Nov 5, 2012

Exercising Through An Injury

Ever since I was diagnosed with chondomylaecia patella (also known as runner's knee, which is absurd because I'm not really a runner) about seven months ago, I've been forced to take it easy. Anytime during my workouts where I've had any pain whatsoever, I had to make myself back off. It wasn't easy at first, as you can imagine, and very frustrating. I had the most crazy and random thoughts run through my head during this time:
  • I'm getting so old. Is this what my knees are going to feel like the rest of my life? 
  •  I cannot workout like I used to, so naturally, I'm going to get fat and sloppy and flabby.  
  •  Maybe I'll just ignore it and it'll go away. 
  •  I hate running anyway.
This went on for months this summer and finally, I saw a physical therapist who helped me understand the problem more and what to do about it. Basically, my quads aren't as strong as they used to be, which caused severe misalignment in my knee, and, in turn, started to make the cartilage uneven. With that you have the perfect recipe for crunchy (yes, they crunch out loud), achy, burning knees.

He gave me several exercises to strengthen my quads and strict orders not to run until I'm completely better, which, he said, could take months.

With this information in hand, I had to make a serious attitude adjustment in regards to my health and workouts. It was time to change my mindset and consequently, my workouts. 

Some Workout History

About two-three years ago, this is how my typical workout week went:
  • Monday - 1 hour boxing class, 1 hour yoga
  • Tuesday - 1 hour Cross Fit class, sometimes 1 hour spinning
  • Wednesday - 1 hour boxing class
  • Thursday - 1 hour Cross Fit class, sometimes 1 hour spinning
  • Friday - off
  • Saturday - 1 hour circuit bootcamp or hiking
  • Sunday - off, hiking or another circuit bootcamp
It was seriously hardcore, at least for me. I told myself that a workout didn't "count" unless it was "balls to the wall" (for lack of a better term). My boxing class was intense cardio and I'd often get light headed and just shake it off. My spin instructor was insane. It was not bike ride through the park. And Cross Fit, well you know that what that is and how intense it can be. 

So this is just to show you where I'm coming from. I believed that no hour should be "wasted" at the gym with light weights, reading magazines on the elliptical, etc. I was there to work hard or go home. 

But, with a bum knee, most of these workouts were off limits, so I had to change things. 

Current Mindset

Now that I've been forced to basically scale back from doing anything that would be considered hardcore, I've had to change my thinking. I've had to tell myself that it is okay to skip a workout or rather, replace a workout with a long walk. I may not be in the same shape I was three years ago, but that does not make me any less of an athlete and, definitely, not any less healthy. 

Now I don't have a workout schedule. 

I basically follow Mark's Daily Apple of exercising primally when it works for me and my schedule. This concept incorporates three things: sprints, lifting heavy and long, moderate, slow exercise. 
  1. Sprinting 1-2x per week - I do this on the rower, as it's easy on my knee 
  2. Lifting heavy 1-3x per week - I focus mainly on upper body and my PT exercises
  3. Move Frequently at Slow Pace - see below. This was the huge eye opener for me.
Mark's premise of moving frequently at a slow pace is basically the opposite of what I've always believed and adhered to in exercise. I always thought that faster was always better and faster for a longer amount of time (i.e. a fast 5 or 10K) was even better than that. And anything else was a waste of your time. Then I tried it. 

Leisurely walking at various times during the week. Hiking. Yoga. Just staying active. I try to take at least one 15-or 20-minute walk during my work day, some days I get in two. I park in the last parking spaces. I take the stairs (except when my knee is flaring up). I clean my apartment all the time. I try not to stay idle for long periods of time. I just move. Not fast, just keep moving. 

And its working. I haven't turned into a big pile of mush like I thought I would once I stopped running, doing crazy Cross Fit circuits and bootcamps. I haven't gained any weight and I still eat pretty much like I always have, within reason of course. I can still do pull ups and push ups. It's pretty much been an epiphany for me. 

That's to not say that I won't occasionally take a Cross Fit class here or there or go for a run when I'm all healed, but I no longer have the pressure on myself to make each workout hardcore. It's a very freeing concept. Do what I want. Pace myself and just stay active. 

If you'd like to read more about why Mark calls this primal exercising, check out his articles on the subject (I especially love The Case Against Cardio). He's the expert, not me. I just wanted to explain what I'm doing differently. He can explain why it works. 

I try to look at this knee problem as a blessing in disguise. It taught me to incorporate exercise in my daily life. It taught me not to judge what other people where doing in the gym because, at the end of the day, they were moving and that's all that matters. And most importantly, it has helped me slow down and take off the pressure I used to put on myself. Pressure to remain in a constant state of improvement with exercise: a faster 5k, a better Cross Fit score, etc. It made exercise fun again and totally attainable while nursing an injury.

[Typical disclaimer: I'm not an expert in fitness or health (shoot, I'm not really an expert in anything, except myself), so please consult a doctor before starting  any new fitness plan.]

How do you stay active during an injury?


  1. This is BRILLIANT. Thanks for sharing. I was all about going balls to the wall too. And in fact, I had the same issue as you, but I didn't let it get really bad (having a previous injury has turned me into a giant wimp — which is good). I was able to catch it before it got bad, and built up those quads.

  2. I'm glad you found something that works for you!

  3. I love this post!! I used to be pretty balls to the wall too. I did Insanity and ran like a mad woman. Now, I'm in better shape and I don't exercise like that. Love, love, love this! Teach me how to do a pull up please??

  4. Thanks :)

    Oh gosh. It took me about two years of lots of assisted pull ups to finally bust out a few real ones! Consistency and having short limbs helps!

  5. Thank you! I am happy that you didn't just "ignore and see if it would go away" like this stubborn lady :) Quad building in progress here!


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