Channeling My Inner Manatee

This week I joined a nearby YMCA. I’ve gone swimming twice.

The first day I think I was too ambitious.  I brought my kid with me. I put him in the childcare room while I swam. I went to the lap pool and attempted to swim laps and was surprised that I couldn’t swim more than 50 yards continuously. I swam a lot of 50s with rest in between. I played with some of the toys like kickboards and noodles. I lasted maybe 30 or 40 minutes, then sat in the hot tub for 10 minutes or so.

Then I went and got my kid, and we ate our lunch in the lobby. Then I took him to family swim. I didn’t bring anything inflatable for him to float in, so I had to hold him in the pool. I lasted about half an hour at that. My back was killing me by the time we got done showering and changing and walked to the car. I laid down for the rest of the day.  I was too achy to fight with my kid when he didn’t cooperate on getting ready for gymnastics class. I called the gymnastics studio and told them we wouldn’t be coming. I cried for an hour on the couch. I felt really sad and hopeless and angry that I couldn’t lift.  My kid went upstairs, came back downstairs with one of my husband’s bike bags, and told me “It’s okay mom; I have something that will make you feel better,” and whipped out a fucking power drill. That got me off the couch really fast. I hid the power tool and sent an angry text to my husband. Good times, really.

As far as the actual swimming, it wasn’t that bad, but I was surprised by how out of practice I was. I took years of swimming lessons as a kid, and I couldn’t believe how awkward I felt in the water. Also, my CPAP machine has me pretty well trained to nose-breathe, so mouth-breathing in the pool felt awkward. I felt very uncoordinated.

Today, two days later, I tried again. Since my husband was home I brought him along. We went during family swim time. We brought an inflatable tube for kiddo. Since this Y has family locker rooms, I had help getting kiddo ready and didn’t have to lug all the gear myself. I started in the shallow end of the pool with my family. Then I left kiddo to play with my husband while I swam laps.

I felt much less awkward than the other day because I figured out a good stroke rhythm for a pace I could sustain.  I realized that I needed to slow my strokes WAY down. If I am not used to sprinting on land, there is no reason I need to do it in the water. At first it didn’t feel natural to slow my strokes down because on land it would feel way too slow. But the water adds extra resistance, so using a speed that feels natural on land will be more difficult in the water. So I decided to visualize manatees leisurely floating under the surface.

Visualizing manatees helped me slow my strokes down and feel more coordinated. I was able to maintain a breaststroke for several hundred yards at least, without a break. (I’m not sure exactly how many because I don’t have a watch and I haven’t taken the time to figure out a lap counting system yet. ). For freestyle, I was able to go at least 100 or 150 yards continuously, once I slowed the stroke down and figured out a good breathing pattern for me.

I didn’t swim laps continuously; I took a few breaks to check in with my family, and to use the bathroom (I know Michael Phelps confessed to peeing in the pool, but I still can’t bring myself to do it). I also sat in the hot tub for 10 minutes after swimming, which felt great (my husband and kid were still playing in the pool). I didn’t count laps or time anything, but I know my family was in the pool for roughly two hours, and I was probably in the pool for maybe an hour and a half or so.  I’m not concerned with counting my laps or times right now. I know that right now, it is more important for me to create the habit of going to the pool than it is for me to stress about what I do once I’m there. In fact, in order to create the habit, it is really important that I remove as much stress as possible.

My lower back feels fine. My traps feel fatigued. Having my husband there to help with kiddo and gear helped make it a lot less stressful.

Takeaway: It may not be realistic for me to always bring kiddo swimming when I am on my own. It may be more manageable for me to leave him in childcare on some of those days, and then bring him to family swim on days my husband can join us.

Also, I feel kinda calm and tired and mellow, so maybe swimming later in the day is a good option when possible.

I thanked myself for giving swimming another try today even after the first day didn’t go so well. I reminded myself that my first night of CPAP use went horribly too, and I am so glad I stuck it out.  So, hopefully I can make this work too.

