Strong Like Wendig

So, as you may know, I’ve been running.

For about a year now.

I like it.

(Cue the peanut gallery asking that question, WHAT ARE YOU RUNNING FROM, to which I respond, THE INEVITABLE EMBRACE OF THE REAPER, thanks.)

I think it’s time to incorporate some strength training alongside of it.

Here’s the thing, though. Whenever I try to BECOME STRONG LIKE BULL, I seem to cause myself some pain. Not significant pain, but the day or two after doing upper body, f’rex, I seem to suffer neckaches and headaches. Anything below that? Backaches.

Which tells me I probably need to strengthen my neck, back, and maybe my core?

(“Core” always makes me think I have some hot molten sphere in my middle.)

(Or maybe just nougat.)

(…okay, probably nougat.)


On all of this. Anything. Everything.


*rattles imp-cage door as if to threaten*


  • First of all, never use the weight machines at the gym. They work isolated muscle groups and cause imbalances that can bring on pain in the future.

    Bodyweight exercises are a great option, but iron is better. The great thing about barbell lifting is that you need to keep all of your muscles tense in order to do the lift properly, so essentially you’re getting a full body workout (molten core included). If you want to do something really fun, get a trainer who knows how to teach the Snatch and Clean and Jerk.

    Regarding your headaches: personally, I find that if I have a knot or strained muscle in my shoulder, I get headaches, too. A simple solution is to tape together two tennis balls, put them on either side of your spine, and roll out (like this:

  • Hmm – looks like you’ll not have any time left for writing Chuck if you take all this on board! You may not need to do loads more but do get your running technique checked out. Running sounds good for a writer who can fit it into their possibly unpredictable schedule – classes (whatever they teach) may consume more time than you can afford to give and are at set times. They can also highlight the worst in people who either eye you up as a total loser or parade their testosterone around giving you an almighty guilt trip about those choccie browners last Tuesday… So, yeah, small steps, frequent goals and no daft macho groaning weights please! Swimming is good too. But No. 1 – ENJOY IT.

  • Listen to Gembolding. Poor exercise posture/technique can really mess you up, especially where the neck and upper back is concerned. Aside from that, on my long run days, I try to do an epsom salt soak soon after. It reduces the aches and pains. I also do a bit of preventative icing on my feet. Because fifteen miles is a lot of strain to put on those dogs, and I don’t want them to quit on me.

  • You asked the internet for FITNESS advice? Whooa nelly, this could be good.

    *Munches popcorn, scrolls through comments so far…*

    Hunh, not too bad advice so far. Terrible Minds readers are a cut above. Of course they are…BECAUSE I AM ONE OF YOU.

    Anyway, making the assumption that you are seeking to be strong for health and longevity reasons (e.g. ability to pick up Bdub without collapsing) and not seeking to be huge like Schwarzenegger or able to pick up boulders in the World’s Strongest Man competition:

    I strongly (see what I did there?) recommend “Starting Strength” by Mark Rippetoe Its just like the title suggests and explains the fundamentals of building strength. In a nutshell: do the big multi joint movements (squat, deadlift, press) with progressively increasing amount of weight. Best with a barbell, but dumbbells will work just fine. For old dogs like me, these increases are pretty small and pretty infrequent, but it only really matters that you’re getting better. Ego only leads to injury.

    On the pain/discomfort side, a lot of people here have recommended stretching or yoga. Those are good suggestions! However, it will probably be good to get more specific. It is certainly possible that you may have muscle strength imbalances that are causing you the pain. It’s probably more likely that it’s joint/facia/connective tissue trouble. The modern world of keyboard jockying is really catastrophic on non-muscular tissue which can lead to muscular pain. A go-to resource here is Dr. Kelly Starrett, a physical therapist. He has written “Becoming a Supple Leopard” (odd title is an inside joke) on fixing and improving mobility. The book is great, but he’s also put up hundreds of free videos explaining his concepts on YouTube — his website is I can’t recommend it enough.

