You're a delicate flower. You got in shape. Tell me about yourself.
August 16, 2017 9:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm a couch potato at heart, but I'm interested in working out and getting in actually good shape. Trouble is, every time I've really set out to commit to an activity that I like, I've injured myself, spent a month or two in physical therapy, and stopped exercising. Can you recommend a strategy or an activity for me that will stretch me physically, but won't injure my apparently fragile self? Details and snowflakes within.

Things I have loved doing included aerial yoga - but somehow I injured my neck doing it and set off a vertigo spell that had me bedridden and being tested for Lupus, MS, and brain tumors. Physical therapy ended up helping, but of course I didn't go back to aerial. Next thing I enjoyed was weightlifting, carefully, with a trainer watching my form - and I still tweaked my back and was off work for a week. Then I tried going back to regular yoga, but most recently I triggered the same vertigo issue trying a headstand and sent myself to PT for another month.

It's not a hundred percent surprising to me that I'm injury-prone; I have a genetic history of autoimmune disorders and odd physical sensitivities, and other family members have needed to be really specific about the ways they exercise. I personally have learned that I'm hypermobile in my lower back and have an old neck injury that probably isn't helpful in terms of the vertigo stuff. I'm feeling pretty frustrated, though, and would be curious to see if there are other folks who've needed to shop around for a type of exercise that works well for their particularly picky physical needs. Also, I'm afraid that I'm Doing It Wrong, making all of this up, making excuses, etc.

Things I dislike: going to the gym without a particular plan. Running (it felt awful and I was awful at it, but I'd be willing to give it another go). Things that will maintain the shape I'm currently in, but not improve it (walking, maybe?? Or maybe I need to walk smarter and/or faster and/or more?).

Things I need to be careful with AFAIK: anything involving inversion or heavy pressure on my neck/shoulders. And I guess deadlifting.

Things I have liked: yoga, aerial/circus stuff, dance, hiking kind of even though it makes me want to die and I'd like to not feel that way.

Thanks so much for reading!
posted by fast ein Maedchen to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Swimming sounds like it would be a good fit.
posted by quaking fajita at 9:32 AM on August 16, 2017 [11 favorites]

I started getting back spasms, and my doc prescribed a regimen of stretches and exercises. They've really helped my back, but I had to add the 7-minute workout to get the aerobic exercise. It's intense, but balanced and easy to fit in every day.
posted by rikschell at 9:38 AM on August 16, 2017

+1 swimming.
posted by TrinsicWS at 9:39 AM on August 16, 2017

If you have the money and can find such a person, then a few sessions with an extremely well-trained and experienced yoga instructor who could design a safe routine just for you would be great. You could then make a tape of the routine so that you could do it yourself once you know how to do the moves safely.
posted by hazyjane at 9:40 AM on August 16, 2017

Recumbent or semi-recumbent stationary bike might work for you--it's low impact.

Also it sounds like you don't have a really clear definition of what it means to you to "get in shape"--what you're specifically targeting. You're doing things that, while all useful in some way, all affect different aspects of physical health. Weight-lifting isn't going to improve cardiac conditioning or flexibility. Yoga can improve muscle strength, but it's a fairly inefficient way of going about it, and won't do much for cardiac conditioning. etc. What is it you're after?
posted by praemunire at 9:42 AM on August 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

What about figure skating? Freestyle (jumps, spins) has a lot of similar elements to aerial, but no inversions. Ice dance is great too, very elegant and flowing and powerful, with less risk. You do need to have good balance, but it seems less likely to trigger the vertigo if you have it under control.
posted by serelliya at 9:52 AM on August 16, 2017

Swimming's gentleness, plus dance and circus = synchronized swimming!
posted by xo at 9:54 AM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

A good trainer will design a program around any limitation you may have. Might look for one that has PT experience.
posted by tman99 at 9:55 AM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Swimming again.

Did you go straight from 0 to aerial yoga? 0 to weightlifting that needs a spotter? Because even headstands in regular yoga seems really advanced. Is it possible you're not building up your ability before jumping into advanced classes? That could be an issue.