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I Got Sidelined, and I Did A Thing That “Good Fatties” Don’t Do

I have been sidelined.

I had been feeling some tingling in my right quadricep (feels like pins and needles – like when your foot falls asleep but more mild). I first noticed it last fall when I had kiddo on my back on a trail walk. I’ve noticed it now and then since, when carrying kiddo on my back.

A couple weeks ago I started noticing it when I was not carrying any extra weight on my back; just while standing and walking. So my primary care doctor requested an MRI of the lumbar spine, to see if it was a spinal issue. I had the MRI this past Monday. That same day I started noticing tingling in my left foot.

The results came back yesterday and I have two big disc herniations. My primary care doctor  explained to me that while one of the herniated discs was super common for weight lifters and she wasn’t worried about it, I also had a compression on a vertebra in the thoracic that was not commonly herniated (even among weightlifters), and appeared to be related to an older injury or possibly something I was born with (since I don’t recall ever having an injury to the spine, but the MRI report definitely said it was an older injury). She is referring me to a specialist to see if this herniated disc causing my symptoms. It appears that it is slightly compressing the spinal cord.  I don’t know yet what treatment the specialist will recommend (physical therapy? surgery? shots?). I have a lifting limit in the meantime – no more than 50 lbs. I can still walk, swim, or do yoga or stretch.

I am beyond bummed, because lifting is so much fun for me and it makes me feel healthy and strong and proud. But not causing more nerve damage is obviously more important. I’m trying to look on the bright side and feel grateful that a) we caught it before I experienced any pain, weakness, or loss of function, and b) that I can still lift my kid if necessary, because 3 year olds are not great at listening. I’m feeling nervous about finding a new routine / way of going about my week that makes me feel as good as lifting does and that I enjoy. I’m nervous about the possible time/money commitment that rehab will involve. Hopefully my insurance will cover this. I don’t have answers yet. I am feeling defeated –  I finally got to the point where my movement routine felt like a true habit….like brushing my teeth. And now I need to change my routine and schedule.

My doctor also warned me me that the spine specialist group I am being sent to has the most talented spine doctors in the area, but they are all assholes. One of them once told a patient to “ditch the refrigerator she is carrying.”

I was super nervous about going to the specialist after hearing this. I don’t enjoy confrontation and I am scared that I will be so intimidated that I wont ask the right questions. I asked in the Fit Fatties group for suggestions on handling doctors like this, and someone suggested  “bring an advocate. ”

At first I couldn’t think of anyone. Let’s just say my husband is not known for his assertiveness. Most of my local friends have kids. And I have some local fat friends who would be great for solidarity, but would probably be just as disrespected and possibly triggered as I am by the specialist.

And then I thought of the perfect person to bring along. She is a massage therapist and ART practitioner with several anatomy practicums under her belt. She is a Cross Fit coach and weightlifting coach. She drew a tree out of a human spine on her Christmas cards.  Read: she will likely understand what the doctor says a lot better than I will. And she will know what questions to ask regarding rehab and lifting.

Now, though I like her a lot, we are not close friends. I trained at her gym for a while and we are Facebook friends and maybe we would hang out more if I didn’t have a kid and I wasn’t a boring introvert who likes to stay home. So I was really nervous to ask for such a big favor from her. But I remembered how important relying on a community is, and I reached out and wrote her a message. I explained what my doctor said, and how I was afraid that the specialist would intimidate me or shame me and I might lose it or forget to ask the right questions. I asked if she would consider coming with me to the appointment. I offered to pay her for her time or buy her dinner or barter veggies. I was in tears as I typed the message, even though I knew she was likely to say yes. From nerves and an emotion that I wouldn’t identify until later.

My friend did say yes. She didn’t make me feel bad for asking at all. She agreed with my doctor that the thoracic herniation and compression was concerning because it isn’t one that typically herniates. She is happy to come with me. I am so relieved and so glad I reached out and that a knowledgeable friend is going to help me.

