall pass.”
If you are struggling, we can help. We offer coaching in addition to in-person and online training, and that comes with a free consultation. If this is you, complete this form and we will be in touch.
If I had a nickel for every person who told me their biggest obstacle to exercising is, “I don’t like to exercise,” I’d be rich. I have news for you, I don’t like it either. I like to run, but I don’t always like to strength train. But I know that it is good for me, I like how it makes me feel when I am done, and I like that it makes me stronger.
So how do we solve the problem of avoiding exercise because we don’t like it? That’s a tough one. The answer will most likely be different for each person. The fact of the matter is that you must view exercise as something that you have to do, like brushing your teeth, showering, working, mowing the lawn, etc. It’s non-negotiable if you want to be able to live your life on your terms. What does that mean? That means being able to do the activities you want to do without limitations. It means giving yourself the best chance of keeping up with your chosen hobbies, activities or kids, seeing your kids grow up and have their own kids, and of growing old with your spouse or significant other. Regular exercise has been proven to:
• Leave you feeling energized after the workout
• Increase bone density
• Improve cardiovascular efficiency
• Increase metabolic efficiency
• Decrease body fat
• Increase lean muscle mass
All of those benefits will lead to your being able to live your life according to your terms. Let’s face it, most of us are never going to “feel” like exercising. We are going to have to make the decision to do it anyway. The bonus here is that most of us like how we feel after we exercise. You know the feeling I’m talking about? That one of pride and accomplishment - that says “I did it!”? Yeah, that one. There’s nothing else like it.
I truly wish that I could tell you about some secret way - a mindset - that you could use to make yourself love exercise, but there is no such thing. I always stick with “honesty is the best policy”, and honestly, there are no secrets that will change your feelings about having to exercise. BUT - there are several ways to get yourself moving despite not liking to exercise.
8 Ways to Get Moving Today
- Choose a form of exercise you dislike the least.
- Choose a form of exercise you will actually do.
- Choose a form of exercise that is easily accessible (walking is a great option to start).
- Choose a form of exercise that is simple and won’t overwhelm you.
- Enlist help! Partner with a friend or family member and exercise together. Misery loves company, right?
- Start small! Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Seriously. If you aren’t exercising at all now, start by doing just 10-15 minutes 3 times/week. The more you move, the better you will feel and then you can increase the time spent exercising.
- Hire a professional to help you (coach, trainer, etc).
- Put your workouts on your calendar for the upcoming week and commit that you will keep that appointment with yourself.
I need to emphasize that there are no quick fixes. There are no magic potions. Anyone who tells you different is lying and most likely wants to take your hard-earned money. You will work hard. But that hard work will pay off - I promise.
If you don’t make the time now to exercise, you will most likely be forced to make time down the road to take care of health issues that could have been prevented with regular exercise. Regular exercise allows us to live our lives on our terms.
I first learned of Heart Rate Guided Training in 2011 after suffering a stress fracture from overtraining. I was training for my first marathon and neglected to pay attention to the many signs my body was sending me that I was overdoing it. My brain kept saying, "No pain, no gain! Keep going!" My body, on the other hand, was sending me a number of signals that I needed to slow down and rest. After three weeks in a boot and 90 days of no running, I knew there had to be a smarter way to train. Enter Heart Rate Guided Training.
I went to a seminar in early 2011 on how to run/train smarter, and it was there that I learned about Heart Rate Guided Training. After implementing this approach, which included getting my VO2 Max done to determine my heart rate zones, I saw some pretty amazing results. I did have to slow down at first, but believe it or not, I ended up being able to run faster once my body adapted. Now, six years later, I still use Heart Rate Guided Training. Read below to find out why.
Five Reasons Why You Should Be Using Heart Rate Training*
1. The heart doesn't lie. The data the heart rate monitor spits out is the truth. It's telling you how your body is responding to the activity you are doing. The effort you are putting into that activity can be adjusted based on your personal heart rate and specific heart rate zones.
2. Zone 2 is where the magic happens. This is where you want to spend the majority of your time to optimize fat burn and weight loss. It's also where runners should be for most of their runs, including the long slow distance runs when training for a half or full marathon.
3. Each workout is at an appropriate level for YOU! No outside influences - just you and your heart rate monitor.
4. Reduce the risk of injury. When the body is pushed too hard, for too long, it becomes more susceptible to injury and/or illness.
5. Feel better and recover faster. When your workouts are appropriate for YOU, you feel better during and after the workout. You also recover faster.
*Heart Rate Guided Training can be applied to any exercise...walking, running, cycling, swimming, etc.
In early January 2012, I hurt my back at the gym. I was doing a workout I had done many times before. I wasn't even performing an exercise when I got hurt - I was moving a weight plate out of my way and I happened to turn just the "right" way. I didn't know it at the time, but I injured my sacroiliac joint (SI Joint). I had never really experienced back pain like that before. It hurt to do just about everything, including sitting still. Obviously I had never truly grasped the debilitating nature of a back injury before and had been very lucky up until that point.
After a few weeks of pain and not much improvement, I went to see my primary care doctor who also specializes in sports medicine. I was prescribed anti-inflammatories and sent to physical therapy. While I did see improvement, it took close to 6 months for the pain to diminish. Not fun.
Since that injury, I have had flare-ups on occasion. I manage these by seeing my chiropractor regularly, staying consistent with my physical therapy stretches, strength training, and knowing my personal limitations when it comes to exercise.
Fortunately, low back pain isn't always as severe as what I experienced and there are stretches and strengthening exercises you can do right in your own home to help alleviate low back pain.
While on your back and keeping your right leg out straight, pull your left leg into your body as close as you can (keep it bent) by reaching behind your thigh. While holding there begin to straighten your left leg until you feel a gentle stretch on the back side of your thigh (hamstring). Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.
Low Back Reach
While sitting with legs bent in front of you begin to reach forward slowly. Stop when you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 30 seconds.
While on knees reach forward. You can move the knees further apart for a deeper stretch. Hold for 30 seconds.
While on all fours in "table top" pose, round back as shown. Hold for 30 seconds. Slowly move into the opposite position where there is an arch in your back. Repeat.
While on your back bend your legs with your feet on the floor. Push through the heels and use your glutes to lift your hips. Hold at the top, squeezing the glutes for 30 seconds.
Plank can be done on hands & toes (high plank) or on elbows & toes. If you are new to plank begin by holding for 5-10 seconds at a time working up to longer periods of time. Shoulders should be over hands or elbows. Engage the core by pulling the belly button to the spine. Squeeze your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. Relax your shoulders. Breathe.
Begin on all fours (table top pose). Extend your right hand and left foot at the same time using caution to engage the core first by pulling the belly button towards your spine. Hold. Start by holding 5-10 seconds working your way up to 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
We work on many of the above stretches and strengthening exercises in our shared and private personal training classes at the studio. Consistent stretching and strength training can help keep you feeling your best, help you live your life on your terms, and help keep you injury free.
Contact me to schedule a quick tour and discuss how we can help!