    In the end, finding a good trainer is a very good idea. What makes them “good”? Lord, that’s a treatise by itself. But don’t trust Broseph at the corner mega gym. Preferably will be an older guy that gets your aches and pains (20-somethings are notoriously insensitive to issues of aging), and has a ton of experience and references.

    Last point: getting healthy and strong is a lot like the Hero’s Journey: lots of ups and lots of downs. Just keep pushing through the downs!

    All the best.

    P.S. Please don’t ask the internet for nutrition advice. You’ll break it. Then what would I do all day long?

    • My husband also used Starting Strength when he first started lifting (about 5 years ago) and he says it’s invaluable.

      He had to start eating like a 17-year-old boy. Lots of food, lots of water, or he’d pay for it the following day. Could the headaches be from dehydration?

      He’d also take videos of himself, since he didn’t have a trainer or anyone to check his stance and posture.

  • Hi Chuck, it sounds like it might be issues with posture. Sometimes if your core is weak, you compensate with your neck muscles hence the ache. Working on your core is the best method. Also, to reduce pain, I find cold showers on the muscles you’ve been working out to be effective.

    Strength training isn’t limited to lifting weights. There is this youtuber, Blogilates, who does videos on pilates and cardio and they are very useful if you’re strapped for time and money. She’s cheerful and talkative, which distracts you from the pain. The videos themselves are only 5-10 mins but they are intense. And I know, it initially seems a bit girly and all, but trust me: her moves are really effective.

    Hope you achieve your fitness goals! =]

  • I echo the Yoga suggestion. There are so many variations that you can actually do an aerobic exercise as you are strength/core training. It really is a complete body workout. You can also work on your core while you are running. Concentrate on tightening your abdominal muscles as you run – this will also help you balance and run with better form. Good luck!

    • P90X is great, but only if you’re already fairly strong. There’s another one by Beach Body, Focus T25, that’s entirely body weight exercises and high intensity training. My husband followed the program for awhile and really liked it as a starter to getting back in shape. All of the workouts are about 30 mins, so it’s totally doable, even with a busy schedule and a toddler at home. Eventually he had to move on to the 30 min version of p90X (P90X3) for more of a focus on strength, but he still does the T25 workouts once in awhile for a change.

  • Start off by working out like a prisoner. Seriously.

    Now obviously, take all these suggestions with a grain of salt and use your own judgment as to what feels like it works. My credentials here are I’ve lost 100 lbs of fat over the last 3+ years and kept it off and I’m in better shape at almost 47 than I was at 27. (On the scale it looks like I’ve only lost 85 lbs; that’s because I gained 15 back in muscle in the last 2 years, using bodyweight, dumbbells and kettlebells.)

    What I mean by working out like a prisoner: start with bodyweight only. I don’t know what your baseline of fitness is but I’d imagine the running has already firmed up your legs pretty well and done some good for your core. You could go to the gym and hit free weights, but if it’s been a long time for you, like it was for me when I began (again; worked out a lot as a teen and for part of my 20s) that can run into a situation where a man’s ego–and I mean that in a general sense, as I tend to think this is something common to a LOT of men–may try to push him into working above where he needs to be. I was so heavy and out-of-shape I was forced into starting off doing less than my damnable vanity kept telling me to do. But that was the right thing, and the fact that I do what I do now and have yet to injure myself proves that. I have the odd twinge now and then–I take an extra day off and it passes.

    Prisoners work out alone, much of the time (but not always), in small spaces, and they use a lot variations on bodyweight exercises. They have to work out quietly, depending on the way their lockup is constructed; if you wake up a cellmate at 4 a.m. doing gaspy loud burpees that could cause some tension. In some prisons the guys do have access to weights, but in many they don’t–yet there’s truth to the stereotype of the buff convict. And they got that way with bodyweight (reality: they’re often bigger on top with tiny legs, which is another story). There are several books covering this, and most list 6 basic exercises, with many variations on the same:

    1. Pushups
    2. Squats
    3. Pull-ups
    4. Leg Raises
    5. Bridges
    6. Handstand Pushups

    Here’s the thing about bodyweight: books like Convict Conditioning (the list above is from it) are full of b.s. sometimes (in that book’s case the “Convict” bit is mostly a gimmick) and should only be read for the exercises and tips on doing them, but many of them note that bodyweight stuff is easier on the joints and my experience has borne this out. I’ve always had a glitchy right hip socket–from birth–and occasional twinges in my right shoulder and scapula. I’ve never felt any additional stress on those weaker points from doing bodyweight exercises–even the tricky handstand stuff. As for that list, it seems too simple, but look at it–it hits every important zone of your body.