Later, I asked myself why I felt so emotional asking my friend to come help me. I realized that the emotion I felt was humiliation. In our culture’s mainstream media, we hear about “obesity epidemic” this and “strain on the health system” that quite often. And so I was trained to feel humiliation about the fact that here I was, asking for an accommodation or favor that I needed, that I may not have needed if my body was a different size.

Once I identified that, I realized that I was doing NOTHING wrong by advocating for myself and asking for what I need to get proper treatment so I could get better. I realized I didn’t need this favor because of my size, I need it because of the societal stigma and medical bias around my size. And while that is not my fault, and it does indeed suck that it has become my problem, I am practicing good self care by asking for it anyway. Even if I cried tears of humiliation as I typed the request to my friend.

Wow. That was heavy. On to something a bit lighter. How am I going to get my movement in, now that my favorite thing is off the table for now?

In the meantime, while I wait to see the specialist, I am cleared to walk, and swim and do yoga or stretch. Since I already have a good walking routine going, I hope to continue that, but I need to make some changes now.  Since I don’t have the option of carrying kiddo on my back when he gets tired, it limits the distance I can walk with him, and probably limits trail walks. Anyone with kids knows that 3 year olds’ legs work great..until they don’t. So, hiking with a kid won’t work anymore, for now, but I can still walk to the garden on my own. Now that I’m not lifting in the mornings, I can try to get those walks in before my husband leaves for work.

I have done yoga in the past, but honestly, I have some resistance or a mild aversion to trying it right now.  Maybe that will change later. I realized that while I enjoyed it in the past, now, I tend to associate it with the days when I felt really unhappy with my body and was trying so hard to change the way it looked.  I was a lot thinner then than I am now, but  I was also a lot more unhappy with myself. So maybe that’s why I am not super excited about yoga.

But I knew I could wrap my head around swimming, if I found the right pool. As a child, I loved swimming. I was not good at any other sports, but I really enjoyed swimming so my parents paid for lessons year round (because “hey, whatever gets the fat kid to move” is probably what they thought, but nonetheless, I loved it). I wasn’t planning to join a gym this summer, but I knew I wouldn’t feel great if I didn’t find some form of movement to replace lifting heavy stuff.  And I want to keep myself feeling good.

So today I went to check out a gym with a nice pool and childcare. I have a friend that teaches classes there and I think it will be a good fit. Not only do they have a nice lap pool, it is in a room with lots of natural light, so you don’t feel like you are swimming in a dark, smelly room. They also have a kid’s wading pool so I can bring my kid to play. And a rock climbing wall I can do with him (or rather that he can do with me; I’m scared of heights and probably not cleared for that).

And not for nothing, but I was also pleased with the way the salesperson handled the gym tour and sales pitch with me. I told him what I was there for: “I’m a weight lifter and I am injured and my doctor says I am cleared to swim. So I am interested in the pool and your childcare hours.” And he asked me what kind of weightlifting I did, and I told him I do some powerlifting and some Olympic weightlifting. He showed me exactly what I asked about. He did not try to sell me training packages. He did not push (or even mention) weight loss – which means that he didn’t make assumptions on why I was there based on my size; he actually listened to what I told him about why I was there. When he was showing me the weight room, he said things like “when you are cleared to lift, if you want to do Olympic weightlifting, you can do it here. Here’s where I do power cleans…” And last fall I had such a hard time finding a place to do that. So I am happy.

Check out this sweet lap pool!

Check out this sweet lap pool!

So, I will probably join later this week. It will give me both a place to swim and an activity to do with my kid in the summer. I’m excited about that.

Still very sad about being sidelined, and feeling a bit defeated, but trying to make the best of a shitty situation.

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New Habit: Cardio Conditioning that Requires No Equipment and No Extra Time

Now that my energy levels have improved so much, I am thinking about a new fitness habit to add.

Since I had very slow recovery for so long due to sleep apnea that was yet to be diagnosed, intense cardio exercise had to go, for a while. My body felt better with just lifting and gentle walking and stretching.

