Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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Stuff I’m Learning This Year: Strength Training Edition

As you know, one of my goals for 2017 was to learn 12 new things – an average of one per month. First, I learned some basic toilet repair. Then I learned how to fold a fitted sheet. In that second posting, I alluded to the fact that I’m learning something else that required a bigger blog posting – well, this is that blog posting!

This goes back to the old time-y days of 2016, when I was injured so bad with bursitis that I had to walk with a cane for 2 weeks and I had to spend all of the dollars on physiotherapy for months so that I could walk again and I haven’t been running since then. When I was walking with a cane, one of my work colleagues told me that the best thing she ever did was after she got injured, when her physiotherapy was completed, she got a personal trainer. A personal trainer was able to help determine which of her muscles were weak and which were compensating for the weak ones and was able to give her an interesting exercise routine (as opposed to the super boring stretches you have to do when rehabbing an injury) that helped her get stronger so she wouldn’t get re-injured. And while I had made doing regular strength training one of my 2017 goals *and* I have a weight room in building in which to do said strength training, I spent the first two months of 2017 never lifting a single weight. And then I remembered that I suck at weight training because I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing when I walk into a gym – I need someone to tell me what to do1. And then I remembered that I don’t really do any exercise unless I have some external motivator2. And I also remembered that I dislike doing exercise if it takes much more than walking out of my front door to do it because I begrudge the time it takes to drive to a place to exercise and then drive back afterwards3 – it’s one of the reasons I like running! So I joined a gym with personal trainers that is about a block from my place. It meets my needs of being super-conveniently located, it has someone telling me what to do, and I’m externally motivated because I’m paying money for it (and I have to show up 3 days a week to follow my plan!). The place is called Strong Side Conditioning4

Strong Side ConditioningBut it wasn’t just the super-convenient location that convinced me to go to this place. I did a free assessment there where I got to learn about the gym and their business model, to go through an assessment and hear what a plan for me would be like, and to meet some of the staff5. The business model of the gym is that it’s sort of halfway between a gym membership and a personal trainer. With a regular gym membership, you would pay less but not have assistance in creating a plan or assistance with your training (like making sure your form is correct or helping you decide when to go up in weight or number of reps). With a regular personal trainer, you get all 1-on-1 training sessions and pay by the hour (and then maybe do some other training sessions totally on your own, following the plan they’ve created for you) – and the hourly rate is not cheap. At Strong Side, they come up with a training plan for you each month and at the start of the month, you get a week’s worth of 1-on-1 sessions to learn your exercises (in my case, I chose 3 days a week, so I got 3 training session to learn my 3 workouts) and after that you have 3 weeks where you drop into the gym at your convenience to do your workouts, but there are a bunch of trainers circulating to help you if needed. You record your workouts and the trainers can see how you are progressing and then they make up a new training plan for the next month and repeat.

I started on March 3, and so far I’ve had my three training sessions, and done four solo sessions. My assessment had shown that I basically use my diaphragm and my quads for everything and all my other muscles don’t do anything. So I’m working on releasing the tension in my ribs and quads and strengthening my everything else so that my everything else will stop being such a bunch of freeloaders. I do exercises with a variety of resistance bands, free weights, kettle bells, machines, risers, sliding thingys, and more, so I’m learning the proper form for all kinds of exercises and what muscles should be doing stuff during those exercises. There are always plenty of trainers around watching during my solos sessions to tell me if my form is right or needs adjusting and I’m already seeing some improvements (in that I can do more reps of some things and squat lower than I could two weeks ago). And the trainers I’ve met, which I think is most of them by now, are all really friendly and helpful and down-to-earth.

The only thing that I can say that I don’t like is that I wish they had longer hours – they open at 6:30 am on weekdays, so if I want to do a morning workout, by the time I get through my workout, go home and shower and get ready, and then head into Vancouver, I’m not getting to my office until about 9:30 am, which is a bit later than I’d like (and on many days, too late as I have meetings at 8 or 9 am). Similarly, they close at 9 pm on weekdays, which means that if I don’t want to have to rush through my workout, I have to get there by 7:30 pm, which can sometimes be difficult for me on a busy day. I get that the hours of operation are constrained by the need to have enough trainers around and it doesn’t make any business sense to have the gym open at 5:30 am and close at 11 pm on the off chance that I might want to be there extra early or extra late once in a while. All in all, having to get to the gym within their set hours is a small price to pay for what I’m getting out of my membership!