    So–I recommend this as a starting point. My favorite workout tool is the kettlebell, but I think a ton of what people say and do with kettlebells is glib and ultimately misuses the tool (the only good kettlebells are heavy kettlebells; they’re not meant to be mere adjuncts to enhance cardio, they are their *own thing* and they are serious bizness). Kettlebells are a whole ‘nother story and this comment is already overlong.

    I love this site: — it’s run by Kelli and Daniel Segars. Over 5 years they’ve built a huge backlog of workout videos. They’re cool, calm adults and very matter-of-fact. There’s no buttheaded screaming, no shaming, and they scale their workouts for every fitness level. They’re already hugely popular and deserve it.

    I talk some about what I’ve done here–it may explain why I went on a bit, as this is a subject that’s generally pretty close to the bone for me:

    Whatever you do, man, have fun. Turn it into a side research project, become an expert in something currently crazy and obscure, like Indian clubs. I didn’t *get* exercise, finally, until I realized one day I was enjoying the hell out of it.

  • Hmm, Everybody’s mostly covered it.

    I do a lot of full-body core. Yoga. Tai chi. Deadlifts. Squats. Planks. Supermans. Bird-Dogs. And twice a week (four times if I am motivated but at LEAST twice) after my workout I spend 20 minutes carefully stretching.

  • After a had a few distance races under my belt I decided to start strength training and WHOA did it help. Yoga actually goes a long way. Best thing I did though was schedule an hour with a trainer, told her my goals/concerns/running overview, and she showed me exercises that would improve running, build muscle, and avoid injuries. Totally worth $40 if it fits in your budget.
    Also flip through some copies of Runners World – almost every issue will have strength exercises you can do at home. One day a week will go a long way!

  • A few years ago I was running a lot (still am) so in good shape aerobically, but not strong otherwise. A friend gave me the P90X tapes and on a lark I started doing them. They’re tough–you have to start slow, but they’re all you need. No gym, no equipment other than hand weights. It’s been more than three years and I’m still doing them and my body has changed in significant and amazing ways.

  • I highly recommend the programs at Core Performance (now called EXOS, I guess). They’re an offshoot of Athlete’s Performance, which trains NFL, FIFA, NBA, all sorts of athletes (good ones, too), but the workouts on Core Performance don’t require you to abandon your writing life to become a pro athlete. They have programs for specific sports & for more general fitness goals. Programs generally incorporate a mix of warm-ups, plyometrics, single-leg balance exercises, strength-training, cardio, and post-workout rehab work (important for dealing with those aches/pains). Strength-training takes up the bulk of the workout. You can customize based on how many days you want to workout and there’s usually an option for how long your sessions will last. I’m doing great with a 5-day/week, 75 minute program for Football Skill positions; do it first thing in the morning.

    I hope this doesn’t come off like a sales pitch, but it’s what I stick with because I get stronger, quicker, more agile, and I feel great (no aches & pains). To make this sound even less sales-pitchy, they offer a free trial (one that requires submitting CC info, mind) for like 10 days or so, but you can save/print out all the workouts ahead of time and just cancel before the first billing. Thing is, some of the exercise descriptions are weird or might be foreign, and having access allows you to see a video of how they’re done. And it’s like $10/month, which isn’t horrible.

    Fair warning: the first week is rough and will make you feel stupid with a lot of the balancing exercises (especially the Knee Hug-Lunge-Elbow Instep move).

