Make Exercise Work For You: Modified Workout Ideas

You know, the one thing about chronic pain and mental illness that I appreciate is that it’s constantly pushing creativity on how I navigate day-to-day life. After doing a self check-in and assessing both my state of mind & body, I determine how I’m going to work around my limitations.

Being as stubborn as I am, I’m not about to let my issues block my path in keeping my body in some sort of improved shape. I don’t want to lose my muscle mass, I want to strengthen muscles that should be working instead of other’s compensating (thus pain), and I need to get rid of the excess jitters caused by my anxiety.

Here’s some examples of what I’ve been doing to keep at having an active lifestyle, but with some tweaks.

I always do my best to include 30-60 minutes a day of cardio, five days a week. It’s by far the best way to clear a foggy brain, and get rid of higher levels of anxiety. Downside: I get the opposite of runner’s high, my mood sometimes tanks. I tend to offset that by doing something engaging, or I sleep it off.

If I know a certain muscle is a bit more tired than normal, I’ll tape or wrap the area to give myself more support. I use what’s called KT tape, applied along muscles, ligaments, and tendon which provides a lightweight, external support. I’ve seen it for sale at some pharmacies, Walmart, and sport themed stores. If uncertain how to apply, ask a pharmacist.

If my body’s okay, 40 minutes I’ll walk at a reasonably fast pace on an incline, and do two sets of 10 minute light jogs (or four sets of five minute jogs) split up. This is matched evenly with slow and fast so I give my body little breaks. In the summer, I try to be outside as much as I can. I’ll start off by walking for 10 minutes, then walk/light jog on five minute intervals for a total of 60 minutes.

Are 90s power walks still a thing? Group walking is also beneficial.

On days where I’m not doing so great mentally, and my body’s tense, it’s an hour walk on a local path. Being outside is key when it’s a mental day: fresh air and natural vitamin D from the sun will help your brain. If my body’s really bad: 30 minutes of something very low impact such as being in the pool. If you’re the type who’s mood improves after socializing, ask someone to go with you on your activity. I suggest asking people in your social media feed. Lots of people around HRM are training for the Bluenose Marathon, you never know if they’d like some company. There’s also walking clubs all around the municipality who meet up once a week for free.

Never will I push through a high intensity cardio workout. If my body and brain say they’re done, they’re done. It seems I’ve always been capable to hit that 30 minute mark, so be sure it’s mental illness related and it’s only been about 5 minutes, slow down and try for five more. Reassess. Always check in with yourself.

This one’s always tricky, as you have to modify for your particular problem. My issues are SI joint and nerve irritation, and TMJD related pain (which makes me hurt from the top of my head to the base of my rib cage). If you have a health care team, that’s a great start: ask for modified exercises you can do to help your body. I also suggest sticking to one area of the body a day. Today’s the upper half. Tomorrow’s my abs. Friday, legs and glutes. This way, you give your body ample time to recover.

Each rep should be done 10 times for a total of 30, and if possible, done three times a day. When it comes to holds: the goal is usually 60 seconds, which can be broken up.

Squats – There’s two ways I modify my squats to not irritate my SI, and to be able to keep my upper half at rest. I’ll find a flat wall, and slide down until I’m in a seated position, usually legs at 90 degrees. My knees never go past my ankles. I will hold for 20 seconds, then come back up to rest, then repeat four more times. If I’m at the gym, I’ll find an exercise ball and put it between me and the wall to make it easier to slide down. I also have the option to do repetitions instead of hold.

Thank you to Get Healthy U for the photo example.

Planks, mountain climbing and push-ups – The wall has been my best friend for these types of exercises, then a chair to increase the difficulty. This allows me to do these exercises without too much strain on my rhomboids and trapezius (the muscles that get irritated due to my TMJD (images from Fitness Tectics). Form is very important, so make sure to readjust your body in proper alignment.

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Resistance and weights – Start with your own body weight so that you know how to do a movement with perfect form. This will help target the smaller muscle groups that need attention. In my case, bigger groups of muscle were doing all the work, causing easier fatigue. Two moves I think should be worked on is core activation, and learning how to keep your shoulders down.

For your core, lay flat on your back. Find your hip bone, and place two fingers right beside the bone on the lower tummy (both sides). It’s a very tiny movement, but you’ll feel it if done correctly. Focus on contracting the muscles under the fingers. Doing a kegel and/or squeeze your rectal muscle lightly. Do your best to keep that muscle engaged as much as you can. I can tell you, it’s not easy and takes practice. Doing so will help with anything from your lower back and below.

Thank you to Functional Anatomy Blog.

For making sure I know when my sounders are down, I did what I call the Y exercise. Slide your arms up against the wall. Once they’re strain, imagine someone pushing down on both shoulders (push down). Once secure, keep your shoulders down and pull away from the wall, holding for 10 seconds. Go back to the wall, lift up your shoulders and rest, and repeat. I’m still sore doing these as the smaller muscles under the bigger ones are still working to get strong.

Thank you to Hep2Go.

I then moved on to resistance bands, and now I use maximum 5LBS. Any higher for me and I end up with a flare. I’ve been told over time I may be able to go higher as the muscles become stronger. I’ll only know this when the pain is lessened or isolated. It rang true for my SI and using core activation with resistance, so I do have hope. I do basic lifts, but my repetition depends on how fatigued my muscles are at the start. There’s no point in working out tired muscles, so I do a different area.

Range of motion
My best friend for range of motion is anything sturdy. Yep, your comfy couch, a bed, and non-wobbly chairs while binge watching your favorite Netflix program have helped me keep problem areas neutral while I get my joints moving. Here’s a great chair yoga chart, and there’s all kinds of videos on YouTube. You should feel gentle pulls, and you may hear the occasional pop. So long as there’s no pain/grinding noises, keep at it. I started in a chair, and now I’m more flexible than I’ve ever been.

Thank you to Sequence Wiz.

No matter what your limitation may be, there’s a modification out there. Being able to learn how to challenge your mind and body while not irritating conditions too harshly comes with not only health benefits, but motivation and accomplishment. All you have to do is start.


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