While I’ve been training consistently the last few months it seems I have had to deal with one injury after another. I’ve had issues with my always wonky lower back, hip pain, knee issues and shoulder injuries. I’m used to dealing with the lower back and knee issues. This time it was my shoulders, specifically my left shoulder, my good shoulder that caused me to change up how I was working out.
I’m still not sure what I did to it. I simply started noticing discomfort each time I tried to bench or do pullups. That discomfort suddenly became agonizing pain. I was sure I had torn something, probably a rotator cuff. Fortunately I was able to work around it and keep going. I rested the shoulder and focused on lower body exercises and conditioning. Thankfully I am feeling pretty good now and this week have started going all out again.
When I started this blog one of the goals I set was to complete the Crossfit workout Murph as prescribed. At that time I had never done the workout but felt it was a good measuring stick for conditioning. I hoped at that time to be able to complete it in under 45 minutes.
This workout is named after Navy Seal Lieutenant Michael Murphy who died in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. He was killed while heroically moving into an exposed area so that he could transmit a call into headquarters to get support for his team. The workout was one of his favorites and he used to call it Body Armor.
The workout is as follows:
- 1 mile run
- 100 pull-ups
- 200 push-ups
- 300 squats
- 1 mile run
- The pull-ups, push-ups and squats can be partitioned any way you want.
- The entire workout is done while wearing a 20 lb weighted vest or body armor.
I have not run further than a tenth of a mile in longer than I can remember due to my knee issues. I use a Schwinn Airdyne in place of running in most of my workouts now. But I woke up yesterday morning determined to do the workout as prescribed and that included the running. I knew I had to take a slightly slower pace on the run and be very careful with each stride.
Here is a breakdown of how the workout went:
- My strategy was to do each mile run in around 10 minutes and complete the calisthenics in around 20 minutes. This would leave me 5 minutes of cushion if I needed it in order to finish in under 45 minutes.
- 1 mile run – completed in 10 minutes. My knee started bothering me at around half of a mile in and bothered me throughout the workout.
- I broke down the calisthenics to 20 rounds of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats.
- It took me 21 minutes to complete the 20 rounds.
- The pull-ups were very inconsistent. I knew they would be as I have never been much better than OK at these. I have improved lately but the 20 lb vest definitely adds a good bit of difficulty to these and even though I have been training with the vest I wasn’t prepared for the volume. I did some of the reps strict, some of them kipping and a lot of them with reduced range of motion.
- The push-ups were my best movement. Once again, I knew this would be the case. I have always been pretty good at these and like the pull-ups have been training with the vest.
- Due to my knee bothering me I struggled with the squats. This was unexpected as I am pretty strong at body-weight or air squats. I was able to complete them but wasn’t happy with the depth I was getting.
- 1 mile run- completed in 11 minutes. I wasn’t upset with this time as once again, I knew I would be slow in the runs and also anticipated the second run being slower than the first.
- 42 minutes total.
Overall I was pleased with my performance. I did not anticipate my knee bothering me like it did. I had been experimenting with my stride for a while to be able to run without aggravating the knee. Unfortunately I don’t think I was consistent with my stride and this was probably the culprit. It needed to be perfect and wasn’t. For me this workout was about testing my conditioning more than anything else and in that respect I was very pleased.
- I need to work harder on my pull-ups.
- I need to have a more consistent stride while running.
- I will have to wear a knee brace while doing this next time to give my knee some support.
- I am pleased with the time and will attempt to have better quality reps when I perform this again over Memorial Day weekend.
From March of 2018 till February of 2019 the main focus of my workouts was on strength training. During that time I did get much stronger and reached three of my four lifting goals. Along the way I also learned some things about myself and training.
The first lesson I wanted to discuss is being willing to adapt and change your training or even how you perform certain exercises. I came to this conclusion with two exercises in particular this past year.