Well, now that my sleep apnea is being treated and I have figured out a lifting routine that makes me stronger AND from which I can recover well, I have a lot more energy to go about my day, and I’m thinking of adding another fitness habit.

The outcome I’d like to see

I live in a hilly neighborhood, and I’d like to huff and puff less when climbing the hills. In fitness speak, I’d like to improve my cardiovascular conditioning, or get my body used to having an elevated heart rate again.

The challenges

I have a few challenges/considerations to keep in mind while choosing a goal-supportive habit I can stick to.

  • I don’t have room in my budget for extra equipment, and I have yet to find a sports bra manufactured in my size that is not on back order (so, running is probably not the best choice)
  • I don’t have much wiggle room in my schedule / child care situation to add more exercise without adding a lot of extra stress to my day or compromising my sleep (so, going to a gym or swimming is not a super accessible option for me right now, except perhaps on weekends)
  • I would prefer not to rely heavily on kettlebells, because I already do a lot of lifting that taxes the posterior chain and my lower back muscles are telling me not to add much more.

So, looking at those challenges, I decided that I was going to use what I already have. I live on a hill. Several times a week, I find myself walking up said hill to get back home. At least a couple of those times, my kid is not with me. So during those times when my kid is not with me, instead of walking leisurely up the hill, I am going to walk up the hill at a fast pace, to get my heart rate up.

Though it doesn’t sound like much, I am 95% sure I can do this consistently. If/when I reach a point where it becomes easy, I can then decide whether to keep this up or do something different.

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What’s in My Home Gym (Complete with Non-Instagram-Worthy Photos)

I am asked somewhat often about the gym equipment I have at home. I thought I’d do a quick post, with some unedited, un-posed photos. Because we were all up late at a seder last night, and I couldn’t be bothered to make them look nice.

A 15kg barbell. Commonly known as “the women’s bar” in Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit.

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The white thing next to it is a PVC pipe from Home Depot. My three year old calls it the “ABC pipe.” Used for movement patterning and mobility work. Some people use a broomstick for the same stuff.

Various bumper plates (5kg, 10kg, 15kg, 20kg, 25kg), change plates (.5kg, 1.25kg, 2.5kg, 5kg) and fractional plates (.25kg, .5kg, .75kg, 1kg) to load onto the barbell, and collars to hold them in place.

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A heavy rubber honeycomb mat that stays put and doesn’t slip, and protects my floor. (Note to self: needs washing). Fun fact – the mat itself weighs around 100 lbs. It’s not going anywhere.

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A squat rack that is in two pieces so I can shove it into a corner when it’s not in use.

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A flat bench.

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Chalk. Which I hate the texture of, but my kid loves it and I occasionally catch him playing in it.

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A foam roller and lacrosse balls for recovery work.

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A 20lb kettlebell which I have not used in a while.

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A yoga mat which is mostly used by my kid. Pretty sure a cat barfed on it and it needs washing. (The knife is wooden and it belongs in my kid’s toy kitchen).

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Assistance bands (two different weights). These live in my backpack or in my car. I use them when I go to the park to hang from bars to improve grip strength and shoulder mobility. And maybe one day I might do assisted pull ups with them.

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A doorway pull up bar and a pair of gymnastics rings. I used to do ring rows with these and I haven’t used it in a while. I hesitate to hang from it using bands because I weigh more than the weight limit, but if I do ring rows, my feet are on the floor taking some of the weight.

Sometimes I hang it up and let my kid play on it. He likes to grab the rings and swing.

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My kid’s toy barbell. He got it for his birthday. There was a picture of someone setting up a snatch on the box. I asked my kid “what do you think is inside?” He answered “some guy weightlifting?”

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And there you have it! What’s in my home gym. If you are looking for suggestions for setting up yours, I collected some other links here.

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Ripple Effects – Helping Friends and Growing Things

Yesterday was a great day. I felt great physically and mentally. I had gone to bed by 9:30pm for the prior two nights.

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Ready to take on the day!

