Friday, 5 July 2013

An ongoing battle with myself

My main focus has always been on strengthening my body to stop the crippling pains associated with hypermobility syndrome/EDS. This is, and will always be, my number 1 goal. 

I gave up smoking in November and my weight soared to almost the heaviest I've ever been; granted some people might make snide comments about the fact that I'm still 'tiny' etc, but for me, I am big. Everyone knows their own body better than anyone else, and for me, this is too heavy. My thighs rub together when I walk, I have stomach flab & love handles that hang over the top of my trousers, and none of my clothes fit. The most annoying part of it is, I was eating a much lower calorie diet than I ever had and still gained weight. I say this because people have suggested that maybe I was eating without realising, to curb my nicotine cravings. Definitely not the case at all. I was keeping a food diary and using an electronic cigarette for the cravings. 

I started buying bigger clothes to 'tide me over' but that is just a temporary measure that ended up lasting for far too long. Maybe my age, my metabolism crashing (nicotine is a stimulant, much like caffeine - it helps you to burn fat) and eating a terrible diet all my life has finally caught up with me. I mourned for a while and carried on as usual, but have finally got my head in the right place. I've been incredibly lucky all my life (please don't think I'm boasting - it's just the truth) because I've eaten a disgusting fatty diet, drunk LOADS of alcohol, done no exercise and generally been a lazy, eat-everything-in-sight kinda person. And it never really showed. I was very lean, had fairly good muscle tone and had no real issues. I can't complain too much, because I've got away with this lifestyle for a very long time; my body is only just saying 'fuck off, I'm not dealing with this shit anymore!', after 28 years of it. 

The point I'm getting at is, having a goal (weight loss, achieving a nicer body) is really going to help my motivation in the gym, which in turn will help my agonising joint problems. But it needs to be consistent, like with all things related to your body. I need to make this a lifestyle choice and not just a diet/occasional gym session to help with my pain. Like most people, I got to a stage last year where my pain had eased quite considerably. So instead of maintaining what I was doing, I started slacking off and ended up hurting again. What a fucking idiot, right? Yep, I hold my hands up to that one and admit that I am a TOTAL FUCKING MORON. It's human nature; most people can relate to reaching their goal weight, whether it's through Slimming World/Weightwatchers or alone. And as a reward, you treat yourself to a crap meal. Great, if it's just one. But once you've got out of the 'diet' mindset you so staunchly followed, it's so easy to think "I'm thin now, I can treat myself", which often escalates without you realising it. This is the same situation with training for a medical problem, like I have been doing. "My back feels a lot better & I want to go shoe shopping. I'll skip the gym and go tomorrow". You guessed it, tomorrow becomes next week and before you know it, you're going once a fortnight & starting to regress. 

The key to getting back on track is to not beat yourself up about the setbacks. Everyone does it; you've eaten shit food all day/not been to the gym all week and decide you'll carry on the same way for the rest of the week and start again on Monday. Why do we do this?? What's so special about Monday? The answer is 'nothing'! It's just a way of procrastinating and being a lazy bastard. And I am the biggest lazy bastard around! Sometimes your mind is your worst enemy, you end up talking yourself out of doing the right thing and believing the ridiculous excuses you're making! 

Enjoying what you do/eat really helps, but it takes time to find out what suits you. For example, I really hate pressing day at the gym. I find it so boring that I would rather stay at home. To combat this, Terry incorporates my shoulder workouts into my leg day to stop me getting the hump ;) another thing I find helpful for getting my upper body workout in without being miserable about it, is to occasionally go to strongman event training with the boys at the weekend. As much as I hate pressing, trying to press a log or a dumbbell is so much more fun. Why? Because it's fucking cool! Strongmen do it, and it looks great in pictures or videos! Sounds stupid, but it really is good fun going to the gym with a bunch of large men & trying to do what they're going (albeit with baby weights). I have found I can push myself much harder without even realising it. 

Since Terry has started getting Olympic coaching, he has thrown a few different exercises into my gym sessions to see how I fare. Being hypermobile is actually  a positive thing for weightlifters, so it made sense for me to try a few different movements. It turns out that because of my bendy elbows, I can front squat with the proper technique; generally people will cross their arms across their chest to hold the bar in place due to flexibility/muscle mass issues when front squatting; you can get better at it with training & practice, but because I have such 'over-the-top' flexibility in my elbows (and no muscle mass!!), I could do it straight away. The first time being hypermobile has ever been useful! I've worked up to a 40kg front squat really comfortably, but I find after about 4 sets, my wrists really hurt so I switch to back squats again. Both ways hurt my wrists (this is normal - it's an unusual movement for a regular person, but your body will get used to it with regular training) but in different places. So I'm finding it to be a really useful thing for leg day; my legs want to do more, but my wrists can't stand it - so mixing front & back squats really fixes the problem for me. 

