19 Dec 2019 The Boom and Bust of EDS Exercise
Boom and Bust: I imagine we’ve all been there at some point. But what do we do about it?
This topic has been coming up a lot recently in conversations with hypermobile and EDS clients. How do we progress without the boom and bust? I wanted to give my thoughts on this important subject because without understanding it, how do we get stronger without getting knocked back every time we think we are getting somewhere?
Before we get to that, I did some prior research with conversations with people with EDS and hypermobility. I asked them why we think the boom and bust happens. Here’s what they told me:
1) Anger with EDS causes them to push harder when exercising.
2) Frustration at setbacks causes them to ignore warning messages that the body is giving out and push on.
3) Not understanding when to stop – can we really trust our body?
4) Ignoring pain and pushing through it.
5) Seeing other people with hypermobility doing fancy things on social media and believing they too should be able to do the same.
And here is the one that shocked me and made me feel sad
6) Marketing messages from the fitness industry showing us what we ‘should’ be able to do and what we ‘should’ look like doing it. I’m guessing glamourous, perfect hair, flat abdominals and simply gorgeous. This time of year with New Year resolutions and gym memberships on the up – be prepared to be bombarded.
Can you relate to any of these?
I totally understand all of those points. It is natural to feel angry and frustrated by this condition sometimes – especially if you were previously a fit and healthy individual who could do pretty much what you wanted. And then, this condition manifests itself with pain, fatigue and a whole host of other issues. I’ve been there and I’ve beaten myself up about not being ‘good enough’ or ‘strong enough’ to do things that other people seem to find so easy.
I too have a real issue with some of the social media for hypermobility and the messages we receive about our own abilities. Remember, many people with hypermobility were dancers and gymnasts. Oftentimes they are able to do amazing things, and not suffer the ill effects afterwards. That is not the same as having EDS or HSD. If someone is hypermobile, it does not mean they have a connective tissue disorder. They could just be hypermobile with no pain. Exercises are shown as ‘exercises for hypermobility’ or ‘Pilates for hypermobility’ and most of them make my eyes water. I can just imagine all the ways someone ‘untrained’ or unprepared with EDS would brace, strain and contort just to attempt to do some of these exercises. Notice I say untrained – because I am not saying we could never do them. After training and preparation, I can do pretty much any advanced exercise I wish to on a Pilates mat or reformer. Would I get my clients to do them? Probably not. Part of my teacher training was to be able to do everything that was required of me. That does not mean that was suitable for my body at that time. And that’s not necessary for most of my clients. And certainly not without the training or preparation in requires. And remember, not every exercise is going to be suitable for most of us. It’s got to be appropriate, adapted and functional for the individual.
So back to avoiding the boom and bust.
First of all we need PATIENCE. It is a known fact that it does take us longer to tone than people without EDS. It could take you 3 months to get the baseline of an untrained person without EDS. That’s OK. Just be aware you are going to be taking small steps towards improving your muscle tone. With improved muscle tone, you are going to start to feel stronger, with less fatigue and injury.
Second, we need to be CALM and MINDFUL. There is little point getting angry with EDS. I know that sounds harsh, but the fact is EDS is not going anywhere. Get angry, let it out, but then we must find a way to work with this condition. We either learn to manage it and work with it, or I pretty much guarantee EDS will always win. Push too hard, without preparation and you may find yourself in more pain and discomfort. I don’t know about you, but I’m not prepared to let EDS win. So over the years, I’ve learnt to listen to my body and stop when I need to stop. This might mean doing less than others, but I’m fine with that. This is also where breath work is key for working with EDS – it instantly starts to promote a state change and calms the mind.
Third, we need to go GENTLY. When I work with a client, there is a reason I give 3 repetitions to start out. You’ve got to find out your baseline and one that works for your body. If you start out with 10 or 20 repetitions and wake up in pain the next day, how are you going to know your baseline? Maybe at 5, you would have been OK.
The other reason is that we do not like repetitive exercises. We are prone to repetitive strain injuries and they can happen pretty easily. If we jump right in with 10 repetitions, with a body that is deconditioned, we could end up with some joint or soft tissue inflammation. The body loves variety – don’t stick to a programme of the same things day after day. It can bring on repetitive strain and demotivation.
And how do you progress from 3 repetitions? After a week of small, consistent attempts at following a programme, you add ONE more rep. Yes, just one more. And you test that new baseline. If that works out OK, you add another ONE repetition and so on. We go SLOW. When it comes to pain, any exercise that increases your pain acutely should not be continued and should not be pushed through. Acute pain is giving you a message that needs to be listened to.
So when it comes to avoiding the exercise boom and bust with EDS, we’ve got to love being the tortoise, not the hare. Slowly wins the race. The tortoise was more resilient, determined and stayed for the long game.