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RatCreature ([personal profile] ratcreature) wrote in [community profile] lifting_heavy_things2014-09-21 10:19 pm

tips for setting motivational goals with bodyweight exercises?

I suffered from some nasty lower back/sciatic nerve pain during the last months. Both my primary care physician as well as the orthopedic specialist thought that there isn't anything particular wrong with my back (like a disc injury or such), but that it was the unspecific kind of back pain due to weak muscles, bad posture, being too sedentary etc. and that it ought to improve with exercise.

So I had about a dozen physical therapy sessions, also took a class for back pain exercises, and thankfully my pain got indeed better, albeit with ups and downs. But of course I should keep doing the exercises to remain pain free, yet the ultimate goal of "I want the pain to not come back" alone isn't great to sustain motivation for me. It's too general and doesn't really offer any accomplishments to work toward and such.

Because the exercises I learned are basically a mix of bodyweight strength exercises, balance exercises and stretches, I figure that I should be able to use the strength exercises to measure progress somehow for motivation. I enjoy tracking things, but I'm not sure how to go about it with exercising.

I mean, I have noticed some progress with exercises becoming easier, so I can manage more repetitions, and sometimes when there were different versions I can now even do the more difficult exercise than just the easiest kind (though overall my fitness level is still pretty bad, like for example I can't manage any push-ups, not even the easier kind where you are on your knees rather than toes, but am still at the level where you push against a wall). But I'd like to properly track things and have a couple of realistic, concrete goals so I see improvements.

I tried looking at the bodyweight strength training books in my library to get an idea for how this is usually done, but I have to admit that the books I found were all rather off-putting. Like the ones aimed at women all seemed to be a horrible assemblage of body image and weight loss issues, and the ones aimed more towards men had a slightly different set of body image and weight loss issues that were almost as awful and often mixed that with some kind of, I guess, weird power fantasies? I'm sure there must be decent strength training books out there, but my skimming led me to think that it is one those genres you best not venture into without recs. So I mostly backed away from consulting those.

Basically I'm looking for advice with which kind of exercises or exercise progressions (like with the different kinds of push-ups getting more difficult) are good to see your progress and motivate yourself, when you don't track increased weight like with lifting stuff.
killabeez: (Default)

[personal profile] killabeez 2014-09-21 11:24 pm (UTC)(link)
I have a pretty serious back injury (vaguely defined as spondylosis, which basically means "vertebrae in places they shouldn't be"). I started out with pilates-type PT, and worked my way to weight lifting. My current self-motivational exercise is deadlifting. It's one of those exercises where you can measure exact improvement, and I love it. It's not the only exercise I do, obviously! The most beneficial thing I do is actually rowing, followed by squats and kettlebell swings. But the deadlifting is how I motivate myself. I'm currently working on increasing my hand/wrist strength so I can lift more, as my hands are now the weakest link in my form.
thalia: Delirium from Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic (Default)

[personal profile] thalia 2014-09-22 01:35 am (UTC)(link)
It's really hard to quantify improvement with exercises like that. For me, it's enough knowing that my form is improving, and I can do more reps, and I can do harder variations... but tracking that is a whole other thing.

On the back pain front, my chiropractor talked me into giving yoga a try, and it's great. I've hardly had any pain at all in the two months since I started. And for me, knowing that my form is improving is enough to keep me coming to the classes, but YMMV.
foxfirefey: A guy looking ridiculous by doing a fashionable posing with a mouse, slinging the cord over his shoulders. (geek)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2014-09-22 02:33 am (UTC)(link)
I think I can recommend Body By You. If that's not available, then You Are Your Own Gym would work just as well--the exercises are pretty much the same in either one. I just went and scanned the first chapters of the BBY book to see if it would be a good fit for you. I ain't gonna lie, he DOES talk about weight loss, because I think most people pick up this kind of stuff with a goal to lose weight. However, he tells people that the thing to do is to be exercising, that weight loss is not the only goal, and that it is best to throw away your scale and just focus on improving what your body can do and everything else follows. He talks about how you can't tone a specific part of your body, how women who are afraid exercises will make them bulk up are operating on false assumption, and that workout needs really aren't different between men and women (though women aren't going to gain the same amount of muscle doing the same amount as men due to not having as much testosterone).

