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Fixing an aching body: Physical rehab effort works

Bumping against a genetic ceiling (again and as usual) after 25 years under the weights can make a person lazy in the gym. Once a person gets fairly close to the top of the strength curve, the return on workout investment is tiny. And many of us back off because maintaining 80% is simple, and seems like enough… in fact, is enough for most.

But guess what. Last week in the gym turned up a couple of PR sets. Nothing spectacular — I haven’t gone to low reps, heavy work on anything — but notable after not seeing any gains for years, and while not working toward them.

Why do I think this is happening? A few contributions:

The stabilization work is strengthening weaker muscles, so there are more overall muscles firing. The cardio fitness gets me past the reps where perhaps the muscles would have been strong enough before, but gasping for breath stopped the set early. Core strength adds an extra percentage of oomph that can’t be measured, or even noticed to the uneducated. Ballistic kettlebell work is contributing to fast-twitch muscle fibers not used in bodybuilding or powerlifting.

It’s a big picture effort that will take attention. Speaking as one a few months down the road, it’s worth it, folks. What I’m saying here is this stuff is for everybody. You young folks, dedicate a few minutes a day toward this now and you’ll never have to drop back to basement-level rehab. Youth will compensate for weakness for a while, but eventually the weaknesses will get your attention. Oh, man, will they get your attention.

If you’ve been nursing an ache forever, address it now. Unless you remember a specific injury, it’s likely there’s a weakness showing itself, or you’re doing something wrong — either at work or in the gym — or, very likely, it’s posture-related.

Overcompensating with the stronger muscles works for awhile, and the stronger you are, the longer this may work, but when the weakness shows through, you’ll be at the least slammed to the ground, and at worst, doing rehab not only on the underlying weakness, but also on your newly injured compensating muscles. The longer you ignore it, the more complicated it becomes to sort out the mess.

But. There’s a huge upside: Rehab works astoundingly fast. A month, two months… the progress can happen so quickly it’s hard to remember what the bad times felt like. Some of the things I tried didn’t work, or other solutions were perhaps unnecessary for me; others are still on the template for next efforts.

Perhaps there was a little waste of energy and money, but not much, and compared to what might have eventually been spent on doctors, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists — mental therapists! — well, hey, not bad. Not bad at all.

What worked, in order of presentation, but not necessarily importance:

Back extension exercises to strengthen posture muscles

Foam roller and myofascial release ball to release spasming muscles and break down trigger point knots

Attention to upright posture, five minutes at a time, hour after hour and day after day

Heart rate monitor, indoor cycle with good bike pedals, mp3 player to propel aggressive interval cardio work

Back stabilization and fundamental core work

A few minutes daily of joint mobility and muscle stretching

Kettlebells, three types of workouts in support of the above (cardio conditioning, core strength and back strengthening)

To catch up with us, this is where the back rehab story begins.

You’ll have to put yourself and your physical wellbeing at the top of the priority list for a few months to pull this off. Once finished (knowing, of course, that we won’t be completely finished until that final day), you’ll be in a much greater position to affect your family and friends, your work and your projects because you’ll feel good — excellent even — and you’ll be strong and hearty. Things that were difficult or impossible will seem effortless. Go for it!

This is a reprint from a forum post of 2006. The conversation continues with more ideas to further your journey, here.

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