I realise I've waffled on for quite a while now, so I'll summarise my typical leg/pressing day in case anyone else will find it it useful/interesting:

Front and/or back squats: warm up with the bar (20kg reg bar/25kg on monolift) 1 set of 5 reps 
Increase weight each time for 4 sets of 5 reps (you will know what weights work for you)
2 reps of heavy weight for 2 sets 

Medicine ball - squat, fast up into a press  10 reps, 3 sets 

Dumbbell press - 5 reps on each arm, separately (10 total, obv) for 3 sets. Heavy enough to be challenging, not too heavy to make you cheat to get the reps. 

GHR (glute ham raise) - 10 reps, 3 sets. I have Terry standing close enough so I can grab him if I get stuck at the bottom - it's good for the brain knowing you have someone to rescue you if you fail; which you don't tend to do knowing someone's there for you :) 

Leg extensions - 3 sets of 8 reps on a fairly heavy weight (so that it's difficult, not impossible) 

Stretching & foam roller. Essential! 

There are a lot of factors that can change  how much you do at the gym. For example, I did today's session on an empty stomach (other than a Maxi Force energy/carb drink), in 31C heat (that's 88F for any Americans reading) and my stomach feeling a bit dodgy (hence no breakfast). If it was cooler & I'd eaten a good breakfast, I would've pushed it more. But I still managed to get PB's on everything I did. That's the beauty of lifting weights; you can probably get a PB every session! An extra rep, extra weight on the bar etc. So every session you can come away feeling you've achieved something. Even a 2kg increase in weight is still an improvement on last time. Terry told me I had squatted really well today and of course, me being the negative person that I am, came back with "well it's not like I lifted anything impressive". He explained that I comfortably (back) squatted my bodyweight for 2 sets of 2 reps on an empty stomach, in hot weather and after complaining that my back was really hurting this morning. Having someone there to put things into perspective like that is really important for someone negative like myself! I always think about what other people can do & feel like I'm useless in comparison. And as Terry often says: you're not a powerlifter, bodybuilder, strongwoman, or even a normal person. You're a person who has avoided exercise your whole life and you have a chronic soft tissue & joint disorder that makes most things harder. 

And that's when I realise I spend too much time around competitive athletes and realise my attitude is completely skewed! My aim is not to be the strongest, it's to keep out of a wheelchair for as long as possible! I need to remind myself of this! But when your husband and close friends are incredibly strong & winning records/competitions for being strong, you get a warped view on the world. Maybe I would benefit from training with someone normal once in a while, just to keep things in perspective! ;) 

Finally, the training side of things is going great. I'm motivated to get stronger to help my painful joints/muscles & am going to the gym regularly - I just need to do the same in the kitchen to get double progress! I had a really good week of eating (chicken, eggs, brown rice, salad, broccoli etc) and lost weight almost immediately but I've slipped back a bit. The key to success is preparation! I go to work empty handed, I end up eating junk. But I guess if you want results, you need to be more strict and spend the time making your own food. I hope I'll get it right soon, going to Worlds Strongest Man where most of the wives & girlfriends are fitness/bikini/figure competitors is slightly daunting when you look like a cake eating competitor yourself ;) if I manage to get in better shape by then, I'll be brave and post my before and after pictures. And hopefully others will see that they're not the only ones struggling to fight the flab :) 

The thank you section

As always, I couldn't do any of this without the selfless acts of others. 

Terry Hollands - my husband, my best friend, my personal trainer, my chef, my biggest supporter (figuratively and literally)! As I often say, without him I'd still be bedridden, stoned on painkillers and would be out of a job. He regularly gives up his time even though he's in training for WSM, just to help me get better. <3 

Jay Hughes -  taking time out of his busy schedule, dieting & training to work me hard in the gym when Terry isn't about. Giving me diet tips, using 'tough love' & not bullshitting me, measuring my body fat & being a supportive friend! All of this while feeling like shit and cranky because he's in the last 6 weeks of his bodybuilding prep. My bestest homey :) 

Emmy Louise/Bulks Power & Strength Gym - letting me train at her gym, being supportive, giving advice, providing amazing equipment in a clean & fun environment, and generally just being a great friend! An inspiration for all women that lift, a tiny 5ft powerhouse with abs of steel! 

Clayton Nicholson - mainly for dancing with me (and Manbear haha), making me laugh & driving me home when I'm drunk ;) but also the invaluable advice & support given at the gym. A man that would drop everything just to help out a friend in need. 

