BACK TO BASICS Determining and Defining ‘The Fine Line’

Susan is a 5 time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

Susan is a 5 time Figure Champion and mom of 2.

By Susan Arruda

Training and a healthy lifestyle are an essential component of my life and well-being, as it is for anyone pursuing health, fitness and overall wellness.  I've been physically active for 35 years and still going strong.  Pitfalls, discouragement, time restraints, fatigue, injuries have all come and indubitably provided resistance and challenge of a different sort (the weight training challenge is much easier, in comparison). Yes, I get tired of fighting but there really isn't any other viable option. Settling, complacency and the many consequences that accompany inactivity are things that make me cringe, so I continue to fight the good fight of fitness, much like many of you! I love to eat, I want to look good and I want to feel good in my own skin!

Back To Basics: For me that means hitting the iron! My first priority in training and what helped me to develop my physique was first & foremost, weight training, although that is certainly not exclusive to what I do. A little bit of background: I fell in love with physical fitness through a gymnastics unit in Phys. Ed. class back when I was 10/11 years old (gr. 5, I think), faithfully did T.V aerobics back in the day (It Figures with Charlene Prickett was an inspirational pioneer in her field and a role model), learned to swim in my high school years (prompted by an embarrassing near drowning episode in swim class), began weight training at my local YMCA in my mid-teens after coming across Joe Weider's fitness magazines and becoming inspired with the beautiful and beautifully sculpted physique of Gladys Portuguese. I incorporated water training in my late teen years, unfortunately due to injuries as a result of ignorance! My competition years provided me with a resurge in desire to push myself to achieve bigger and more specific goals.  I gained confidence, learned to perform under pressure and created some impressive and fun routines (with Marco's help and coaching) and created some highly memorable moments in my history.

MY PASSION FOR ACHIEVING PERSONAL FITNESS GOALS OF SCULPTING A LEAN, STRONG PHYSIQUE

Thankfully, I have always been passionate, self-motivated and driven to push my body to "my limits" and to be the best me that I can be.  Strong attributes, but there can also be some drawbacks. Yes, passion and determination are required elements to succeed and reach your goals; that is the DNA of a champion, no doubt about it. However, pushing yourself to the max can lead to injuries (especially with aging, insufficient sleep, etc.) and knowing "the fine line" isn't so easy for those of us who are intent on striving for progress, better, and more. 

I have gone through many seasons of training; build, burn, maintenance, etc., amidst also battling the plague of injury, be it knees, shoulders, hamstrings, etc. Trying new activities is fun, it can help push you past a plateau, keeps things interesting, but it can also bring with it a greater chance of injury if you're not careful  (depending on the activity and risk factor involved). I must say, my most favourite, maximized gifts of all-time are usually fitness equipment. Several years ago, Marco presented me with, not one, but two bosu ballsand I've had such a fun, creative time learning how to use them to the max.
I learned the hard way that the smaller muscles that get challenged as they do with some aspects of bosu training, should be trained more sporadically, and not every day. 

I consider myself a master of pushing through and in many cases, not necessarily listening to my body, but instead, training with the motto of "come hell or high water, just do it!" Stubborn persistence can be an admirable trait, but it in some cases, it can be plain, dumb!  It can certainly wear down your body and put you in a vulnerable state for injury, and worse, exacerbate injuriesyou may already have and refuse to nurse because "taking time off" or consecutive off days, are simply not an option.  Many elite athletes and fitness enthusiasts are faced with this strong drive and determination to achieve which can blur the lines of taking a pass on a workout. I got so good at not making excuses and living the "just do it," motto and ignoring the constant signs your body tries to clue you into: injuries that won't go away, or are constantly recurring, fatigue, loss of motivation and joy in doing what you once loved, more susceptible to illness, etc..., and the list goes on...

BACK TO BASICS - WEIGHT TRAINING FOUNDATIONS
The fact of the matter is, resistance training transforms bodies more quickly and effectively than anything else! In my own experience, I have found weight training to be the most effective way to sculpt, tone, shape, burn fat and offset the natural decline associated with aging! Did you know that, according to research from the American College of Sports Medicine, many bodily functions start to decline at a rate of 2% after the age of 30, but with exercise, this aging process is slowed down to one half % per year?! As an example, a 90 year old who exercises would have lost only 30% of functional ability compared to a whopping 60% as a non-exerciser.  Training with resistance burns a significant amount of calories and increases thermogenesis; the body's fat burning ability and potential. Lean muscle tissue is metabolically active, burns calories and will transform you into a fat-burning machine. Don't get me wrong, I am an avid promotor of cross training and mixing it up, but I have discovered that sometimes when you hit a rut, it is definitely a time to reevaluate, and perhaps take things back to your roots; the training that your body responds to most favorably. I still promote mixing it up, but instead, give a higher priority and devote the bulk of your training time to what works most effectively for you. Hands down, for me, that is undoubtedly, weight training! You can achieve simultaneous benefits; a high aerobic/cardio effect simultaneously while building lean tissue. That is the best bang for maximizing your time and results! By combining a countless variety of training methods, (see the Weider Principles article) boredom and stagnation can be completely avoided.

TOUGH QUESTIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS TO HELP YOU DEFINE THE "FINE LINE"

DOES THE RISK OF THIS EXERCISE OUTWEIGH THE BENEFIT?
I have come to the realization that as much as I want to keep learning and progressing in fitness, I don't want to do it at the expense of sustaining an injury. There are few things that beat the feeling of accomplishing a challenge, that’s for sure! Being able to successfully perform strength moves on the bosu was a great thrill for me! The fact of the matter is, injuries take a whole lot longer to heal as you age, as many of you are so acutely aware of, so weigh out the pros and cons carefully.

