As many of you know, I have been living with back pain for over 30 years—a pain that has been at times just a mere ache, and other times so debilitating that it has literally brought me down to my knees.
I wont go into it much more as I have written about it or been interviewed about it so many times, but what I want to pay mention to is the fear that became embedded into the pain—fear that I would never get better, that I would get worse, that I would never be as good of an athlete as anyone else, that I would never be an athlete period….The list continues.
I thought when I was younger that the pain would eventually go away. I lost count how many times I went to physical therapy or how many times I worked with a personal trainer thinking they could get me better, stronger, pain free. But each time I worked with a trainer, I got worse. The trainers, perhaps not qualified to understand back issues like mine, asked me to do activities that exacerbated my pain so much so that I had to stop exercising. The physical therapists were also not that helpful.
What finally helped?
A combination of releasing my emotional baggage, becoming stronger at my core, inside and out, paying attention to my form, and getting some really good coaching.
Thing is, we think we know how to walk, sit, stand, bend over, read….But we don’t. We think we know how to lift correctly…But we don’t. And in our every day life, we don’t notice that when we hunch as we bend over our computers, slouch while standing in line to buy our lattes, keep our necks bent as we look at our smartphones, or bend at the waste as we go to pick up the money we dropped on the floor, we are hurting our body and weakening our core.
When I took up CrossFit, I started paying attention to my form, not just in the gym, but also out of the gym. Now I am generally a curious person and constantly aware of my body and how it reacts to different circumstances or even sitting positions. But being curious isn’t enough to be able to know what to do when it comes to making a correction.
That’s where an outside eye comes in. An outside eye is someone who is able to notice the smallest of nuances and who has a very good grasp on physiology, ergonomics, balance, and movement.
If you’ve ever worked with an Alexander Technique practitioner, you would know what I mean. They can tell when your rib cage is collapsed when you are walking or if your coccyx (tail bone) is pointing in the wrong direction when you are standing.
You would also know what I mean if you have worked with a great athletic coach who just gets it. They see the whole picture. They don’t just go by the textbook, but they see the alignment of the body and where it is misaligned. They may tell you to move your thumb or your toe and kabaam!, you feel like it takes no energy at all to hold a pose or lift a large weight over you head.
Why am I writing about this now? Because over the past year and a half, I started lifting heavy weights for the first time. My coach, Coach Gil at CrossFit Newton(https://www.facebook.com/crossfitnewton?fref=ts), worked with me on my form slowly and I can remember the first time I “cleaned” a heavy weight as if it was nothing. Kabaam!! What a rush.
This weekend, I worked with my other coach, Coach Rich at Crossfit TakeOff, on my form doing another lift (a snatch) and today when I tried it, Kabaam!! The weight went up like it was nothing!!
What a thrill! An no pain! Double thrill!!
The best part of this for me is that the instruction both these coaches have given me goes beyond the gym. They have helped me understand the physiology and anatomy of my body and its relationship with form and movement—concepts that I am using also outside of the gym. You would think that as a physician I would already know all of this, but in truth, we aren’t talk this type of physiology in depth and even if we were taught, we couldn’t possibly remember it all with everything else we have to learn.
If you have a good yoga practitioner, tai chi or Alexander Technique teacher working with you, you will likely understand. And now I know I can have such teachers at a CrossFit gym, where the basis of the sport is learning functional movements.
So do me a favor—for the rest of the day, pay attention to your form. How do you lift things off the floor? How do you work at your desk? How do you sleep? What do you do when you are reaching overhead to get something? And then notice where you are holding your tension at the end of the day.
Let me know how it goes!