Someone asked recently, over in our SI Joint Discussion Forum, how often to start out doing pool exercise.
I answered her about the pool, but the same concept is true for any form of exercise, when you’re coming back from a long-term injury.
Start small. Start wherever you are.
When I first started pool exercise, it was after a few months of doing next to nothing. Walking or using any kind of cardio machine was out of the question.
I’d tried to do land-based exercises given to me by a PT, and found I only continued to get worse.
By the time I actually went to do my first pool workout, I hadn’t had a real workout in months.
And you know what? I did just ten minutes.
I know that sounds like almost nothing, but after being so inactive for so long, I knew it was more important to start small and work my way up, rather than push myself and then pay for it later.
So I did ten minutes of (slow) pool running, in the deep end with the Aqua Jogger vest. I felt okay that night, but I made sure to take the next day off and rest. I know from personal experience that, often, you won’t feel it until the next day if a workout made you sore.
But two days later, I still seemed to be okay, so I went back and did the same thing for just 12 minutes.
When you’re just starting out, even adding on a minute or two can be a big deal.
After all, think about it. If you just worked out for ten minutes, adding on just 2 minutes is still increasing your workout by 20%.
So it is really important to increase slowly, and monitor your body to make sure you don’t have any dramatic post-workout soreness.
After all, when you’ve been inactive and start a new exercise, you don’t know exactly how your body is going to react. Especially if you’re still recovering from an injury– you might not know which areas of your body you’ve been compensating with, until you try a totally new activity. This is particularly true for the pool, where you sort of have to use all of the muscles in your body at once, just to move and keep afloat.
However, the good thing about starting small is that you can see improvements pretty rapidly.
For my third pool session, I pushed it up to 15 minutes. And then after that, 20 minutes.
I worked my way up so that by the third week, I was going to the pool three days a week, for 20-25 minutes each time.
That’s basically what I felt comfortable with– pool running for the first 15-20 minutes, and then doing a few more specific movements at the end.
Now, FYI, this was actually before I’d had a physical therapist work up a specific program for me.
I know now that I would have gotten better faster if I’d been doing specific strengthening exercises, in addition to the pool running. Technically, for most people, pool running wouldn’t really count as strength-training– it has more to do with building cardiovascular endurance.
However, when I was just starting out, I was so weak that the pool running was like strengthening for me.
Strength training really means we are working our muscle to the point exhaustion– that’s the only way to cue our body in to the fact that it needs to build that muscle up and make it stronger.
So, while eventually I would need to add in additional exercises, in those first beginning stages, I really was pushing my body to the limit in every way– cardio and strength training– with one 10-minute pool running session.
That’s why it’s so important to respect your body’s limits and start small.
You want to avoid the experience many people have when they first start out. Which is that their first workout feels great while they are doing it, but then the next day they can barely walk.
Why does that happen?
- Your body releases endorphins while you exercise, which are your body’s own chemicals that it uses to block out pain signals.
- Muscle soreness from a workout doesn’t usually appear until the next day. It arises out of the process of your body trying to repair the muscle fibers afterwards.
That’s why you can’t always go by how you feel during a workout. With you’re trying a new activity, or just starting to work out again after a long period of inactivity, you want to keep an eye on the clock and stop long before you feel sore.
My blog is about sharing exactly what I did, making the best out of the advice I had at the time. Part of why I share my story is so that others can benefit from the things I had to learn the hard way.
From the perspective I have now, I do believe there are some really gentle, land-based exercises you can do to get started (that’s what my e-book is about!).
I didn’t really have anyone to teach me those techniques at the time– I pretty much just had my chiropractor insisting that I join a pool. That’s why I started out on my own, just pool running.
But as many of you know, I really think the best thing is to work with a physical therapist (or an aquatic physical therapist, if you’re at a pool) to make sure you’re doing your exercises with proper form, and targeting all of the relevant muscle groups.
But regardless of what form of exercise you choose, please remember to start small!
I know SI joint dysfunction can be so frustrating, but please– give yourself permission to start out small!
You’ve already come this far — you can learn from this, and get to know your body, and how to help it get stronger in the ways that best allow it to heal.
I do have an exercise e-book that will be coming out eventually!
I am also looking into offering a coaching/consulting service for those of you who are interested in working with me individually. (I do answer reader questions through my blog, but this would allow me to really get into your case in a more in-depth way!). Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in!
Hope this was helpful!