Anyhoo, so far so good. I’m sure I’ll blog more about my exciting strength training adventures as the year goes on!

Strong Side Conditioning

  1. Similarly, when I’m running, I always have to be training for a race, because I need a plan to follow as without one, I can’t seem to make a simple decision, like how often I should run or how far should I run on a given day. []
  2. Unless it’s hockey, but that doesn’t count because it’s so fun in and of itself that I don’t even think of it as exercise. []
  3. Again, hockey excepted. []
  4. As always, I haven’t been paid to blog about them, nor have I even talked to them about the fact that I’m writing a blog posting – I am blogging about them because I like them! I’m actually paying lots of money to go there! lol! []
  5. I also did a free assessment with a personal trainer whose gym is literally across the street from my office (Did I mention I need something conveniently located?). He seemed nice and all, but he charges by the hour for training sessions, so it would work out to a lot more than Strong Side (though in the end I’d get less service) – I liked the business model of Strong Side better and I clicked more with the staff. Also, the trainer near my work said he was a Philadelphia Flyers fan and said “I have to have a Canadian team too, so I’m a Leafs fan.” I’m not saying that I decided I couldn’t work with a Flyers/Leafs fan – but I’m not saying that I could. []

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Roll It!

As I mentioned previously, my IT band hates me and I bought a foam roller to try to torture said IT band into submission. Foam rollers, for the uninitiated, are cylinders made of styrofoam that you roll your body over to work out knots (a.k.a., “trigger points”) and tightness of your various body parts. My massage therapist has mentioned rollers to me, and this past weekend at school several of my classmates said that rollers are the best thing since sliced bread if sliced bread could fix IT band issues. They also told me that rolling would hurt like a mofo the first few times I did it. They were not lying.

Now that I’ve been rolling for a few days, though, I am screaming in pain significantly fewer times than the first and second day of rolling, so I’m going to consider that progress.

Here’s me rolling out my IT band:

Foam Roller

… and my hamstrings:

Foam Roller

I’ve discovered that my worst trigger points seem to be in my quads, right above me knees:

Foam Roller

There was *a lot* of screaming when I did my quads the first few times. But when those trigger points released – heaven!

And after last night’s hockey game – my first in many months – I definitely needed to roll my back:

Foam Roller

This article says that the trigger points and IT band issues I’m getting are common for “experienced” runners rather than newbies, so I guess that means I’ve graduated to “real runner” status?

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My calf issues are rearing their ugly head

My calves are yet again displeased with me. Ever since I ran the 8 km race two weekends ago, they have been super duper tight. And I woke up with a charley horse in my calf at about 4:30 this morning1.

After my long run on Saturday, I had a massage. I told my massage therapist about my unhappy calves and she worked them over pretty good. To the point that they’ve been super achy – like the kind of ache you have after a really good workout – for the past two days. And, like the last massage therapist that I had work over my calves, she commented on how ridiculously tight my soleus muscles are. “Your gastrocnemius muscles are fine, but your soleus muscles are TIGHT!”

For the uninitiated, the soleus muscle is this one:

Soleus - Muscles of the Lower Extremity Anatomy Visual Atlas, page 34

Now, the first massage therapist had given me a standing stretch to do that will stretch out the soleus. But this massage therapist told me, “I have a great stretch you can do while sitting at your desk!” Well, you know how I feel about multi-tasking my stretches!

To do the stretch, you just take off your shoes and sit in your chair with your knees bent like normal, but you put your toes up on a book, making sure your heel touches the floor, like this:

Day 322 - Sitting soleus muscle stretch

Soleus muscle stretch

It doesn’t look like much, but it super duper helped my tight calves! Honestly, even after my massage on Saturday, I couldn’t get my toes up on a book that was half the size of the one in the above photo2 and still have my heels on the ground, but after a few ~5 minute rounds of this stretch at the office today I can now, as you see in the photo, do it just fine.