Minimum of fat shaming, I think--he talks about one client in the motivation section who started out at 230 and got discouraged and quit when after two months she weighed 221, but he wasn't calling her horrible for being fat or saying she didn't do good enough--he was pointing out that she had lost 12 pounds of fat and gained 3 pounds of muscle and had made very good progress and that it was really a shame that she quit because she had already set herself up for further success even though she felt she hadn't lost enough weight fast enough (and really, I think we know it's good that the book isn't telling people that they'll lose 30 pounds in two months, that's unhealthy and unrealistic). On the other hand, it did say that she continued her slow descent into morbid obesity, which is maybe not the best phrasing/attitude. You don't have to read these beginning chapters really, so you can skip over all that and just get to what you really want.

Because on the plus side, this book has what you want in spades, I think! It has five different movement categories and has a ladder of increasingly difficult exercise variants to do for each. You do an initial evaluation to see where on the scale you should start and then you just keep doing it and work your way on up to more and more difficult exercises. Another couple big pluses: it doesn't expect a huge time commitment or for you to have a lot of expensive equipment.

I'll also second [personal profile] thalia's yoga suggestion. Yoga isn't as nicely laddered as the bodyweight exercise book above, but you can definitely tell you are advancing the more you do it and when I'm not doing it I can tell because my lower back starts hurting. I subscribe to this YogaDownload site (if I wait until sale times I can get a year unlimited membership for $60 which is a cheap cost month to month) because I've found that it can be hard for me to want to go out of the house and pay class to class. Yoga equipment needs are fairly minimal--you'll probably want a mat, a sturdy blanket that you can make into a roll when needed, a couple yoga blocks, and a strap. Things I like about yoga:

* I feel like it has improved my balance overall, even during long stretches when I haven't done it--I'm much more coordinated now than before I ever started, because so many of the exercises made me pay a LOT of attention to my body and its balance
* There are a lot of things to try and pay attention to and do correctly
* It helps stretch out and balance out my muscles so that they ache less and aren't as tense
* Did I mention it is great for my back pain because it is so great

The downsides:

* Sometimes it gets a bit too woo for my taste
* I'd worry a little bit about not starting out in a class with real supervision to get a good foundation for all the poses; there's a lot of detail to get right
* I think it's a bit more demanding timewise, I feel like it's better to do a class for an entire hour over one that lasts 30 minutes, but sometimes that feels like forever!
foxfirefey: A picture of GIR. (gir)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2014-09-22 02:39 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, another suggestion: get a foam roller if you don't have one already! It's a good compliment to exercise to help get your back muscles behaving.
foxfirefey: A guy looking ridiculous by doing a fashionable posing with a mouse, slinging the cord over his shoulders. (geek)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2014-09-22 08:11 am (UTC)(link)
This article looks like it explains it okay--I use it to help my upper back and roll along the outsides of my thighs (my muscles get tight and my knees end up twinging from it on the outside). I also have a Back Buddy to help release my shoulders which get HORRIFICALLY tense, probably from boobs + computing.
thalia: Delirium from Neil Gaiman's Sandman comic (Default)

[personal profile] thalia 2014-09-22 02:02 pm (UTC)(link)
Ooh, thanks for the foam roller link--I just bought one over the weekend and have been trying to figure out what to do with it. That's the best explanation I've seen.
foxfirefey: Smiley faces are born through factorized mechanical torture. (grimace)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2014-09-22 03:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I cringe linking to this because the surrounding site is so RAH-BLAH but I bumped into it recently and it has a pretty good run down of targeting different muscle groups with the foam roller:

http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?id=475832
foxfirefey: A picture of GIR. (gir)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2014-09-22 03:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Hrm, well, if your physical therapist's massages didn't relieve anything, maybe a foam roller wouldn't. But if tightness keeps being an issue, a foam roller is a tricky thing to get the hang of but pretty beneficial.
foxfirefey: A picture of GIR. (gir)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2014-09-23 05:36 pm (UTC)(link)
I think there are definitely ways to use a tennis ball instead for the same purposes; I just think people find the foam roller easier to manage. For instance, my physical therapist tried to get me to do some things with some tennis balls on my shoulder muscles around the spine and I just could NOT get it to work right and got the Back Buddy instead.