One thing I feel really great about was that I was able to spend some time helping a friend who had been in a car accident last week. Kiddo and I went grocery shopping for her, and then I folded some laundry when I got to her house while our kids played together. I feel really satisfied and happy that I was able to do this, not only because it helped my friend, but also because in the past, doing this would have wiped me out and taken a lot of “spoons” for me.

Truth: In past years I have accepted a lot of help from family and sometimes from friends, for basic tasks around my house. Everyone says that is normal when you have a baby, and to be grateful for any help offered to you. And I am very grateful. But part of me always felt guilty accepting the help, because I knew that I would likely not be able to offer similar help to others in the same position, because I didn’t have the energy. So I am really glad to be able to offer help to others now.

Afterwards, kiddo and I walked over to the garden to water. No germination yet. Maybe today we will see some lettuce sprouts.

Another thing I feel great about is that my legs were recovered enough from the prior day’s deadlifts to work some olympic weightlifting technique in the morning….and still feel energetic on my feet throughout the day afterwards! Took my kid to gymnastics, did the grocery shopping for our friend, walked to the garden, walked back home uphill with my tired kid in a carrier….and my legs managed all of it without feeling too spent!

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Three New Habit Ideas for Spring

We are finally getting some spring weather, and I am finding that is making me feel very motivated! I have some ideas for new habits I would like to add to my list:

  • hang from bars at the playground to build pulling strength (if you are interested in building up to doing a pull up, check out the Facebook group Training With Michele Burmaster and once you are approved, search the hashtag #pullupcrew2016.)
  • run a lap around the block or around the reservoir near my home, because I’d like to build some cardiovascular conditioning
  • Try to get to bed by 9:30pm

I find myself tempted to try these all at once. I have to remind myself about all the statistics that say one habit at a time is most likely to succeed. I just started a new habit to work on this weekend so I should probably wait on these.

When I do feel ready to try one, I’m guessing it will probably be the first one (hanging from bars at the playground). The playground that is next to the garden is full of great bars for hanging.

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Lots of pull-up potential

And I wouldn’t need to buy any special equipment for it, unlike running, for which I’d need to pick up some appropriate shoes and bras. I already own some assistance bands to use if I want them. Also, I wouldn’t have think about things like scheduling it around “leg day.” Hanging from some bars wouldn’t conflict much with what I am already doing.

For now, I may start playing with these items, but not setting official goals or really working on them too hard. I got myself to the garden today, so this habit is off to a good start!

Wondering how I figured out which habits to work on? I wrote a series of posts about my process. You can start here.

Wondering how I track my goals? That’s covered in the third post of the series, and also in this post.

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A Great Day!

I had a fantastic day today!

I started off in a really grumpy mood. I hadn’t been to barbell club in a while and I wanted to go alone. But my husband had physical therapy and I was grumpy about bringing my kiddo.

It turned out great though. Kiddo ran off his energy by running laps around the training rig and playing with various balls and jump ropes he found, as well as the dogs that were visiting today, and his lunch, and his toy barbell.

Once I started lifting I felt better. My lifts felt great today and it turned my mood around! I did snatches, clean and jerks, and bench presses. Even though I am only doing olympic lifts once per week now, I felt good about how they went. And my bench press form is improving. Like a real powerlifter with my back arched and my ass off the bench! I also got some tips on setting up a sumo deadlift, which I will try tomorrow when I do my deadlifts.

Afterwards I got to go out by myself. I got a new phone for my birthday and I went to get it activated. I can’t tell whether I am more excited about the new phone or the CPAP machine I am getting on Tuesday.

And then got myself some treats. Something from a local candy shop called a fudge caramallow I think? And some Vietnamese food. I ate them for dinner. Om nom nom. Oh, and a jasmine limeade while I waited for takeout and played with my new phone. (Oh, THAT would be why I still have so much energy this late at night. The green tea in the limeade…)

I am excited to go watch a weightlifting competition tomorrow! It will be my first competition I am watching in person (as opposed to online).