MyProtein - for sending me some bits to try out! Protein cookie, an amazing quick fix when I was too knackered to make something after the gym; tastes great too, unlike some other brands that have that gritty, chalky taste & dryness blurghhh. Preworkout drink (Pulse V4) that perked me up after a long shift at work & also had a great taste, BCAA's used for during training which also had a great flavour and 100% natural peanut butter that I gave to Terry as I can't eat nuts, but he assured me that it was great mixed into his protein shakes & also on granary bread. Tastes like normal peanut butter, but without the shit that's bad for you added in. 

Sorry for the long winded blog, it's been a while and I've had a lot to say - but I hope it hasn't been too boring & if anyone has any questions or success stories about any of the topics, feel free to get in touch :) 

Twitter: @lorenzomingus
Facebook: Lauren Hollands 
Instagram: Lauren Hollands/lorenzomingus 
Email: laurenchollands@gmail.com

Smell ya later....! :) 

P.S. look at this cool gym top that my friend Daniel Yeates got me! Haha so apt!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Backpain extravaganza! Welcome to the show...

I woke up Tuesday morning & was surprised to find that I could barely move because my back was so painful. I vaguely remembered moving around a lot at night because I couldn't get comfortable, so it kind of made sense that something had gone wrong. The weird thing is, I had no back issues during the day or the night before - it was sort of a bolt out of the blue.

I have been fairly lax with my gym training, but I have been keeping active. I walk a lot at work & do some mild stretching at home when I feel I need to. I even avoid doing too much housework (ha, yes I know it sounds like an excuse) as leaning over a sink/ironing board for too long etc really causes me problems. So the fact that I haven't done anything (knowingly) to exacerbate things, is quite frustrating. 

It's difficult to get the right balance when it comes to stretching as too much can make my joints even more bendy, yet not enough causes me to seize up. 

Without waffling too much, I will outline my rehab gym session. I hope that anyone who suffers with the same issues as I do, will find it helpful. But everyone is different, so trial & error is the way forward. I normally do split gym sessions; legs, upper body & back all on separate days to give things a chance to recover & stop my whole body from aching at one time. But on this occasion, I did a whole body workout - just really light & took everything easy. 

I started off with front squats. I've never actually done them with a bar before (only with a medicine ball or Kettlebell) so it was quite an unusual feeling. Because I have fairly good flexibility in my ankles & lats, along with good shoulder mobility, Terry decided it would be much less painful for me than doing back squats. Turns out, he was right. I used the really light bar (about 10-12kg) on its own for the first set & only went up to about 25kg total. This is ridiculously light, but as I'm rehabbing & my back didn't feel stable enough to cope with heavy weight, it was more than enough. I did 5 sets of 5 reps which was plenty. 

Deadlifting came next. Used the proper bar & some very large 5kg plates to begin with. Anyone who goes to the gym will know that 5kg plates are normally tiny - this isn't a problem for anyone lifting big weights, but for a woman who wants to lift the bar from a normal height, big 5kg plates are invaluable; particularly when warming up. When I have trained anywhere other than Bulks, I've had to either lift my warm up weight up from ridiculously low, or put something on the floor to raise the bar up. Extremely inconvenient. So again, started on 30kg for 5 reps & once my back started loosening up a bit, Terry upped the weight to 40kg. Still very light, but just enough to get everything working without damaging anything. 2 sets of 5 at 30kg & 3 sets of 5 at 40kg. 

He tried to get me to do overhead squats as well, but I totally failed at this. I held the light bar in a press position while trying to squat, but my back felt like it was going to snap & I couldn't get down more than a few inches. It was good though as it told us where the problems were in my body; which parts were tight, which are injured, which are too loose. Knowing your own body is important, but it helps when you have someone who has had problems themselves that can alert you to what the cause is. 

Glute ham raises were unbelievably painful. I usually do sets of 10 reps with no help, but I was only doing 5 while using Terry's hands at the bottom of the movement to help get myself back up. I could feel the tendons in the back of my knees doing weird things which again helped to tell us where the problems are. 

I also did some very light dumbbell pressing (the little girlie ones that are about 2.5kg), followed by dumbbell pullovers. I actually chose the last exercise myself as I remember doing them before & my back stretching & cracking with each rep. It has to be my favourite assistance exercise because it really seems to stretch everything out and make your tight muscles feel much looser. I laid with my shoulders & head on the bench in a sort of bridge position, held a 5kg dumbbell above my face & lowered it backwards so my arms were stretched above my head. If that makes sense! It's really good for your core as well; I'd imagine that doing it on an exercise ball would make it even more beneficial, especially for core stability. 

