Obi-wan: The Emotional Side of Post-Injury Athletes

The following is the third in a series of guest blogs written by my Dad, affectionately nicknamed “Obi-wan” for his sage advice and guidance in using The Force in my life. He is also the inspiration behind Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays and the person who first taught me how to get strong and stay fit.

The classic baseball team photo *awesome*, age7

He also taught me how to throw a ball and swing a bat so I could play baseball at age 5. Whattaguy. Note the excellent grip and form on that bat.

Here he is, ladies and gents, Obi-wan.

May The Force be with you. (Image courtesy of LucasFilm.com)

May The Force be with you. Not my Dad, btw.
(Image courtesy of LucasFilm.com)

As an avid reader of Abby’s blog I read with great interest April’s “Effects of De-Training” with the supporting study data. The study data on the effects of de-training on highly trained runners or cyclists supported what everyone, regardless of fitness level, has found out when starting back into a training regime after a layoff: your fitness levels have tanked!

Since when is 20lbs so much to lift?

Since when is 20lbs so much to lift?

Having never been a highly trained endurance athlete but more of a self trained fitness enthusiast who has had a number of enforced training layoffs due to injury and illness, the data was particularly interesting to me to see the effects of de-training on highly trained athletes.

It also made me wonder about the emotional effects of de-training and re-training on well trained endurance athletes and also the average person working to stay fit in today’s busy world.

Later that day Abby and I had a long discussion about the effects of de-training and how her recent experiences with chronic illness, anesthesia, surgery, and an enforced layoff after her surgeries had affected her. Our conversation ranged into the emotional side of starting to train again after an enforced period of de-training.

Try as you might, the human body does not bounce back after major surgery or de-training. Sigh. I know.

Try as you might, the human body does not bounce back after major surgery or de-training. Sigh. I know.

We agreed that retraining our body to once again be able to perform at the pre-layoff levels had both a physical and emotional component that one needed to understand. It’s more than just pushing ones self to get back into the gym, on the bike, or onto the track.

In other words how does one get their mind around starting again after injury, illness, or enforced layoff for any reason?

So proud of a measly 1.5mi run 4 weeks after surgery. My body felt like jello, but I was mentally SO ready to be running again.

So proud of a measly 1.5mi run 4 weeks after surgery. My body felt like jello, but I was mentally SO ready to be running again.

In trying to get a better handle on the emotional side of re-training after an undesired training layoff, I turned to the source of all wisdom in today’s world, the internet.

After trying a number of searches included “re-training”, “emotional effects of de-training”, “starting training again after de-training” and other searches without gaining much insight into the emotional aspect of re-training, I did come upon an article which gave a helpful acronym which they associated with re-training after de-training:

SMART

 S – Set Specific Goals

M – Set Measurable Goals

A – Set Adjustable Goals

R – Set Realistic Goals

T – Set Time Based Goals

Be SMART. You don't want to end up like this poor fellow.

Be SMART. You don’t want to end up like this poor fellow.

This same acronym has been applied in various different disciplines including business, and while the above would seem to be a helpful way to go about getting started again, it doesn’t in my mind address the emotional component of starting to train again.

When one has the fear of re-injuring yourself, the uncertainty of how the surgery you had will affect your ability to participate, or just the self conscious aspect of reentering the gym or workout facility at a different level of performance, having a plan helps but doesn’t address the fears that we all have of lacing the sneaks back up.

Working out with awesome friends helps A TON when working your way back after a layoff.

Working out with awesome friends helps A TON when working your way back after a layoff.

As with anything in life fear of the unknown and tolerance of ambiguity are the greatest fears that we have as humans and the fears around restarting our exercise regime or fitness program is no different.

Upon reflection I don’t know that there is any easy answer or strategy for overcoming our fears. But as with all things in life, they are lessened by facing them head on and getting started with a realistic plan of action which will allow us to once again “go out and run” (or whatever)!

Thanks again to Obi-wan for another great post. Have you ever had to work your way back into shape after a hiatus? How did you do it?

Now go out and run…or whatever 😉

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Effects of De-Training

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Because more people than ever are participating in endurance sports, more people than ever are getting sidelined by injury. This is just the natural progression of things, but what does it mean for your training? How long can you be out before your really start to “lose” it?

Being out sucks. Trust me, I know. Hospital gowns are not nearly as comfy as running clothes. They're kinda scratchy.

Being out sucks. Trust me, I know. Hospital gowns are not nearly as comfy as running clothes. They’re kinda scratchy.

Here’s the science:

  • 7 highly trained runners or cyclists who trained for 10-12 months, at least 5 days/week for 60 minutes daily at 70-80% of VO2 max were studied. 57 sedentary individuals served as the control group.
  • Except for exercise during testing scenarios, walking was limited to < 500m daily at a slow pace and all other physical activity was limited.
  • After 12 days VO2 max (anaerobic capacity) decreased by 7%, by day 84 VO2 max was down by 16%.
  • Max heart rate increased by 5% (aerobic-means your heart works harder to do the same activity) and then leveled out by day 84.
  • Cardiac output and stroke volume declined immediately and had decreased by at least 5% by day 12.

Reference

Coyle EF, et al. Time course of loss of adaptations after stopping prolonged intense enduracne training. J Appl Physiol 1984;57:1857.

What does this mean?

There is an immediate decrease in your conditioning after 12 days off from training, approximately 5% or more in your heart’s ability to efficiently pump blood. 5% isn’t terrible and won’t kill you, but you’ll feel it.

And you’ll really feel it after 84 days at 16% when you can’t get going.

Your anaerobic goes first, followed by your aerobic which absolutely TANKS after 3 weeks. I mean TANKS.

photo (7)

Image property of: Coyle EF, et al. Time course of loss of adaptations after stopping prolonged intense enduracne training. J Appl Physiol 1984;57:1857.

Conclusion: 12 days is where the most marked changes happen, but it’s a steady decline after that into the depths of de-training.

This effect will be amplified by sickness, anesthesia, damage to the body systems (pulmonary, cardiovascular, etc.), disease, and lack of training to begin with. So, if you’re sick or have some kind of immunological disease, these effects would be more dramatic and over a shorter period of time.

Getting out of the hospital is a big step. No one runs out of the hospital and does 16 miles. No one.

Getting out of the hospital is a big step. No one runs out of the hospital and does 16 miles. No one.

I hope this helps some of you when you’re curious about the how long it takes a well-trained athlete to de-train and by how much.

Don’t stress over it, though. Your body needs whatever time it needs to heal and that’s the most important aspect of training: healing.

Now go out and run!