So, a few different things to talk about this week. First off, I’ll talk a little bit more about how the short days affect exercise patterns, then a short rant about rhabdomyolysis, and finally talking about getting ready for winter sports.

So, here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’re settling in to our annual clock-disrupting routines. The initial shock of night arriving at 5pm has now faded to a dull acceptance, and activities have been adjusted accordingly. Where I live, in the northwestern corner of NJ, we’ve had some stunningly beautiful autumn days – since my work day ends at 4, I’ve been able to get a faster version of my afternoon walk in. That’s something you might look at: can you do some or any of your outdoor activity? It doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing thing. For instance, we walk in a park with the option to slowly warm up for about 15 minutes on gently sloped terrain, before the big elevation change right in the middle, and then 10-15 minutes of cooldown on similar terrain as the start of the walk. This works great in the spring, summer, and early autumn. But once the clocks change, we have found that if we reverse direction, we can get to the big elevation change, heart-pumping part of the walk faster, and shave off some corners of the cooldown part. That way we’re not walking back in the dark. That reminds me: another safety measure for shorter days include reflective clothing and maybe even a hand-held light. There are tons of portable, affordable options these days.

Rant: I just read several stories that popped up about a young woman who got rhabdomyolysis after ONE spin class. People. This is a syndrome that affects firefighters, people on some medications, people working outdoors in extreme heat…and athletes. Of these 4 classifications, which one includes people who can make a choice about their exertion level? If you are privileged enough to not have to work in oppressive conditions, and lucky enough not to need medications that can lead to rhabdo, you are privileged AND lucky enough to avoid getting into this situation. That said, I don’t blame this young woman one bit. She is not the problem – the culture is.

If you’re tempted to push your internal gas pedal to the floor, and exert yourself to the limit, you run certain risks. If you work on practicing self-love, you ideally won’t be as tempted to run yourself ragged, but be aware of the negative forces that swirl around the culture of fitness. We all hold out hope for the ‘easy button’, the miracle pill, the overnight change that makes us into the person we dream of being. That’s just part of being human, we look for efficiencies and short cuts as part of survival. But that impulse has been hijacked by people who want to sell you things. When it comes to changing the makeup of your body, there is NO easy/overnight/miracle anything. It’s a process of slow change.

As for rhabdo:

  • Don’t overdo exercise at the start of new routines. Learn, watch, take breaks, start slowly.
  • Don’t exercise in excessive heat, if you’re unaccustomed to it.
  • Make sure you’re hydrated. If you’re pouring sweat, you need to put fluid in yourself, now.
  • Any gross overuse of the muscles can cause rhabdo – it’s not just spin classes. Spin classes are one of the few times people are sitting down for the majority of a peak-exertion workout, so they can’t adequately feel their legs’ condition, but weightlifters have also gotten rhabdo.
  • Final point: take your time and don’t aim for the burn. “No pain, no gain” …? That’s fine, but not to the extremes people take it to. “The burn” is not a reliable measure of future muscle development.

Look, your body wants to support anything you’re doing. Never forget we are survival-oriented creatures. Your brain has no idea that you’re willingly going in a tiny room, and spinning your legs around with a bunch of other people for a goal of body transformation, because that’s not a survival thing. It’s an artificial state.

Anytime you’re going full-speed, with your limbs moving rapidly, desperately, as your lungs burn and your heart pounds….that’s stress. That’s survival. For all your body knows, your life has become much more dangerous. In the calculus of run-or-die, it will choose run, even if rhabdo is the result, because hey….you might not die of it, but you will die if you don’t keep running RIGHT NOW. So, lighten the hell up. Work WITH your body. Aim for positive self-talk, because that helps reduce stress and takes your brain out of live-or-die mode. If you love yourself, you don’t want to punish yourself.

Ok, I talked a lot.

My final point for today: winter sports. It’s time to start training to enjoy them more. Especially for skiiers, snowboarders, snowshoe fans – time to start checking in on our cores, so they let us have fun out there. And let’s not forget snow shoveling – let’s start prepping to face it without dread. More next week!