Finding your weakest link

Why everyone should take advantage of your complimentary training session at your gym.

Happy New Year! Its January again and the gyms are packed with people who are motivated to get in shape, right?  You want to get off to a good start with your fitness goals and laying a strong foundation is key to getting and maximizing your results! I figure now is the perfect time for my first Blog post.

There is a reason every gym you join offers a free training session to new members. Yes of course they inevitably hope to sell you on training sessions to make money, but as an individual who continues to live with chronic pain due to an injury and recently diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

I can honestly tell you there are so many reasons why you should not hesitate to say yes.

My Story

Growing up I never played sports. I was the one everyone hated because I could eat anything and not gain a pound. Even after having 2 children I bounced back quickly to my pre pregnancy weight without much effort. Then around the time my daughter was about 1 1/2 I felt my energy levels plummet and my metabolism slowing. While I was still thin around 114lbs at 5”5 for the first time in my entire life I no longer had that pre pregnancy flat belly. Lack of exercise, and poor diet was starting to catch up with me. It was at this time I decided things needed to change I signed up for a boot camp in my neighborhood and within weeks my energy improved and I felt amazing. Fall came and I started taking classes at the gym regularly and I also adapted healthier eating habits.    FullSizeRender

For the first 6 months I mostly did cardio and strength classes with light weights. I also decided to take up a new sport, tennis. In my first lesson I injured myself. When I went to the doctor and he told me I strained my rotator cuff I had no clue what that meant. For those who are not familiar the rotator cuff, is a group of muscles and tendons that attach to bones of the shoulder joint allowing the shoulder to move and keep it stable. The shoulder is a very delicate joint and its one you do not want to piss off!

The recommendation from my doctor was to rest, ice it, and take anti-inflammatories basically saying once I learn the proper form for serving, and swinging this will not happen again. After about 3 weeks the pain subsided and I resumed classes and tennis. Shortly thereafter I discovered another sport I loved— bodybuilding! I was always afraid to lift weights but when I actually did I couldn’t believe how it transformed my body in a short period of time. I was addicted! I had no clue what I was I doing and I definitely over did it. My ego got the best of me. I became obsessed. I started weight training about 4 days a week (mostly isolated exercises by body part). I pushed myself to lift heavier and heavier each week and trained for hypertrophy (induce fast muscle growth) each and every time. Did I get amazing results? Yes, but was it functional and sustainable? Not at all. During my first year of working out I suffered multiple shoulder injuries and by my 4th things were so bad it forced me to stop upper body training for nearly a year. I learned a hard lesson. You can’t go from zero to 60 over night and you can’t just solely train for aesthetics alone without addressing muscular imbalances that might exist. Our bodies function as a whole and when beginning any exercise program one must introduce stress gradually in order for our soft tissue, skeletal and nervous system to function and adapt. I am still experiencing pain to this day. Of course there were definitely signs along the way that things were not right that I just shook off (burning and tightness in the right side of my chest, and extreme difficultly with over head activities due to my overactive traps). I convinced myself that it was just normal and things will ease up and feel better as I got stronger. Not the case. Rule #1 Always listen to your body.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is no joke. I don’t want to get into much detail here but TOS in simple terms is a disorder that occurs when there is compression, injury, irritation of the nerves and or blood vessels (arteries and veins) in the lower neck and upper chest area. It causes me to have pain in my neck, shoulder and all the way down my arm into my wrist and tightness in my chest. It has caused major dysfunction to my entire upper body and it is incredibly painful. I wouldn’t want anyone else to go thru what I am going thru as such I feel compelled to share my story in hopes of educating others.

Where did things go Wrong?

imagesWhile there were many factors at play that attributed to my injuries (repetitive motions, poor muscular development, anatomy) the biggest culprit for me was years of bad posture which was putting excessive strain on my traps and rotator cuff. Just observe in a public place you will no doubt notice people hunched over, and rounded shoulders (kyphosis). Because of our lifestyles we are constantly forced in a flexed posture (being on a computer for 8 hours a day, commuting in the car, staring at your phone, breast feeding and carrying children, even the way you sleep etc.) Poor posture and disuse causes your muscles to tighten and shorten and over a prolonged period of time. When a muscle is shorter than its normal length it affects opposing muscles, this can affect how your entire musculoskeletal system operates particularly if we have had prior injuries. When we are dysfunctional our muscles overcompensate to perform tasks and overtime, if we do not make adjustments than we can experience pain or re-injury.

I would advise anyone who is new to working out to do an assessment with a certified and well knowledgeable trainer.

What to expect during an assessment?

Observe Posture & Movement Patterns

When you have an assessment with a trainer they will observe your functional movement patterns and point out any deviations (Hips, shoulders, posture etc) and muscular imbalances.

Why is this so important?

Where there are imbalances above and below a joint this can cause dysfunction (some of our muscles can be overdeveloped or undeveloped) leading to injuries and pain over time. All our bodies and systems are genetically and bio-mechanically different. Based on your fitness level and lifestyle a trainer will devise a custom balanced program to correct the imbalances allowing you to move more efficiently and improve how you look and feel.

Observe your Form and Breathing

They will make sure that you are executing exercises correctly using proper form and developing strength to perform the exercise thru its full range of motion. During your session you will also receive feedback and cues to make sure you are recruiting the correct muscles. Fact, you can be performing an exercise and think you are doing it correctly but recruiting all the wrong muscles. In my case my traps would be doing more of the work causing them to become over developed. Proper form is key to preventing injury and if you already have an injury can help to not aggravate it. Another very important part of the assessment is breathing. Many of us are breathing all wrong, using our shoulders and chest instead of breathing in thru our nose and deeply out thru our diaphragm. Proper breathing releases tension from traps, neck, and shoulders and also affects our nervous system/sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) if you are not in a good breathing pattern you won’t be able to stack rib above hip to get in proper placement to do many exercises which is important.

The majority of injuries happen outside of the gym. How you are training in the gym can directly have impact on improving your endurance and performance and reducing your chances of injury and this is particularly more important as we age. I attended a very informative seminar on Functional Flexibility and Fascia Fitness at the Idea Fit Conference last year led by Leslee Bender she but it best “In order to develop a combo of integrity of all joints in the body you need to have a well developed program. You can be too tight, too flexible, too weak, too strong”. Just because you might not have any pain and think you don’t have any postural deviations you still could have them (most people do) If you precede to jump into a workout regime even if you are just taking group classes you could make things worse. If only I had taken things slower, listened to my body along the way and worked with a trainer myself so much could have been avoided.
Not all exercises are a one size fits all, which is why we have personal trainers to assess individual’s strengths, weaknesses, lifestyle and improve their movement patterns, and enable them to function more efficiently in a dysfunctional world.

Hope you found this post to be helpful. Anything to Add? Questions? Comments?

References:
Breaking Muscle
http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/why-does-the-front-of-my-shoulder-hurt
Red Flags
http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/avoid-shoulder-injury-by-strengthening-the-rotator-cuff
Idea Fit Conference 2015 Functional Flexibility and Fascia Fitness workshop Leslee Bender
NY Strength Dr. Jack Barnathan Assessment Workshop http://www.nystrength.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s