Foam rollers aren't really pleasant to use either, but afterwards things don't feel so tight for me.
foxfirefey: A picture of GIR. (gir)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2014-09-22 04:06 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, and an alternative to the YAYOG book is the app they have for a few bucks on Android or Apple's App Store.
foxfirefey: A wee rat holds a paw to its mouth. Oh, the shock! (thoughtful)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2014-09-22 08:06 am (UTC)(link)
There is definitely a ton of yoga that doesn't concern itself much with woo, but it can be hard knowing whether or not you might run into some going in. And from what you're saying it does sound like it's not for you.

Went and got YAYOG to see what you were talking about (since I'm trying to get back into an exercise kick myself right now) and yeah, there is waaaaaay more male power fantasy stuff in the text than in the Body By You book. Additionally, I think the Body By You book has a more straightforward program of exercise progressions, even though YAYOG has more exercises listed, and I think the range of the exercises starts easier.

I also really like the way the BBY book has your initial assessment of what level of exercises you should start out with as well as not having a defined progression of what level of exercise you should be doing week by week--you move up the ladder when you can do the full set with good form. So, my advice is to try and find the BBY book--it's probably the least odiously burdened material you're seeking. If you feel like you're graduating out of BBY or getting bored with the exercise on rails, hop on over to the YAYOG book instead.
foxfirefey: A seal making a happy face. (seal of approval)

[personal profile] foxfirefey 2014-09-22 04:20 pm (UTC)(link)
Keep in the Part II section, chapters 4-6, and you should avoid the majority of the stuff you aren't into, I think.
rydra_wong: 19th-C strongwoman and trapeze artist Charmion flexes her biceps while wearing a marvellous feathery hat (strength -- strongwoman)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-09-22 09:27 am (UTC)(link)
Because the exercises I learned are basically a mix of bodyweight strength exercises, balance exercises and stretches, I figure that I should be able to use the strength exercises to measure progress somehow for motivation.

What are the exercises you've learned and are using at the moment? I might be able to suggest progressions, or ways of measuring progress.
rydra_wong: 19th-C strongwoman and trapeze artist Charmion flexes her biceps while wearing a marvellous feathery hat (strength -- strongwoman)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-09-22 10:01 am (UTC)(link)
Okay, I recognize all of these, except this one -- not sure how to visualize it:

Then an exercise where you are lying on your side, tense the abdominal muscles and pull your shoulders and pelvis together a little so that there is gap at your waist.

Like this, a sort of side crunch?

http://jsk4832.com.ne.kr/training/rectusabdominis/Side%20crunch.jpg

Do you have a swiss ball at home?
rydra_wong: 19th-C strongwoman and trapeze artist Charmion flexes her biceps while wearing a marvellous feathery hat (strength -- strongwoman)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-09-22 08:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Okay, that one I don't know (I'm not very familiar with Pilates; a lot of the exercises are very specialised small movements like that).

The one my physical therapist had me doing most for strength was one where you lie on your back with the feet on the floor and then slowly lift your pelvis up, sort of rolling your spine gradually until you are in a straight line, keeping your abdominal muscles tense.

Right, so that's mostly called a "bridge".

One strategy for progress: do it more times in a row. Do you currently have a fixed number of sets and reps you do?

Another strategy: introduce instability, e.g. by putting your feet (or shoulders) on a swiss ball.

Yet another strategy: go unilateral! Lift one foot off the floor, so the other leg (and your core) is doing twice the work, and it's also harder to balance. Make sure you repeat the exercise on the other side.