    And seriously though: I’m not getting paid for this.

  • Despite its weird title, I found the book THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO BODY SCULPTING very helpful. It contains lots of information on how to safely and efficiently work with weights, as well as how to stretch to avoid sore muscles. But good luck with whatever you try!

  • I agree with the yoga. Tip for finding a good yoga teacher. Go to the studios and watch the classes. Teacher should be watching students and either correcting posture, offering alternate positions, etc. Common sense will tell you if this is a good teacher. Bad yoga teacher can cause you to hurt yourself. Oh, and if she is wearing full makeup, daisy dukes and speaking like a cheerleader, RUN! Hope that helps.

  • I definitely recommend finding a good trainer, preferably someone with at least a bachelor’s in an exercise science field. I started working out with my trainer when I was diagnosed with osteopenia a year and a half ago. Like you, I wanted to build strength but wanted to make sure I didn’t hurt myself in the process. My trainer helped me do that. As others here have posted, we started with body weight exercises, then moved up to free weights. When we started, I struggled to lift 10 lbs. Now I bench 75, deadlift 125, and can squat 105. (As you know, girls CAN lift.) I’m learning cleans and snatches now. No machines, for the reasons others have mentioned.

    I also foam roll before every workout, and after extra-strenuous ones, too. I cannot recommend that enough. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been sore after lifting, and as you can see from the weights I listed above, I’m lifting some heavy stuff. That’s what foam rolling does. Concentrate on the muscles you’ll be working plus anything sore. It really does help.

    Good luck!

  • July 28, 2014 at 9:34 AM // Reply

    WORK OUT LIKE A PRISONER needs to be a book. Now. OK, might have to be padded a bit, but it’s sound advice. My trainer no longer has access to a gym I can use, so we meet in a park and he manages to put me through a pretty rigorous work-out that involves manipulated my own body weight, usually with nothing more than a Bosu and some TXR straps.

  • If you are in pain it is because you are trying to lift too much weight too quickly (most likely).

    At 70kg I lift about 200kg on the deadlift and 140kg on the bench. I don’t lift competitively; I just decided one day that it would benefit me to be strong (I’m a martial artist).

    I started out at 70kg bodyweight benching 40kg and deadlifting 70kg, for reference 😉

    Getting strong has no secrets: lift heavy stuff. But, like all things in life, you need to work at it and work at it intelligently to get the best results.

    Body mechanics are the most important thing. You might be able to do 100kg squat, but if the technique is horrible then when you go to do a 110kg squat you will fail. Also, in failing you will be putting strain on the wrong places.

    You need to teach your body the correct technique and movement patterns for each exercise, which is why I generally advise people to start light.

    I’d say to 4 weeks of 5 sets with 10 reps of an exercise starting with just the bar then adding a little bit of weight each week. Focus on bench press, squat, deadlift and overhead press. You will probably feel a bit silly doing these exercises with just the bar at first, but it will pay you back longterm. At the end of the month (so week 5) look to find out what weight you can lift 12 times by adding weight until you just about fail at less than 12 reps. Do this for each exercise. This is the preliminary stage over.

    Start (wk1) with 5 sets of 10 reps in the bench press, squat, deadlift and overhead press.
    You can do this twice a week when you are beginning (although when you get better you will need to split them up). If you can split them up from the start, even better. The split would be press/squat and deadlift/bench if you have four days. Start with a weight you can do for 12 reps, but, as said above, do it for 10 reps.

    Next week (wk2) do 5 sets of 8 reps. Do this with a weight you could do for 10 reps.

    Next week (wk3) do 5 sets with 5 reps with a weight you could do for 7 reps.

    Next week (2k4) do 5 sets of 3 reps with a weight you could do for 5 reps.

    I’d repeat this cycle for 2/3 months until you are fairly sure that you are moving in the right way with each lift. You should no longer have to think about the movements, it should be muscle memory.

    After this I would begin going wk1: 8, wk2: 6, wk3: 5, wk4: 3 reps. Leaving 1 rep in the tank.

