Exercising with Fibromyalgia: the April Fitness Challenge

Exercising is a challenge when all you really want to do is take a nap, especially when the exercise exhausts you further rather than invigorates you. After aggravating my back and then developing fibromyalgia, my exercise routine has not been what it used to be. I can’t exactly run a 5k and throw punches anymore. I have been struggling to find workouts that I feel successful doing, that are fun, and that will help develop my strength. It hasn’t been easy, and I am not particularly fond of how weak I have felt.

The physiatrist who diagnosed me with fibromyalgia described me as “exercise compliant” when I explained my exercise routine, which then consisted of my three-mile walk or bike to work most days. She suggested that I consider swimming, which I vehemently shot down. She recounted much of what I already know about atrophy of muscles from disuse and how much of a challenge it is for people with fibromyalgia to stay active. Even though I received the gold-star rating of “compliant,” I didn’t particularly feel compliant or active. I felt overweight and enervated.

After some inspiration from a fitness-guru coworker and the Walk Across Kansas challenge in April, I asked a friend if she’d want to join with me to try to hold each other accountable and encourage each other to exercise in April. She agreed! Her participation was really helpful for me because I knew that she would see whatever I recorded into our shared google document. It was also nice to talk about different workouts we had tried and generally cheer each other on. (She did yoga while wearing a foot brace! Major props to that dedication!) I don’t always need an accountability buddy, but I definitely wanted one as an extra motivator with how hard it was to exercise when I woke up feeling like crap daily.

Before our April Fitness Challenge, I had been feeling frustrated and in a rut. I had been using DDP Yoga intermittently for almost the last year, and I was rather tired of the five workouts I could do before work in the morning. My personal goal was to try to exercise a little bit every day—outside of my normal trek to work—and I knew I would have to mix up the routine to stay motivated. So, I splurged on a few additional DVDs. I expected this challenge to be difficult as I tried to juggle my erratic fibromyalgia symptoms (and it was difficult), but I feel that this fitness challenge can be considered a complete success. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it felt almost impossible some mornings.

I want to share my own experience with this fitness challenge for others with fibromyalgia who may be struggling to find exercise routines that work for them. I am neither a doctor nor any trained health or fitness professional. I’m just a woman sharing what worked for her based on my own personality and my own struggles. For me, I need to feel like I’ve accomplished something, and that means finishing an entire workout, even if it’s a 10-minute workout and even if it is low-intensity. I don’t have enough energy to beat myself up for not being able to do a 45-minute kickboxing workout. I allowed myself to celebrate the small victories, especially when it meant doing a 15-minute stretching workout when I otherwise wanted to camp out on the couch and cry. The first two weeks were brutal, but I kept at it. Some people have called me stubborn; I prefer tenacious.

After those awful two weeks, though, I started to feel a little stronger. My muscles hurt for the right reasons, which brought a kind of relief I’m not sure that I can ever adequately describe. Sometimes, I even found myself looking forward to my morning workouts. My overall mood improved, and I started crying less. I even got some of my I’m-going-to-kick-ass attitude back. Within this last week, I did a cardio fusion workout that was 35 minutes long. My face was as red as a bad sunburn, and rivulets of sweat raced each other down my face and neck. I didn’t feel gross. I felt like me, and I reveled in it… before taking a well-deserved and very hot shower.

I won’t pretend that this challenge has changed my life, that I don’t hurt, that I can suddenly start running again tomorrow, or that I’ve lost weight, but I can claim that I feel better about myself, a worthy goal and reward in its own right.

The Workout DVDs with which I Began my Challenge:

  • Walk On: I was confused when I saw a walking workout on Amazon. How do you walk in your living room? Are you supposed to shimmy down the street glued to your cellphone? I was deeply skeptical about this DVD, but the reviewer who described using these workouts with her fibromyalgia convinced me to give it a try. I’m so glad that I did because I love these workouts. Jessica works out with her mom, which I think is a sweet touch, and she offers plenty of modifications to what is already a low-impact workout. It was not, however, a low intensity workout. These workouts are more akin to aerobics than a walk around the neighborhood. I definitely worked up a sweat. Since purchasing this DVD, I have discovered a plethora of workouts on her website, from walking workouts to yoga to strength training to barre workouts. I feel as if I’ve discovered a hoard of pristine Roman coins dated to Augustus. To those of you who know me best, well, you understand exactly what kind of endorsement I just made.
  • Ballet Fitness: I bought this DVD because the workout segments were short, which was something I needed to feel like I had successfully completed a workout. The segments range from 6 to 16 minutes, and you can combine them for longer workouts if you’re feeling up to it. I like the ballet approach with classical music, and many of the workouts are deceptively or just straight-up tough. I sometimes, though, find it difficult to follow what I am supposed to do, mostly in the Nutcracker segment where she fails to count many of the repetitions and the floor work makes it nearly impossible to watch the video and exercise at the same time. For $10, it was a reasonable purchase, but I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I had discovered the treasure trove that is jessicasmithtv earlier.
  • Yoga for Energy & Stress Relief: One of the pieces of advice I have read over and over again for people with fibromyalgia is that stress reduction is essential. I also wanted to have an easy workout available for days I felt awful and needed a low-key option available to help me meet my challenge goals. For $8 on Amazon, I’d totally buy it again if only to relive the incredible belly laugh that interrupted my zen-like relaxation when I heard the instructor say the phrase, “the beautiful sensitivity of your hands.”
  • DDP Yoga: I bought these DVDs a year ago, and I have enjoyed them overall. A year ago, they were nearly divine to me because I hadn’t found anything that I could actually do. Some of the workouts, however, are too long to comfortably complete in a setting, especially before work, and put too much strain on my wrists. I did generally like these DVDs and appreciated the instructor’s advice, “Who cares if you fall down? Get back up again!” It has become a kind of motto for me.
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