Another strategy again: increase range of motion (you can do this by putting your shoulders on a bench). Then it's called a "hip thrust".

Also an exercise where you are on your hands and knees, again with the abdominal muscles tensed so the back is straight, and lift your right arm forward, the left leg backward, and then bring them together elbow to knee beneath you and then the same with the opposite limbs.

That's called various things, I think -- the name I know best is "bird dog". Afraid the only way I know of making it more difficult is by adding wrist and ankle weight.

Then an exercise where you lie on your belly, tense your abdominal muscles and have your arms with the elbow at 90° and lift the arms up a little, and then move them forward and backward

So your back is arching and your head and chest are lfting up off the floor a bit, right?

More to follow when I have time.
Edited 2014-09-22 20:39 (UTC)
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-09-23 11:49 am (UTC)(link)
it's another one of these tense things, but the nose remains towards the mat so the back isn't arched, and you have to lift your arms up from the mat and move those.

But your head and your shoulders/arms are off the mat, at least?

Probably to measure progress with that one you'd have to time how long you can keep up this kind of arm position.

Yup. With a bunch of exercises, you'd aim to do a static hold for a fixed amount of time (then rest for a bit, repeat, rest, repeat -- three sets is a good rule-of-thumb amount). As you get stronger, you increase the number of seconds you hold them for.

I have a cheap watch with a stopwatch, and plonk it on the floor somewhere where I can see it. Other people will set a timer that beeps when their time is up.
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-09-27 04:42 pm (UTC)(link)
Okay, this is NOT that exercise, but it's not unrelated.

Try "superman":

http://www.stumptuous.com/back-pain-3-exercises-for-low-back-pain (scroll down to reach it, and do note the thing about how some people find the compression isn't helpful for their backs, so YMMV)

To make it easier, move your arms back so they're alongside your body, pointing towards your toes.

(That's actually identical to a yoga pose called "locust".)

If that gets easy, try a back hyperextension -- I found this works really well at home if you lie with your hips on the swiss ball and your feet wedged under something:

http://www.stumptuous.com/good-mornings-and-back-hyperextensions

YMMV, but for me, unweighted back hyperextensions really helped keep my back in good shape after I'd had a run of lower back strains.
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-09-27 06:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Though the superman/locust one seems to bend the back less, so maybe it is worth a try to see how that one feels.

Yes, one difference would be that in Sphinx, you're using your arms to push your spine into the curved shape.

Whereas with superman/locust, you're lifting into it, and you can't go any further than the strength of your back muscles can take you. So, it might be different. Or not.

But if it doesn't feel right, definitely don't do it! It's certainly easy to compress your lower back in unhelpful ways with backbends.
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-10-02 05:05 pm (UTC)(link)
*nods a lot*

It's very good that you know that you don't know!

I'm at a point where I've got a pretty sharp sense of the difference, so I can push things in certain ways because I know I can tell what's "good discomfort" versus what's "bad discomfort".

I expect you'll find that you develop your own sense of this and how they feel for you over time.

And there are some useful rules of thumb -- as they're usually given, "good discomfort" or "good pain" is generalized (over a fairly wide area), has a more dull/achy quality to it, comes on slowly, and goes away once you stop the exercise/stretch. It often has the "hurts so good" quality of a deep massage.

"Bad pain" tends to come on suddenly, be sharp and /or localized, and/or hangs around once you're finished.

I'd add that in my experience "good pain" tends to be felt in muscles, "bad pain" in joints.

But if you know you don't have your own sense of it developed yet, best to be cautious, as you're being. And trust any little "uh-oh, this doesn't feel quite right" hunches.
rydra_wong: A woman (yoga teacher Jess Glenny) lies on the floor in a reclining twist. (yoga -- twist)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-10-02 05:18 pm (UTC)(link)
Twenty seconds is a lot for that, actually! You could try doing multiple, briefer repeats, and see how that feels.
rydra_wong: a yoga practitioner does a jump through, the motion turning into a blur (yoga -- jump through)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-10-06 05:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Oooh, forgot to mention -- it can feel really nice to alternate between locust and child's pose. The child's pose helps stretch out the lower back and relieve any compression from the backbend.
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-09-27 03:23 pm (UTC)(link)
Then abdominal crunches, and also a similar thing where you don't start lying down but sitting up and then lower your torso and try to hold that position.