ARE YOU SLEEP DEPRIVED?
Exercising on 5-6 hours of sleep is a challenge at the best of times;  toss in some high-intensity and/or high challenging training and you're just asking for it, so to speak. Your strength is diminished as a result, your immune system is generally weaker, your balance is affected and if you must train, make it a maintenance, lower intensity workout in order to steer clear of injuries, or consider taking a pass. This can be a tough one for constantly sleep deprived moms (I lived it and I know!) so do your best to strike a balance for the season you're in.

WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO ACHIEVE?
If you're not trying to get into the cirque du soleil, then perhaps that contorted, advanced yoga move shouldn't be attempted. (Although, yes, admittedly, I would love to nail it, lol!)


LEARNING A NEW "HIGH RISK" SPORT.
Is it a good idea to learn gymnastics and take on higher risk sports and associated skills as an adult? Probably not. I would have loved to have been a gymnast but that just wasn't in the cards for me due to circumstances beyond my control in my childhood. When I daughter was enrolled in a recreational gymnastics course, my passion for the sport was once again ignited when I discovered they were offering a class specifically for adults. I decided to capitalize and signed on. Well, I always knew that gymnastics was ideal for the young athlete and although I wasn't "old," per se, and I did learn some great skills, my dream of performing back handsprings and aerials was laid to rest after a slight injury to my back (hey, at least I was smart enough to leave it alone).
Downhill skiing is another sport that you may not want to consider embarking on as an adult (yes, I do have a few horror stories in this area as well; sigh). Cross country skiing can be equally as challenging for both a cardiovascular and muscular workout, but alas, the adrenalin falls a bit short, in comparison.  Consider this, however;  a shoulder tear, or even worse, can be the result of bracing for a fall.  Let's go back and ask ourselves again here, "does the risk outweigh the benefits?"

DO YOU KNOW YOUR LIMITS AND ARE YOU WILLING TO STAY WITHIN THEM?
Generally, yes, I'm pretty good about knowing my limits but many people either go way too far or they don't strive high or hard enough. You want to be able to push yourself in order to continue to make gains, yet remain injury free. Factor in the variables and either go for it, or pull in the reins and hold back if you must, but do continue to strive for progress and gains or maintenance; all of which require work. One incident of perhaps pushing myself too hard comes to mind; several years ago I did the CN tower fund raiser climb and being in my 40's was intent on continuing to maintain my time of climbing 1,7077 steps in less than 15 minutes as I had done in past years. Well, I did accomplish the task but it took at least 20 minutes for my heart rate to come back down. :-? But I got a t-shirt... I accomplished my goal and I did it!

ARE YOU SICK?
It should go without saying that if you're ill with a fever, training is not wise. Exercising with a fever does not help you get rid of your fever, but it certainly can further weaken your immune system and keep you sick longer.  If it has been consecutive days and you're going a bit "stir crazy," perform some brief, light activity such as walking, stretching, or relaxing yoga (not ashtanga yoga). Definitely avoid the "come hell or high-water, I'm going to just do it" motto.

REHAB VS TESTING:
Ever had an injury you were in the process of rehabilitating and you then take it upon yourself to "test" it by putting yourself through the exercise or activity that aggravated it, far sooner than you should have, or you simply ignored your sports therapist or trainer's advice. Ahem (clearing my throat here)… Our instant gratification era can be, in part, to blame as well as our addiction to those ‘feel good’ endorphins,  but giving your body adequate time to recover is far better than going at it sooner than you should and prolonging the situation. I'm not saying this is easy, especially for all you (and me) fitness die-hards, but doing so will ensure your rehab time doesn't double, triple, or even plague you for years to come! Get sound, smart therapy and advice and be sure to follow it to avoid delays and further discouragement! (Yep, I’m sure you guessed it; been there, done that!)

PAST INJURIES:
Any injury that you have sustained at one time or another puts you at a disadvantage.  It is a weakness that can resurface when you're in a weakened state or if you push your body to the max. If the injury is sustained in more mature years (30, 40, 50+), greater healing time is required which means a longer layoff. Consider the life-span of an athletic career. There is a very valid reason why football, hockey, baseball players, etc. have a short lived professional career.  I have certainly found this to be truth in my own experience. I sustained knee issues in my late teens and have had to be mindful of high impact movements and exercising both moderation and low impact options (cross-training) as a result. This is one big reason I am very adamant in promoting PT (personal training) for teens and those new to exercise. Seek knowledge, invest in yourself and especially in your children, as doing so, will help to ensure you learn how to perform exercises properly and stay injury free from the get-go; hindsight is 20/20 and many who have gone through this harsh route of learning the hard way, will wholeheartedly agree!

DO YOU KNOW ENOUGH TO STOP?
When I look back and consider what I used to be like compared to where I am now with respect to implementing this simple strategy, I am leaps and bounds ahead, thanks largely in part to the school of hard knocks. I used to plough through the tweaks and indicators that I had pulled something during a workout.  Stubborn persistence is great in the right areas, but implemented wrongly, can hinder and hurt you.  I am now at the point of listening cautiously and carefully and taking great heed in this area.  The moment I feel something not quite right, I stop immediately and deviate! Cheers to celebrating progress!

IS IT REALLY TRUE?
A motivator I once came across on FB comes to mind: It read, "You will never regret a workout."  I have to disagree!  I have had more than my fair share of workouts that resulted in injury, and yes, I did ultimately regret the decision to workout that day. Knowing when to take a pass is equally as important as a workout, in some cases. Learning the hard way, as in two steps forward, one step back, is a tough season I went through and I hope, through the information and experiences I have shared, will help you to avoid altogether.


As I finish off this article, Marco asks me, "are you going to listen to your own advice?"  Hmm... I ponder, lol. I'm a work in progress and am definitely working on it;-)