Weight, weight, don't tell me...
October 22, 2007 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Cardio isn't doing it for me. The diet change is working verrry slowly, but I want to lose 10 pounds. Problem is, I can't lift anything heavier than 15 pounds, so is weight training even an option?

Long story short: I was born with a hole on either side of my spine around where my shoulder blades are. My father and grandfather also have this same defect. I used to do Golden Gloves boxing when I was 21, and hurt myself pretty badly by straining a muscle one day. Because of the holes, when I strain a muscle in my shoulders, it swells INTO the hole, not outward, making a squeaking noise every time I move. The pain is excruciating and it typically (in the two times I've stupidly managed to do this) takes 2-3 months to heal. Bonus: I'm allergic to painkillers of all kinds, except Darvocet, and even on that I wake at night crying from the pain when I'm "squeaking". So definitely, absolutely NO free weights larger than small dumbbells for me. The doctor said specifically that I am banned from lifting ANYTHING heavier than 15 lbs. above my head... ever.

I keep hearing and reading that weight training plus cardio is the only effective workout. I've been doing hours upon hours of cardio for almost a decade now and can't seem to break a certain weight barrier. I regularly work out for up to two hours at the gym doing the elliptical, stairs, rowing machine, treadmill, stationary bike, even a few of the weight machines. I've cut back my calories, but want to build muscle in order to help break my fitness plateau. What do I do? Kettlebells? Resistance bands? Help! I'm fairly destitute, so cheaper is better (i.e. a video workout and implements are yay, classes are boo). My main goal is to avoid hurting myself and improve my overall fitness, so if you have a DIY method, even better.
posted by Unicorn on the cob to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You don't need weight training. You can lose weight with diet and cardio alone. Hell, you can do it with diet alone, but that's a little worse for your metabolism. It's a gradual process, and plateaus are normal (and don't last forever). While yes, weight training is nice, it is not necessary to lose weight.
posted by knave at 3:11 PM on October 22, 2007

Can you lift weights with your legs? The big muscles in your thighs have a much greater effect on your metabolism than anything in your upper body. Squats would be ideal if you can support the weight across your shoulders (I assume deadlifts would be out, but I'm not sure I'm understanding your limitations, exactly.) Even bodyweight squats, lunges, that sort of thing would help build those muscles. It won't make you look like a bodybuilder, but it'll help your metabolism.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:21 PM on October 22, 2007

yea, as it's often said, you lose weight when calories in <>
With your birth defect, kettleballs are a no, too. I would focus on body weight exercises, like pushups, pullups, etc. Are these okay? Ask your doc. If these are okay, try looking at Crossfit. All of the crossfit routines are mainly body weight based.

Also, try interval training. 2 hours on the elliptical is monotonous. If you want to turbo charge your metabolism, run like hell for 30 seconds, the jog for 30 seconds, etc. This was a huge boost for me. I got a better work out in 15 minutes than an hour on the stationary bike.

You might also try seriously training for something, like a marathon.
posted by unexpected at 3:24 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, it's just the arm/shoulder area that's a no-no. But, as you might expect, with all the cross-training I do in the gym, my legs are big already.

I had a guy follow me around a bar one night stuttering about how he's always had a thing for female soccer players, if you can imagine. Hell, I can barely buy boots because my legs are so muscular!

Run like hell then jog, eh? I might try that. I also have pretty serious asthma, so running is something I've always tried to avoid, too. The longest I've ever successfully run without triggering an attack was six minutes. I had to change gyms because I was so humiliated after the attack, though. (I'd left my inhaler in my locker and was trying to sign-language my way out of an ambulance ride...)
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:27 PM on October 22, 2007

How about resistance training in a pool?
posted by spec80 at 3:40 PM on October 22, 2007

It also sounds like you might be at the dreaded "last 10 pounds" - that is always the hardest part. You may just be stuck with doing the slow diet thing.

