DISCLAIMER: This post will be therapeutic for me and (hopefully) informative for you.
I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve been completely miserable. I couldn’t begin to recap the dumpster fire that’s been the last 6 months of my/American history.
So I’m going to myopically focus this post on a piece of exercise equipment that has helped me cope while rehabbing a chronic hamstring injury that’s kept me off the roads: THE ARC TRAINER
BUT FIRST: Some history on my relationship with cross-training:
When I first started running/racing in 2009, my body was completely broken down. I’d suffered severe muscle wastage during previous years, when my weight plummeted as low as 58 pounds. I basically had to build my body up from scratch and it was painful. I suffered all kinds of injuries – achilles tendonitis, tibial stress reactions, knee/back/hip pain – you name it. I wanted to run more than anything, but I was terrified that I’d done too much damage to my body, which wasn’t necessarily equipped for hardcore running in the first place. Becoming a runner seemed impossible.
But I tried anyway. Back then, I could only run about 3-10 miles a week. Every day I couldn’t run, I drove to the gym and parked my butt on the elliptical trainer for 1-2 hours a pop. I worked hard. I listened to upbeat music (Afrojack, Lil Wayne, and Lady Gaga were favorites) and visualized beating people I didn’t like in a race. I did this for years, because I wanted to succeed so badly.
I ended up succeeding. Running a sub-20 5K is something I could only dream of doing for a really long time. For someone who’s played such roulette with life and had no high school/college background in running, it was no small achievement.
IMPORTANT TANGENT: There’s a beautiful passage in Infinite Jest that’s set in an addictions recovery center, where one downtrodden soul (I’m too lazy to pull my personally annotated copy off the shelf) muses to another downtrodden soul that it’s better to want something than to have something. Because when you want something, it can be everything you dreamed of having. When you have something, it either falls short of your expectations, or it exceeds your wildest dreams – and then you must face the inevitable nightmare of losing it.
That’s kind of how I feel about my running. I don’t think I ever truly believed I would have the fitness I wanted. I only believed it was possible and that I deserved it, because I was willing to work hard.
All the success I visualized during those hundreds of hours of ellipticalling – it was nice just having those dreams. But, when I realized those dreams… that’s when the terror set it. The fear of actually tasting success and then having it ripped away is excruciating. It wears you down. So, inevitably, you break down (again). And breaking down hurts even more.
But here’s the thing: Once you’ve had what you want, you have to have it again.
Is it better to have loved and lost? I think so. Because, after you’ve lost something like running, you’ll do absolutely anything to get it back. You will work even harder for one more winning race, or even just one more euphoric training run. You won’t be scared of breaking down, because you’ve already broken down. And that desperation is the only thing that will ever propel you to break through to the next level. You’ll become better for having lost.
This is where I’m at with running, which I’m not doing very much of lately. I’m broken down. So, like I did in 2009, I haul my (relatively) weak gluteus maximus to the gym every day to build it back up. I park it on a cardio machine and cross-train hard for at least an hour. I do PT strength training, core work, and yoga, even when I don’t feel like it, which is always, because I am depressed. I listen to music (M.I.A., Kranium, and Run The Jewels are current favorites) and visualize beating people I don’t like in a race. I also watch closed captioned CNN and compose angry political tweets. That sounds absolutely ridiculous but it’s exactly what I do and it works. In the short term, I feel relief. I enjoy actively wanting what I currently cannot have. In the long term, I know I’ll get what I want back, even though it seems almost impossible, because I’ve done it before.
The only way to have something is to want something. And the only way to want something is to believe it can and should be yours.
PREAMBLE OVER – Back to the ARC Trainer!
Years ago, I was able to achieve and maintain my then-level of fitness by working out on the elliptical trainer. It scratched the itch and felt sufficiently challenging so that, after an hour, I felt like I’d burned enough energy (stress).
These days, the elliptical machine just doesn’t cut it. I can barely get my heart rate over 120 on the elliptical machine and, when I do get it over 120, I have to work disproportionately hard. The elliptical motion itself, while low-impact, can actually strain your joints, particularly the patellar tendons in your knees. This past fall, I was starting to experience overuse issues from the elliptical trainer and I was annoyed at the lack of cardiovascular intensity it offered, so I decided to try the ARC trainer as an alternative.
I was hooked from the first workout. The ARC trainer sort of resembles the elliptical trainer, except it doesn’t utilize an elliptical motion. Depending on the incline setting you choose, you can work out in a variety of low-impact, joint-friendly strides, from a gliding motion (which works your glutes and hamstrings), to full-on 90-degree-knee mountain climber mode (which works your quads and glutes). The higher you bump up the incline, the higher you’ll want to bump up the resistance, which takes you into sweat puddle cardio territory. I can get my heart rate into the 160s with a relatively lower perceived effort, which is the ARC trainer’s claim to fame.
I’ve remarked to running friends, especially Amy, that the ARC trainer is really the only cross-training machine that offers runners a comparable bang for their buck. 60 minutes on the ARC trainer offers a cardiovascular workout that’s relatively similar to 60 minutes of running. When you’re injured, this is a godsend.
That’s all I have to report for now. I’m working with a fabulous sports chiropractor and orthopedist and my prognosis is good. I don’t have any major anatomical abnormalities (x-rays and MRI were “boring”) but I do have a lot of scar tissue that needs to be worked through. And there’s nothing I’d rather do right now than work through this, so I will.
I’ll leave you with this video of a yoga flow I’ve enjoyed doing with my cat:
Questions for the Internets:
Do you use the ARC trainer? What incline and resistance settings do you like?
Do you prefer another cardio machine to cross-train? If so, which one?
Do you practice yoga for injury prevention? If so, what’s your favorite pose?