Of course, if all else fails, you can just go for some of this, which I found while searching Flickr for “soleus”:

Soleus Organic Wine

Image Credits:

  • Funky picture of muscles of the lower leg was posted by Rob Swatski on Flickr.
  • Soleus Wine picture was posted by J.P. Hussey on Flickr
  • Photos of the stretch itself are all mine!

  1. Do. Not. Like. []
  2. For the record, the one in the above photo is Infinite Jest []

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Way More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About My Calf Muscles

So I’ve finally resurfaced from beneath the grant application I was working on this week1.  The nice thing about working on grants on contract, as opposed to actually being responsible for the grant, is that you can set your contract to say “I’m going to give you deliverable X by date Y to level of quality Z” and then you do that. And in this case, it was my job to deliver a solid draft of the grant, but not the final product2. So while the grant isn’t due ’til October 1st, my piece of it is done. The person for whom I was working on this asked if I’d like to take on a second contract to do the next round of revisions, but I declined, because I’m just too freaking burnt out and I need my life back!  I am, you may recall, scheduled to run a half marathon in two weeks, but I didn’t do a single run this past week. Not a single run! I played hockey on Sunday and Wednesday, but hockey is a different type of exercise, and I really needed to get back to running.

Collage of varius Gray's muscle pictures by Mi...
Image via Wikipedia

But when I tried to go for a run yesterday, my calf muscles totally cramped up. Like to the point that I had to stop running and turn around and limp back the 2 km I’d just run. Not impressed. My calves had been giving me trouble lately – the morning after my first hockey game I woke up with a wicked charley horse, but I chalked it up to dehydration.  A few days later, another charley horse, though this time I hadn’t been playing hockey. Then, over this past week, where I had been doing no running and lots of sitting, my calves were being really twitchy. Not charley horses, but little involuntary muscular contractions which ranged from annoying to ouchy. I chalked this up to going from lots of running to no running – my muscles were clearly staging a revolt! I figured that going for a run last night after work would work out the twitchiness out. Clearly, I was mistaken. Immediately upon arriving at home from my aborted run, I booked a massage therapy appointment. My main massage therapist is always booked up3, so I tried my back up massage therapist, but she’s away at a seminar today. So

Day 94

I Googled to find someone who could take me and managed to get an appointment for 8:30 this morning at a sports massage therapy clinic. As it turns out, the guy who worked my muscles today also works the muscles of the BC Lions and, starting next season, the Vancouver White Caps4.  After my massage, my calves felt so much better it was ridiculous. I went out for a nice run – not too fast, ‘cuz I didn’t want to push it, but not that slow – and my calves felt fine!  Hooray!

Also, the massage therapist seems to think that the problem probably resulted from my lack of stretching after hockey and insufficient stretching after running. Because I totally suck at stretching. My thought process is usually “I’ve just spent 2 hours running, I need to get on with my life!”  Or I am so exhausted that I want to do is have a “post-run shavasana” and then, when I have enough energy to pick myself up off the floor, hit the shower. Granted, my main massage therapist, my back up massage therapist and my chiropractor have all, at various points, noted the importance of stretching post-running. But, you know, I’m not very good at doing what I’m told. Now that I’ve seen the repercussions of my lackadaisicality regrading post-exercise stretching5, however, I think I will actually do what I’m told this time. Also, this massage therapist suggested that soaking in hot baths (with epsom salt) is also good for hardworking muscles. And he suggested that one can multitask by soaking in a hot bath with a glass of wine. Multitasking FTW.

  1. seriously, the amount of work that it ended up being was far more than I could have anticipated. There were nights this week that I came home from work at ~4 p.m. then worked until 1 a.m.  Not cool. []
  2. though we did negotiate a bit of extra revisions during that process, as it was a type of grant neither of us had written before, proposing  the use of a fairly new technique as well. That’s the other cool thing about doing this type of work – in addition to making some extra moolah, I also get to learn new stuff! []
  3. in fact, I can only get an appointment with her by being on her cancellation list – she just books me in when someone cancels, because her schedule is perma-booked []
  4. And I have to say that having someone who regularly rubs the muscles of pro athletes tell you that you are fit while he’s rubbing your muscles is a nice ego boost! []
  5. lackadaisical – adjective – lacking enthusiasm and determination; carelessly lazy. See also: flossing []