    This is if you want to get strong and build some muscle. If you want to be a bodybuilder you will need to do much, much more.

    As you abdominals: Start with planks (30 seconds and look to build it up to 2 minutes).
    Once you can do that I’d begin looking to terrible Ts, hanging leg raises, russian twists and reverse crunches.

  • Going to echo some of the other recommendations…Pilates is a fantastic way to develop full body strength! It’s especially good for runners as it lengthens and strengthens muscles that can be be shortened by running. It’s important to find a good trainer to start, though, as doing the moves incorrectly can cause more pain or not do you any good. I’ve been doing it for 6 years and love it!

  • You may want to take the weight level down a level and focus on form first, with nice and slow movements in front of a mirror. Consider getting a session or two with a professional trainer to ensure you’re doing movements properly and that they are healthy movements for YOUR body. Depending on what kind of pain this is (I assume it’s not your standard sore muscles) you might be doing your body some harm.

    I started serious weight training myself a little over a year ago … I found the Nike Training Club app is absolutely kickass for helping you learn proper movements (pictures, vocal coaching, and videos for every movement you do) and also for seriously kicking my ass in a way that really builds muscle. Side note, it’s geared toward women so the coaches and models are all female, but I think you’ll manage to get over that. The exercises are just plain good fitness.

  • I support the bodyweight/calisthenics approach. I don’t do yoga, but I do lots of pull ups and dip variations and isometric holds. I’ve never felt stronger. Someone mentioned GMBFitness. They’re great, very gymnastic based. For beginners, check out Al Kavadlo on Youtube. He’s an awesome guru.

    I suggest do what you’re interested in. If you want to participate in a strongman someday, get a trainer, start moving heavy stuff around. If you just want holistic health and strength, i suggest the bodyweight approach. But, do what you enjoy. Building strength takes a long time. Make sure you’re having fun in the process.

  • If you have a Planet Fitness nearby you can sign up for 10 bucks a month, they have trainers on staff at various times through the day and they will go to the machines with you, show you how to properly use them and more. Also, if you need motivation to GO, find a fitness buddy. You don’t have to do every little thing together, but just knowing you aren’t alone is a huge help for someone.

  • Chuck, you may be thinking “Yoga? Me no need yoga. Me he-man.”

    DDPYoga has a thing where you can join their members community for free. You join the community, there’s a “New Members Click Here”. Click there. Scroll down. There are two Members Only videos there, one that goes over the Diamond Dozen, the poses that create DDPYoga. The second is the “Energy” workout. I don’t remember if there’s a password, I think there is. But anyway, you can try it before you buy it.

    Now here’s the thing — buff-ass pro wrestlers do this. Some of whom (Chris Jericho) now say it is the ONLY WORKOUT THEY DO.

    Diamond Dallas Page is now 57 years old. He is in awesome shape. He designed YRG/DDPYoga with a doctor and with physical therapists.

    Try doing the Diamond Dozen and the Energy workouts for two/three weeks. If you don’t feel a difference by then, forget what Badger has said, and go do bodyweight exercises as they are easier than weights. But try it first.

  • Yup. Core. Something super simple to do with your warm up: Balance on one leg, then the other, eyes closed. Hold it for a count of 48 on each side. Pull up with your stomach muscles. With practice, it will be as easy as standing on two legs.

  • Hey Chuck, Thanks for this post — it reminded me that I need to stick with my own fitness plans this week.

    Regarding your aches and pains, it could be a lot of different things. If the discomfort you’ve experienced isn’t normal muscle pain from exercise, it could be that the new strength training routine is impacting your muscles and you need to take it just a little bit easier.

    When you start to work with weights, slowly start from low weight/high-reps and train up to a higher weight, and most importantly (as a few mentioned before) make sure that your form is correct. If you are lunging and using your back and neck to whip out a couple reps, that needs to be corrected. For example, say you want to do a set of standing curls and you pump out six of the ten standing straight up, but on the last four you bend and use your back to get the last four reps. Bending the back or neck during weight training exercise is bad. If you can’t get correct reps with the weight you are using, go to a lower weight and work to lift with correct form, then increase weight.