And if it's available in your area, try fencing. It's a hell of a workout; my individual lessons were only 20-25 minutes long. Also, Pilates seems like it would be right up your alley.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:00 AM on August 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

Walking was the best exercise for me. The best part was that it didn't feel like "exercise," because I was just going somewhere without wheels. I walked everywhere time and geography allowed, building up to 5+ miles on an average day. I had leg muscles to be proud of.

I'm actually in kind of the same boat as you now, having trouble with some of the bones in my right foot, not able to walk like I used to, and not fitting into my good clothes.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:03 AM on August 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Not abusing the edit window to add that I can't think of anyone I knew that was ever really injured fencing, except maybe the highest level and Olympics-bound athletes had some issues.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:04 AM on August 16, 2017

I might also respectfully observe that, for a delicate flower, you're hitting your limits doing some rather ambitious stuff. Aerial yoga? Headstands? Um, what? There is a whole lot of yoga that doesn't get anywhere close to that level of risk.

Also re: your lifting injury--I have lifted weights for the past several years, and the thing that injures folks who otherwise have good form, and particularly spotting for good form, is just plain exceeding your personal capacity.

I am not in any way, shape, or form a delicate flower. However I have had to build my fitness from essentially zero ten years ago and have come a very long way in that time. My advice to you is: slow the heck down. Accept where you are, physically; start there, and push your limits gently. When you keep up with the gentle pushing, that's how you advance. There is no shame whatsoever in doing that. Pushing too hard lands you in exactly the jam you've described: injuries and setbacks that linger for way longer than you'd hope.

As for specific suggestions:

If you like yoga, take yoga, but start at beginner and don't race yourself to anything sophisticated.

If you like water exercise, the swimming/synchronized swimming suggestions are great. There are also other options for water exercise--aerobics, deep water workouts, etc. Check out what your local pool offers.

Finally, how about just walking, and variations thereof. Hiking?
posted by Sublimity at 10:07 AM on August 16, 2017 [28 favorites]

private Pilates lessons! They've been life-changing for me.
posted by bookworm4125 at 10:12 AM on August 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you liked the physio work, then I would second Pilates. You may have to try a few teachers to find one you click with, but the teacher whose classes I like best feel like doing physio for your whole body, not just the injured part.
posted by kyla at 10:34 AM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not abusing the edit window to add that I can't think of anyone I knew that was ever really injured fencing, except maybe the highest level and Olympics-bound athletes had some issues.

If you're super delicate and easily injure your neck and shoulders, the heavy masks you wear for fencing might be a problem. Also, fencing can involve a lot of bruises, which might be a problem for the OP.
posted by FencingGal at 10:38 AM on August 16, 2017

Fencing can load up the knees. I cannot fence anymore after my ACL repairs.

I suggest walking. Mix it with stretching.

No competition, very little expense, easy to measure. The drawback is that it does not burn a lot of calories so you have to walk a long time/distance. Once you can walk for 10 miles or so you can upgrade to hiking, speed walking, etc.
posted by pdoege at 10:45 AM on August 16, 2017

Nthing swimming and pilates.

Also you might like indoor rock climbing (belaying) as it's challenging but doesn't stress the back or neck.
posted by ananci at 10:58 AM on August 16, 2017

as it's challenging but doesn't stress the back or neck

I would contest that. I love climbing, but I have tweaked my back while climbing, and belaying is definitely a strain on the neck if you're doing it right and actually watching the other climber. One can build up to this, but it's an element of the sport.

OP, I second the walking and easy yoga suggestions: you need to start slow.
posted by suelac at 11:11 AM on August 16, 2017

Pilates made me incredibly strong and flexible. It also doesn't have the high-risk poses that yoga has. The machine classes are very spendy, but floor/mat Pilates is great and the classes are much easier to swing financially. It was an exercise method designed to help dancers rehab after injury, so it could be a good fit for you. You may also want to try barre classes.
posted by quince at 11:15 AM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with those saying you should try slower, more anodyne types of exercise to see if they're less aggravating to you. I am certain if I tried aerial yoga I'd give myself several grave injuries inside 7 minutes of the class starting.

