Anna's Recovery: One Year Update
Well – here we are. Barely knowing what day it is, it’s no shock that the one-year mark has snuck up on me, and I can’t believe I’m here. Just a little bit has changed since a year ago, and the day before Olivia’s birthday I did reflect on, “Wow, I’m so happy to be where I am now vs. where I was then – aka, very pregnant.” There have been many ebbs and flows in this journey, from feeling progress to then peeling back another layer and feeling like I’m not getting anywhere. However, the icing on the cake and representation of some hard work was when I was able to do with ease 3 jump pullups right around my one year mark, despite not having worked on any pullups in 3 months. I’m still drooling for the feeling I had 2 years postpartum with Adelaide when I had shocked myself and accidentally levitated up in my first pullup ever (never accomplished even before children), but there’s already an increased ease and balance in those 3 jump pullups compared to before. So, how did I get to this point? What have I been doing in the past 6 months? Well, I’ll tell you 🙂
I am a firm believer in everything in life having seasons. That includes exercise. If you think about it, all professional athletes have seasons (part of why I loved playing ultimate frisbee competitively is that it naturally gave me the season and my “why” for lifting weights). Athletes aren’t going full tilt with the same stuff all the time. As a “recreational” worker-outer, it’s hard to not just go-go-go and have the mindset that time off from your set plan or track will be detrimental to your overall progress. However, I’ve realized that building in some changes of focus or intensities helps with the overall marathon that is life and exercise. I think it’s also about viewing exercise and movement as a lifestyle, rather than a phase. It allows you to enjoy the movement, the exploration, and the journey as well as take the stress off of yourself for times when you might need to reboot or are lacking energy to go heavier for workouts. If you always have the mindset of “go big or go home,” then you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment and not realizing the gains and benefits from other work. That being said, I think it’s also important to realize when you’ve been in the “off” season for a little too long, and maybe it might be time to push yourself a bit out of your comfort zone, get out of your head (stop getting stuck in the rehab loop/picking yourself apart), or figure out how to make more time if it’s always “oh I’ll have more time after I get through (enter phase of life you’re dealing with).” Life is always going to be busy, so if you’re always feeling that you’re pushing exercise to the side or even just doing the “fun stuff” and not analyzing how you’re doing it, then maybe you need to reassess your priorities – especially if you aren’t making the progress you are wishing to make.
The first chunk of these past six months, I was still a bit in a get-it-done mode. I tried to reward myself with the feeling of accomplishment of getting a solid workout done in my smaller than ideal time frame. That meant there wasn’t a ton of time for assessment and analysis beyond in-the-moment thinking (aka, no videoing or mirrors due to requiring extra time to set up). Things were going fairly well, but I was still having occasional rhomboid/neck crankiness (typically timed with theoretical hormone shifts, since I still don’t have my period back) and some PF tightness. I then had a few series of events that brought me back down to reality and forced me to peel back some more layers and assess:
- I took a video of some assisted pullups to help members out with seeing something. I was then discussing it with Sarah, at which point she pointed out that I wasn’t actually using my lats at all… no wonder why they were so hard! This started my detailed assessment (aka, shock and horror as to what was actually happening) into my shoulders. I had already been doing some serratus stuff and had previously worked on lower trap things, but I’m blaming continued breastfeeding, baby carrying, and computer work for not being enough to counterbalance the rounded position my shoulders went towards.
- I kicked a toy train box with my pinky toe. Within two hours, I felt the entire ripple effect throughout my entire lower body to avoid putting weight through that side of my left foot, and so I dove into learning more about arches and feet through Gary Ward’s foot course. I already knew I had things to further explore, but it was easy to put it on the back burner. His course allowed me to take extra time for a few days to assess my feet and understand the foundations of the movements, to then apply them as I went through other lower body strengthening exercises for a positive change in my hips that I couldn’t figure out how to make happen otherwise. (Nothing like living it to learn it?)