    What I learned in the military is to always maintain posture whether you are lifting or running or walking. Chin up, chest out, shoulders back. Breathe in through nose, out through mouth. Wax on, wax off.

    May your strength be like bull, like bear.

  • Here’s what I was taught for strength training. Don’t use the gym machines – those are for when you’re +3 Buff Warrior and want to isolate groups to work on. Use barbells, or if you’re like me and stuck with dumbbells, those.

    Start at the lowest weight you can, probably 5lbs. You have two routines you alternate day to day.

    Day A: Squats (5 sets of 5 repetitions), overhead bench (5×5), standing rows (5×5)

    Day B: Squats (5 sets of 5 repetitions), bench press {5×5}, deadlifts (1×5)

    I used YouTube videos to see how to do them. After you’ve gone through each day 2 times (so, ABABAB), move your weight up the lowest increments and start again. For barbells that’d be 5lbs, and for dumbells that’s usually 10. Repeat ad nauseum.

    As far as form, the biggest tip I received is: stand up straight, back straight. That is how your back should remain during exercises. If anything it should arch inward, not out.

    You aren’t going to “bulk up” unless you specifically form your life around that (special diet, specialized exercises, etc). You’ll definitely see progress though. My back started hurting a lot less.

    NOTE: these are just tips given to me by other folks getting in shape, as well as YouTube videos. Check all my work first!

  • For strength training ,the slow burn workout is pretty awesome. And challenging.
    it can be done at home. but there are some gyms that offer the slow burn workout.
    To prevent injuries and still maintain flexibility while getting stronger , Gyrotonic is one incredible
    workout .Athletes like Shaq do it for conditioning. It can be pricey, but totally worth it if you are in pain. Never heard of it? Its like tai chi and swimming. On machines.

  • I’ll echo what others have said and recommend kettle bells if you’re looking for a simple way to build functional strength, especially in your core of molten nougat. I’m a personal trainer and kettle bells are my primary tool for strength training. You can get a great total-body workout in 20-30 minutes that works the body’s entire kinetic chain, which you can’t really get with many other exercises.

    They can be a double-edged sword though (or in this case war hammer), so make sure you learn the techniques properly before moving onto heavier bells. Once you have your form down, go as heavy as you can manage and watch your muscles pop like you just ate a dump truck full of spinach.

  • I’m speaking for myself. I think personal fitness is personal by nature. You’ve got to figure out what works for you.

    I’m 47. I work on a computer 8 hours a day (or more), and so I’m sitting down and sedentary for a large part of each day. That said I was always physically active. I wasn’t running marathons, but I’d walk for 3-4 hours in NYC with zero complaints.

    With all that as background, for the last year and 3 months, I’ve been doing CrossFit 3-5 times per week. It’s the best physical fitness decision I’ve ever made. I just wish I had discovered CrossFit the day it was created.

    I’ve dropped 15 pounds, put on muscle, and I’ve gone from a 36″ waist jeans to 32″ jeans. I’m in for life and won’t ever go back. If CrossFit were to disappear, I’d find some HIIT workout to take it’s place.

    The gym I go to is super strict about weight lifting form, mobility, etc. They won’t hesitate to remove weight from the bar if your form is sloppy. However, I have checked out some other CrossFit gyms while traveling, and they vary widely in terms of feedback, teaching skills, etc..

    From my POV, CrossFit is worth investigating. Some people complain about the price. I welcome the day each month when I can pay my monthly fee. It’s been a life changer for me.

  • This is all seriously amazing. Thank you all for committing time to putting some of this into the comments — it’ll take me a bit to sort through this, but I can already see ways this is going to help.



  • How many opinions can you stand? Here’s one more, bolstered by the advice to ignore what I say!