Since you say you'd be willing to give running another go, I'll note I used to haaaaaaaaaaaaaate running (couldn't stand more than 10 seconds of it) and by building up short jogs over time, grew to really like it. I'm a ponderously slow runner, to this day, and really don't care - I like being outside and the movement feels good to me at this point.

At easy training levels where you're not covering dozens of miles in a week, but are maybe heading out for a couple of miles at a stretch, a lot of people can more or less completely mitigate their risk of injury with proper warm-ups, cool downs, and basic stretching (your health may vary, of course.) I like mixing it up with classes here and there at the gym, enjoy yoga, and have intermittently tried to pick up weightlifting, but running is the primary exercise I keep coming back to. Just a data point.
posted by superfluousm at 11:17 AM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Couple things. In general, the fact that you tried a headstand as a yoga beginner with a history of neck injury makes me think you need to... ease up and think carefully about what you're doing. You know? Don't be afraid to tell a trainer "that's not for me." Make sure anyone you work with knows your history.

And trainers aren't doctors. I had a trainer suggest jumping on a trampoline as a way of avoiding aggravating a foot injury I had; she was right about the foot part, but what she didn't know was that trampoline-jumping was a nice shortcut to aggravating a muscle tension problem in the back of my legs that nearly ruptured my Achilles tendon.

My point: I would talk to the doctor who treated your neck before you start ANY course of exercise. In fact, talk to them even before you start swimming - which for most people would be the obvious answer - because a crawl stroke does involve a repetitive motion of the neck, and I'd want to run it by the doctor who understands your injury history, first.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:41 AM on August 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

You could be me. I've been doing pilates using the reformer machines, and it's been amazing. I started with a rehabilitative pilates instructor, doing private lessons, because I had some pregnancy-related issues, and then added group classes. It's the only exercise that I don't hate.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:45 AM on August 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

One of the keys with keeping up a routine is schedule. So, for instance, doing stretching exercises with a certain radio program at a certain time every day. A lot of avoiding injury is building strength. Start slow and build.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:59 PM on August 16, 2017

Additional votes for swimming and pilates, but have you considered cycling? You don't have to go full lycra straight away, but a good long cycle is my favourite way to clear my mind and get in a good workout.

Also, I'm going through a real running phase after finishing couch to 5k. As mentioned upthread, I approach it as more of a meditative practice, and I love that all I have to do is wake up, throw on some pants and shoes, and go without any particular expectations. Maybe you could give running another go?

Edited to add: I have godawful knees and rheumatoid arthritis and fenced A LOT in university, but never really had an issue with injuries. I did, however, sustain some truly hellacious bruises, particularly in the armpit area, even through a plastron, but that might be related to doing epee with 18 year olds. I loved fencing and would gladly go back to it any time.
posted by nerdfish at 1:24 PM on August 16, 2017


I lost like 50 pounds riding since 2012, and am in nearly the best shape of my life at 47. Granted, I got aggressive about getting faster, but you don't have to take that path. The bonus for me has been the social aspect of it -- I almost never have to do it alone, because there are scheduled rides in my town I can join almost any day of the week. It takes some legwork to find those rides, but most of them have been super welcoming IME, and larger ones break up into pace groups to accommodate a broader range of riders.
posted by uberchet at 1:26 PM on August 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks all so much for the comprehensive (and rapid) answers. I definitely agree and recognize that I tend to push myself too hard, too fast - one reason I've stayed away from things like Crossfit, for example. The sneaky thing about my neck stuff is that I can't tell I've pushed too hard until I wake up the day after.

To clarify what I mean by "getting in shape," I want to improve my cardiovascular health, get stronger, burn fat, and gain muscle. I know those goals are really general, so right now mainly what I'm looking for is "a form of exercise I can do habitually without sneakily hurting myself."

Thanks again for the answers! I'm hoping to check back in here in a few months and write down whatever's been working for me, for delicate overambitious flowers of the future.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 1:30 PM on August 16, 2017

Seconding that you could be me! I would recommend checking out barre classes - low impact, small movements, take a break whenever you need, and highly structured.
posted by vacuumsealed at 5:16 PM on August 18, 2017

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