Is it specifically above-the-head movements? Are curls and tricep presses out too? What about lifting stuff off the ground (like, deads and stiff-legged deads?) What about pulling down from overhead (pullups, or just lat pulldowns?)
posted by restless_nomad at 3:46 PM on October 22, 2007

It sounds like your workouts have been focused on quantity, and what you really need is quality. I have done your workouts before--I did triathlons, I did a half-Ironman, I worked out for hours and hours. But the body fat never really quit.

Now I focus on quality. My workouts never take more than an hour. I do Crossfit (though right now I'm out on injury). Use the BrandX scaling, it's linked in the "Start Here" section on the sidebar. Study the exercises, start slow, and be careful with yourself.

If you want really simple, you can also use SimpleFit--Crossfit, but much simpler and with bodyweight exercises.

Do you do long slow cardio or intervals? Interval training has been shown in multiple studies to be far more effective than long bouts of cardio. Interval training releases fat-burning hormones (forgot the medical term) that long cardio does not. Try this interval training program. The workouts are very short, but they will kick your butt. Your workouts should be kicking your butt. Going at it for two hours says you're training endurance, you're not training fat burning.

Finally, most of weight loss, especially fat loss, is diet. Diet diet diet. You won't learn good fitness routines from bodybuilders, but they know their shit about cutting body fat. You need a high protein, high good-fat, low-carb diet. Something like the Zone, which has a 40-30-30 carb-protein-fat calorie split, with your carbs coming primarily from low-glycemic carbs.

I found it so difficult to lose weight in my triathlon days. When I started exercising again after a break and switched from my high-carb triathlon regimen to the Zone diet and starting doing high-intensity work like interval training or Crossfit, I was flabbergasted at how quickly the weight came off and the strength went up. It was amazing.
posted by Anonymous at 4:27 PM on October 22, 2007

There's the option of more reps with lighter weights. Start out with maybe 3lb dumbbells, graduate to five, eight, ten, and twelve if your workout ever gets too easy. But switching the types of exercises you do should help you avoid that. Instead of focusing on doing about say, 2-3 sets of ten reps, do 2 sets of twenty with the lower weight.

It's a sort of 'slow and steady wins the race' approach, but it should help.
posted by cmgonzalez at 4:48 PM on October 22, 2007

Even if you can't lift weights, you can still strengthen and increase overall fitness with those rubber stretch bands. Plus, if it's only a weight restriction, low-weight, high rep training will help you with your endurance.

You might also consider accupuncture for pain relief and as a way to stimulate your metabolism. Completely drug free, and quite effective.
posted by beezy at 4:58 PM on October 22, 2007

Run swimming by your doctor. There are strokes that are fairly low stress on your shoulders (though flexibility is important) but will give the rest of your muscles a pretty good workout. You'll need to read up on it though, as there are plenty of other strokes that put lots of force on your shoulders. You can really build up your leg muscles if you do kick-only swimming, as well, but that gets exhausting quickly.
posted by Benjy at 5:20 PM on October 22, 2007

I think after your legs, your lats are the biggest muscle you can work out. Bigger muscles have a greater effect on metabolic rate, so if your doctor lets you do pulldowns, I'd try that as well.

I've lost about 10 pounds in the last two weeks just switching to salads for lunch (instead of pizza/burger/chinese) and very moderately exercising. Next week, I give up beer. But I started 25 pounds overweight, and the first pounds are easiest to lose.
posted by bashos_frog at 5:48 PM on October 22, 2007

I lost 10 pounds the last 13 days doing the Atkins diet. If your goal is to lose weight, try the Atkins -- no or low carb diet. If your goal is to lose weight and keep it off, cardio and diet modification are the way to go.

If you can get a copy of this book at your library, I highly recommend it. Great workout without weights. These are intense but short workouts
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:07 PM on October 22, 2007

Yeah, if I were you I would get a clear idea of what exactly you can't do. You can't strain the muscles near your spine between your shoulder blades? The traps? The rhomboids? I don't think deltoids (shoulder muscles) touch the spine, but don't take my word for it. Are you allowed to lift a box of books and carry it upstairs?