    The neck ache and backache are likely due to improper form. It is easy to strain your neck, even when doing something as simple as a sit up. If you are working at a gym with someone there to supervise, ask that person for some assistance with your form and tell them it’s a neck ache you’re dealing with. The headache could be as a result of the neck strain–just doing sit ups can cause both (yes, that’s personal experience talking). Try leg lifts to get at your stomach, and pay attention to your neck when you’re doing them; when your core tightens, it’s easy for your neck to tighten, too. Don’t let it.

    Backache is likely form as well, unless you’re intentionally exercising your back, then it might be too much, too fast. If you’re not in a gym, find a personal trainer to teach you how to do the exercises you’re doing (a trainer might suggest new or different ones as well). Don’t listen to us, in other words, get some help from someone who can SEE what you’re doing and diagnose the issues. Do it before you hurt yourself and set your new regimen back to near zero. (Again, personal advice; osteo doc told me that he was deluged with middle aged women who were lifting weights to prevent bone degeneration, and they were doing so without being able to do a simple push up; apparently, it is a symptom of our demand-satisfaction-now society that we rush everything. Hmmph. Impatience has been a hallmark of my personality since, well, in utero; after all, I was a tad premature.)

    Then, just to confuse things, even changing your posture can cause you pain, at least until your body finds its new configuration to be more natural. How much more pain can you get from exercise? Plenty. However, a physical therapist will tell you that some transient pain is ok, a lot is not. How much is some? Damn if I know. I’ve always wanted someone to create a pain-measuring machine for this reason; well, and to settle the argument with my husband over who hurts the most. Best wishes for a relatively pain-free New You.

  • To strengthen your core I would suggest standing crunches, which are easier than regular crunches and sit ups, yet equally as effective. Or at least they have been for me.

  • I agree with most of these interesting people. Core is incredibly important. Yoga is glorious. Start small and inch your resistance up. Use body weight resistance.

    I love running. I love monotonous boring running so that I can get into a rhythm and zone out. Once I wrote an entire Shakespearean sonnet while running. I still don’t like the rhyming couplet, but someday I will fix it.

    I also agree with the people who think that possibly your new-found neck, shoulder, and core muscle tone might be doing battle with your in-front-of-the-computer-posture. I have taken to putting my laptop on the kitchen bar and working standing up. This is not because I am so so so healthy and driven but because my three year old daughter has attacked, conquered, and laid waste to The Desk of Mommie.

    On an ENTIRELY unrelated note:

    Chuckie. I have taken your name in vain in my brand new blog. I thought you should know. Here is a link.

    Before you think I’m a loser, most of the comments are on facebook instead of on the blog. So there.

  • So I’m gonna deviate from the rest of the pack: yes, core-strengthening exercises, but in water. And strap weights to your ankles in order to do it. If you’re worried about sinking, straddle a pool noodle.

    I mean, have you *looked* at the core strength on any given mermaid?

    My routine comprises much of – I’m swapping in the fancy boots on the next couple sessions to see how I get on with them. You don’t need much more than the ankle weights, pool noodle for flotation, and styrofoam barbells to get started with, but it’s useful to hit up a gym or therapy pool which gives you access to a range of equipment.

    I really, really recommend working with a physical therapist or personal trainer who can both gauge your form (the ankle weights do help with this, since they help pull you into alignment) and show you how to adapt your routine to land on days when you can’t get to the pool. There will always be lots of days when you can’t get to the pool, because the pool is over there.

    Having just said you don’t need the fancy stuff, those Hydro-Tone bells are some kind of fucking upper body magic. You push the water, the water pushes back, and pretty soon the water has kicked your ass without the drawbacks of gravity on your joints or spine. Recovery time is surprisingly short for me compared to an equivalent workout on land, since I’m not dealing with that extra gravitational stress. The whole reason I’m swapping in the matching neon mermaid boots is that I’ve hit the limit on what I can do by strapping on stacks of ankle weights all by themselves. The equipment is bulky and not inexpensive, but my therapy pool is super well-stocked.

  • July 28, 2014 at 4:43 PM // Reply

    If you haven’t already seen a chiropractor or an osteopath to get your neck and back in alignment, do that first. Then, anything else that you’re doing to increase your strength will be more effective and hurt less.