So you're sitting on the floor, with bent knees and your feet on the floor, and you lean back towards the floor and try to hold that?
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-09-23 09:10 am (UTC)(link)
By the way, are you looking for suggestions of other bodyweight exercises you can try? I can think of various ones which would help with improving back and core strength.
rydra_wong: Tight shot of the shins and arms of a young woman (weightlifter Zoe Smith) as she prepares for a deadlift. (strength -- zoe deadlift)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-09-27 11:47 am (UTC)(link)
And many exercises are stuff like for example that "cat-cow" exercise, where you stretch your back and such, but you don't really get "better" at them.

Yeah, cat-cow is basically a good way to warm up and mobilize your spine before you do anything else.

Top thing I would add to your current exercises: PLANK. Planks are really really fantastic for developing the ability of your core muscles to stabilize your spine in a neutral position, which is their most important function.

If you're not familiar with this, or know it by a different name: a front plank is the top position of a push-up, basically, held as a static hold.

Or the same thing but resting on your elbows/forearms instead of your hands (most people find this more difficult).

A side plank is the same, but on one side.

I'd do these for a set time, three sets (as described in a previous comment).

To make them easier, you can do them with your knees on the floor, or with your hands on a bench. To make them harder, you can elevate your feet, or try lifting one arm or leg off the floor.

http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/RectusAbdominis/BWFrontPlank.html
http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Obliques/BWSidePlank.html
http://www.alkavadlo.com/2010/06/28/planks-and-side-planks/

There was a period when I did: left side plank for x second, front plank for x seconds, right side plank for x seconds, rest, repeat twice more (about three times a week) -- worked pretty well for me.
rydra_wong: 19th-C strongwoman and trapeze artist Charmion flexes her biceps while wearing a marvellous feathery hat (strength -- strongwoman)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-09-27 03:00 pm (UTC)(link)
As a bonus, getting good at planks will help a lot with push-ups (if those are something you're interested in working towards), because then you can already hold your body rigid and straight, so it's just your arms and shoulders that do the work.

Looks like I will get some more use out of my stopwatch in the future.

My theory is the best strategy for planks is to put your stopwatch somewhere where you can see it without strain, but it's not directly in front of you, and find something on YouTube to watch instead.

This somehow makes it far, far easier to hang in there than staring at the watch and grimly counting seconds. *g*
rydra_wong: Text: "Your body is a battleground" over photo of 19th-C strongwoman. (body -- battleground)

[personal profile] rydra_wong 2014-10-02 05:16 pm (UTC)(link)
Being able to do a push-up eventually would be cool.

Highly commended to your attention:

http://www.stumptuous.com/mistressing-the-pushup

It's got the full progression from wall push-ups to floor ones.

it's another thing that is making me even more disgruntled with my PE teachers in retrospect, because back then I just failed at doing push-ups, but none of the teachers offered systematic alternatives, and I just tended to sit out the stuff I couldn't manage. And none of the condition or strength building stuff was done systematically or with decent explanations anyway. It was all just done in a quick prelude to other sports stuff, like various team sports or track and field.

Yesssss. Which is why I can tend to be sort of evangelical about this stuff, because my school PE teachers basically got me avoiding all physical activities with fear and loathing for twenty years.

Nobody ever told me this stuff was learnable, or that there were modified versions of the things I couldn't do which would let me get stronger until I could do them.

I just got ordered to try harder. And I've got the motor co-ordination problems that often come with Asperger's, so I failed at everything, and just learned that it was horrible and impossible and humiliating and I'd fail and get hurt if I tried.

And now I'm 40, and I climb things, and I am the strongest and most flexible and most physically-skilled I have ever been in my life.