If for example the "trapezius" muscle is the one that falls into the hole, then you can do all kinds of weightlifting for other parts of your body. You can do back extensions with weight, to strengthen your lower back. Squats for your quads, glutes and lower back. Pullups for your lats and biceps (although pullups also slightly affect the back of your shoulder, but I don't think they affect the muscle between the shoulder blades near the spine.) Dips will strengthen your triceps, chest and front shoulders. You can do situps with weight, or "L-pullups" where do you do pull-ups with your legs straight out horizontal. Anyway I would ask a sports doctor which exercises are safe, and then maybe ask a couple of body-builders as well. Body-builders always know which exercises affect exactly which muscles.
posted by creasy boy at 10:42 PM on October 22, 2007

Note: resistance bands or kettle-bells won't make a difference; you can strain muscles with resistance, whether with dumbells, kettle-bells, or resistance bands. The form the resistance takes doesn't matter. What matters is which muscles you're straining.
posted by creasy boy at 10:48 PM on October 22, 2007

Response by poster: Okay, argh, I do interval training. I do, say, 10 minutes sprinting as hard as I can on the elliptical, then 20 minutes of stationary bike, then 10 on the rowing machine... I vary resistance and time on each machine as I go through the gym and never do the same workout twice.

As far as my injury stuff goes, I just can't do ANYTHING that might strain a muscle in my upper back or shoulders.

I think I am going to try the crossfit and the interval training links listed here... and I'm doing FitDay now, so I'm watching what I eat, for sure.

I wish I could do Atkins, but to be honest, my BF is repulsed by meat and if I did that he'd never touch me with a 10 foot pole. Besides, I'm sure I would gain it all back... yeah, last 10 lbs. is a pain, for sure.

I was quite a bit thinner last year, but that was because I was depressed after my divorce and wasn't eating. Then I fell in love and gained the honeymoon weight, pretty much!

Oh well. Can't have it all, can we?
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:11 AM on October 23, 2007

If you try crossfit, you should keep in mind: doing handstand-pushups will likely be the exact same as lifting weight over your head, just upside down.
posted by creasy boy at 11:19 AM on October 23, 2007

God don't do CrossFit with a birth defect like that! Are you nuts? You have asthma, an allergy to painkillers, and a really crazy-sounding birth defect that can cause you serious pain with any heavy shoulder work. This is not the kind of thing that you should mess around with. The only crossfit workout days I do that don't involve me lifting more than 15 pounds over my head are the days I run. Seriously, people are just warning against handstand pushups? What about overhead squats, presses, pullups, cleans... Frankly I cannot imagine a less suitable workout routine for someone with your particular limitations.
You should really find a qualified trainer (physical therapist?) of some sort to help you work with your limitations to set up a program. This will probably not be easy because qualified trainers can be pretty damn hard to find. But really, those last 10 pounds are not worth the kind of pain you describe.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:18 PM on October 23, 2007

I do interval training. I do, say, 10 minutes sprinting as hard as I can on the elliptical, then 20 minutes of stationary bike, then 10 on the rowing machine... I vary resistance and time on each machine as I go through the gym and never do the same workout twice.

But that's not really interval training. If you have an exertion scale of 1-10, interval training is sustaining levels 8-10 levels of exertion for a period of time, then resting--and you can't sustain a level 10 exertion for 10 minutes. You need to shorten the intervals. As it is you're just doing hard cardio. You have to think of it has a whole bunch of sprints. "Sprinting" does not happen for ten minutes straight.
posted by Anonymous at 8:19 PM on October 23, 2007

Response by poster: Schroedinger, that's a good point. I'm going to try alternating running and walking 90-second intervals for 30 minutes three times a week and see how that does, then gradually work my way up from there. And small weights with lots of repetitions!!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:52 AM on October 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

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