- We came up to my mother-in-law’s house for a few weeks, which meant I didn’t have as much exercise equipment or the same set up available to me. This forced me to dive into refinement of movements and turn inward instead. I came upon Katie St. Claire’s lumbo-pelvis course that had slight variations to PRI oldies but goodies. It further supported the idea of how our bodies need that slight increase in challenge to a movement to perk ourselves up and peel back another layer of opening and stability. It became my new morning routine to spend 15-20 minutes working through some breathing drills that helped improve my posture and core. With maybe a few pounds of weight loss as well, you can see below the effects of improved alignment (hinge point has moments of being gone) helping with muscle function, resting tone, and increased ease of tall posture. There is still work to be done and I basically feel like I have to fall forward in my tall posture, but not too shabby if I do say so myself.
I was concerned that I had gotten sucked into the rehab rabbit hole and needed to make sure I was getting back to doing some bigger movements, so I came up with two workouts that I wrote down on a white board. It’s shocking how doing such a small task of writing it down/taking away the mental work of having to remember or that extra minute to pull it up on your phone, etc really helps set you up for more success. The other thing I did was have a morning routine (as I mentioned above) to work on some breathing and also a rehab exercise like serratus press that I could do without feeling rushed/eager to get onto the next thing and be consistent about. This made me feel more ready to dive into my workout in the afternoon, because I had the mindset of basically already being 15 minutes into my workout before I even started. Accomplishing that in the morning allowed me to start the day feeling centered and successful, as well as not making up excuses to push it to the side or get in “just one more” work thing first. I’m also one who does better with a set time to do exercises vs incorporating them throughout my day, because I benefit from finding my groove. My afternoon workouts would include some isolated movements like Ys and clamshells, but I also made sure to have bigger movements like lunges and overhead presses.
When I got back to my house again, I had a band set up on my pullup bar so I could knock out lat and lower trap work in 10-15 minutes when Olivia and I were hanging out in the morning. I also started doing abdominal massage consistently in my early morning hours while hanging out with Olivia, which helped with some urge incontinence feelings I had randomly experienced (after a week of doing it, it almost completely resolved, and now it’s not there). I continued to explore other areas of release work, using various strategies (again, consistency but also novel stimulus helps your body continue to unfold) in my lats, pecs, adductors, calves, and hamstrings, remembering that a muscle can be long or short and have knots in it which will limit its function. I also started including more focused eccentric work to “iron out” the knots and help those muscles become long and strong, have a place to contract back and shorten from, and assist function of opposing muscles (aka, chest presses to help middle and lower trap function).
When I had more time for my afternoon workouts, I’d explore a bit more with movements to help improve efficiency and impact during my next workout. Some days it didn’t feel like I was making strength gains and I questioned if I was making progress, so I made sure I was finding that edge of challenge while still being focused and making sure I wasn’t just muscling through the movements. I would have a week here and there where I just felt exhausted from life. I kept my morning routine, but some days I would then opt to go for a walk or make sure I said “yes” when Adelaide wanted me to run or hop or have a dance off. I think of this as happiness boosting movements, and how it’s so important to make sure that we still play in life as we get older. It was also fun to have moments of athletic coordination that were spontaneous vs rigid, which strength workouts can sometimes fall into. Three months into this, I could see my random jump pullups and exercise that seemed like small, “is this even a workout/am I pushing myself enough?” work was paying off.
It’s all about buying in for the long term development and process, but also making sure you have those mini wins along the way to help motivate you to keep going.
No matter where you are in the process, it’s about movement being a part of our everyday life and touching base with your body, what it’s feeling, and what it’s needing. It will tell you what you need if you’re willing to listen to it, and by reaching out to it one way or another each day, you’ll keep the conversation going and form a better bond with it. We only have one body, and just like any close relationship there can be ups and downs, laughs and cries, but it’s important to keep putting in the work and overall have a positive relationship with it. We can control our mindset and our muscles, even if some days it feels like that’s not the case, so we might as well focus our attention there to get the most out of it and enjoy the process along the way. So here I am, a year out, with some great gains having been made, but also a journey still ahead of me as I keep peeling back the layers. I remember thinking last go around that around 2 years postpartum I felt like myself, without having to think about random muscle tightness or tweaks or imbalances, so that’s the time frame I’m setting myself up with. However, I know that this go around has had different hurdles (mentally, physically, nutritionally, and emotionally), two children, and I’m still breastfeeding, so it’s a soft finish line giving myself a goal to focus on while also making sure to give myself grace that each time comes with different circumstances. Either way, here’s to learning more about my body – and even though there might be some curse words and moments of frustration, trying to enjoy the learning and growth process to become the best version of myself.