The first was the trap bar dead-lift. I began doing this exercise last year after repeatedly tweaking my back doing traditional bent legged dead-lifts. Through some internet searching I saw this exercise was advertised as being much easier on the lower back. This is primarily because the weight is in line with your body’s center of gravity and not out in front of your body as it is for a traditional bent legged dead-lift. I definitely found this to be true at first. Each month I was adding more weight to the lift and my back felt good. But I began to notice that my knees were aching each time I performed this lift. Eventually I had begun to unconsciously alter my form due to the knee pain which led to lower back pain. I became frustrated and was ready to give up on the exercise. I once again did some research and saw many people doing this lift off of blocks. I examined my form and realized that my knees were bending further than ninety degrees at the bottom which was causing the extra strain and discomfort. I decided to perform the trap bar dead-lift off of blocks to see if the shortened range of motion would help my knees. It did not take long performing the exercise in this shortened the range of motion before my knee pain and subsequently my back pain disappeared. I began to add weight once again and in February hit my goal. Initially I was upset that I reached my goal by lessening the range of motion. But it doesn’t bother me now because if I hadn’t done this I would not be able to do the lift anymore.
The second exercise was the dumbbell press. I have had an issue with my right shoulder since college that has gotten worse over the years. To avoid shoulder pain on most upper body movements I need to perform them with a neutral grip. If you’ve read my earlier blog posts you will know that I have been up and down with the dumbbell press, taking me many months to see progress. Towards the end of my yearlong strength cycle I had hit the wall with this lift. I was cleaning the dumbbells and resting them on my shoulder. From there I would start the lift. I realized that I was weakest at this position and I also realized that part of the reason was the position of my shoulders. With the dumbbells on my shoulder there was a great deal of over exaggerated stretching to the shoulder joints. Due to my previous shoulder injury the pronounced stretch was causing the pain and discomfort to increase. I decided to try shortening the range of motion by having my starting position be around ear level. The shortened range of motion put me in a better position to be successful by taking pressure off of my shoulder joints. This was highly effective right away and in two different ways. The first was that I was able to lift heavier weights. The second was that my shoulder pain was greatly reduced.
I now understand that it doesn’t matter if I am doing what the experts deem to be full range of motion on all lifts. What matters is that I am lifting the fullest range of motion that is safe for me. I’m not competing against anyone but myself. I am still getting stronger. I am still getting fitter. I wish I had known this years ago; my joints may feel much better if I did.
The last few weeks of working out have been inconsistent at best due to my constantly dodgy lower back. I can remember having pain in my lower back pop up since I was in high school. I always just dealt with it until it went away. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my boss at the time convinced me (or ordered me, it depends how you look at it) to go to the chiropractor. After a week of very heavy snowfall and a lot of shoveling I couldn’t stand up straight and was having trouble walking. After an adjustment or two I was feeling great and a believer in chiropractic care.
I also found that when I go consistently my migraine headaches are reduced in both intensity and frequency. Unfortunately, I have not been going regularly these past few months and my headaches and back pain have been back. Once again, just dealing with it was not working. Over the past few weeks I have visited my chiropractor twice and my back is feeling much better.
During the last few weeks while my back has been at it’s worst, I tried to get some type of workout in each day. I focused on lower intensity rides on the Schwinn Airdyne and rowing. These really helped to loosen my back up.
Any time I have an injury, headache or an illness I always wonder if I should train. Unless it is really bad most times I do. This time it was especially frustrating because I have been making good progress lately, getting stronger and better conditioned each month.
I believe I dealt with the back pain very well and found a good balance. Most days over those few weeks I concentrated on lower intensity conditioning. This allowed me to continue working towards one of my goals while not causing further injury. In fact, I believe it helped me heal quicker by helping to keep my back loose. When I did feel well enough to lift I made sure to wear my weight belt (I don’t always wear it; although I should) and I really focused on my form.
As I get older I am more aware of the necessity of training smarter. I wish I had learned it when I was younger!