    Also, for over-doing it muscle soreness: topical Traumeel or Traumed (never on an open cut or abrasion — it stings) or oral Arnica, 30c will help a lot. These are tried-and-true homeopathics.

  • Not the imps, please.

    I’ve been lifting weights for a few decades now,I’m also a massage therapist and have done yoga and Pilates regularly for years. The combination means that I’m often in actual pain at the gym from biting my tongue and not yelling out form corrections.

    Anyway, do whatever you’ll happily do two or three times a week, but do it with a constant awareness of what muscles you’re using and what your core is doing. My best guess on the reason for the soreness and headaches is that you’re unconsciously recruiting the wrong muscles and then getting the inevitable post workout soreness from poor form.

    For instance, a bicep curl uses just your arms, almost entirely biceps, with forearms and deltoids as stabilizers. Before you start, your elbows are snug against your torso, your core is locked down in a neutral position, your shoulders are back in the pocket, your tailbone is arranged so that your spine is erect, your neck and jaw are relaxed and when you lift, none of that changes. The only thing that changes is that your biceps pull up the weight and slowly lower it down. If, instead, your neck is tightening as you lift or you’re clenching your jaw, then your weight is too heavy. If you rock your body, even a little, your weight is way too heavy.

    If you are recruiting the wrong muscles, then a chiropractor or a massage therapist that specializes in correcting imbalances is one way to go and probably where I’d start. Well, that and foam rolling twice a day, in order to start working on the inevitable fascial restrictions of modern life.

  • Some soreness is to be expected, especially two days after a workout, but you shouldn’t feel any pain, just a “I definitely worked this muscle” reminder every time you move it or stretch.

    Go slow, start light, and don’t strain. Do dumbbell exercises where you can (which is almost everywhere) as they work major muscle groups independently and you are also working all those other little muscles required to balance and stabilize the weight.

    Also, body weight exercises are absolute killers!

    Like writing, it takes time. If you’re serious about working out, and you want some extra motivation, take a picture of yourself now, then another 3 months from now, then another, etc. And compare them. If you’ve been doing a little something every day, you will see changes that were too subtle to notice from day to day.

    Good luck.

  • If you still seek opining . . .

    If you’re having trouble with injuries, I absolutely second everyone who said pilates. One hundred percent. If you work with a good coach it’s one of the best ways to build up strength while remaining injury-free. My circus friends all credit it for their lack of injury, and I’ve used it for both rehabilitation and strength-building. I recommend privates with a good coach, if you can afford it. It’s fantastic and whole-body, and can be as difficult or as easy as your coach makes it.

    In my experience, the quality of yoga teachers has higher variance than in other disciplines, so be careful if you try that. Yoga should *invariably* make you feel good. If a position hurts the coach should be able to work with you to modify it. “Power yoga” that forces you through pain can exacerbate injuries. But good yoga can also be great for gentler strength-building — just shop around.

    Weight workouts / videos are fine, but since you’re having the injury problem I’d recommend at least one session with a GOOD personal trainer on technique and form. There’s a lot to lifting weights that it’s easy not to be aware of. Once you know the proper form so you won’t hurt yourself, you will probably be able to do solo workouts without injury. Muscle soreness is good, but non-muscle soreness means something is wrong. It’s so easy to fuck yourself up with weights!

    In your situation I’d beware of Crossfit, or at least be cautious with it. I have friends who love it, but I also know a shit ton of people who’ve gotten injured doing it.

    Hope that helps!

  • August 3, 2014 at 10:35 PM // Reply

    Hopefully I’m not repeating anyone; there is a cool website called Nerd Fitness ( )

    There are some workout regimens there. Some are basic, and he’s started writing up themed ones (star wars, lotr, so on). There is a new nerd fitness academy you can join (for moneys) and it sounds like the message board community is pretty good.

    I also second the body weight, “work out like a prisoner” comments, but I’ve also experienced issues with that, so…

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