My hip flexors are currently so tight that they're pulling everything out of alignment even worse than usual. Why? I have no idea. The only thing I can really think of is that I'm walking a bit funny where I've put on weight. Because my thighs now rub together (how fucking lame. I'm hanging my head in shame) and get a bit sore, I think I'm walking differently to compensate. Can something as simple as walking with your legs a bit further apart cause all this trouble? I think it's possible. But then it could be a number of things. But my pelvis is definitely well out of alignment to the point where my hips are crunchy, my knees are fluidy & my back feels like an overstretched elastic band. When you stretch an elastic band to its absolute maximum point before it breaks, you know where you're wincing waiting for it to ping you in the face? That's the only way I can describe how my lower back feels. My arse cheek has a tingling pain in it as well, probably where my pelvic alignment is all wrong & my nerves are being pinched. Although I'm still in agony, the super light gym session followed by the foam roller & stretching has definitely helped to ease things. 

I've read up about HMS a lot & find the NHS website particularly useful for showing people who want to know about it. This is an excerpt from there regarding injuries: 

Injuries

If you have joint hypermobility syndrome, you may be at increased risk of injuring your joints – for example, by partially or completely dislocating them (when the joint comes out of its correct position). Joints, particularly the shoulder or knee-cap, can dislocate if overstretched.

A dislocated joint will need to be moved back into place, usually in hospital, in a procedure called a reduction. Some people with joint hypermobility syndrome may be able to put their joints back into place themselves. However, you should still seek medical attention if you have dislocated a joint.

You may also be at increased risk of soft tissue injuries such as:

  • tenosynovitis – inflammation (swelling) of the protective sheath around a tendon (the tough, rubbery cords that link muscles to bones)
  • bursitis – inflammation of a bursa (a small, fluid-filled sac found over the joints and between tendons and bones)
  • epicondylitis (tennis elbow) – a condition that affects the outside of the elbow, causing swelling and pain
There's a lot more in depth information online, but this pretty much gives you the outline of the injuries you can sustain. 

I wouldn't mind so much if I'd actually done something physical to injure myself, but when you do something fucking ridiculously pathetic like dislocate your hip when turning round to get something from a cupboard, it really takes the biscuit! But it's the nature of it & I guess I should feel grateful that I'm still mobile enough to not need crutches or a wheelchair. Some days I can do anything I want to without too many repercussions, but some days the stupidest things cause me pain. 

Terry has recently taken up weightlifting which has not only been useful for his strongman training, but for his newfound knowledge of flexibility problems. Because of his excessive muscle mass & strongman conditioned body, he really struggles with the flexibility required for weightlifting. He's been reading a book called 'Becoming a Supple Leopard' which has some amazing information and ideas in it; he's been using it to help us both with our issues and although him reading it is enough to help us both at the moment, I'm going to read it as well and hopefully learn more about how to help myself. The guy who wrote the book also has some excellent YouTube videos about being a 'hypermobile athlete' and how to get round your issues. I'll post some links in my next blog once I've done a bit more research and can give reviews on it all. 

The biggest problem a person with EDS/HMS has, is the fact that we look like everyone else a lot of the time. Having an invisible illness is awful because people say things like 'but you don't look ill' or 'you can walk; what's the problem?' - well the problem is not always evident as we can't walk around crying or screaming in pain all the time. The best we can get away with is constantly bitching about our joints hurting. But believe me, that gets boring when you say it enough. If we complained about our pain every time we had it, we'd never stop talking. And that's the truth. I hurt every SECOND of every day. Sometimes worse than other days, but there's not a single moment that I can sit down and say 'I am 100% pain free'. When you suffer with chronic pain, you become accustomed to suffering and tend to only complain out loud when it's really bad or affecting your everyday life. And that is a really sad state of affairs. 

As always, I welcome questions or stories about how you've dealt with joint/muscular problems. I've just seen a brilliant response on my last blog that I shall include in my next one. 

Sorry for the long-winded essay, I really need to work on being more concise in future ;) 


Monday, 13 May 2013

Back by popular *cough* demand...!

So... I sort of gave up writing my blog. Why? Erm... Well, a combination of reasons really. Laziness, lack of motivation, personal misery (cat died, car broke, painkiller withdrawals etc) & wasn't being very consistent with my training. 

The main reason I started this blog was to keep myself motivated, record my progress & hopefully to have other HMS/EDS sufferers see what I've found has helped my symptoms. In my opinion, doctors don't seem to give a shit & rarely offer any constructive advice. I've found that exercise has been far more beneficial than anything the doctor has prescribed. Unfortunately though, I've been treated with some hostility by some of my fellow sufferers. That's not all of them by the way; just some. I am a lot more capable of certain things than others, and of course some are more capable than me. That's just the way it goes (in all walks of life). I started off not being able to get out of bed without help; this changed pretty rapidly once I started strength training. I really wanted to help other people & show them what I had achieved in such a short time. Some people have just sneered at me about this and suggested that I'm insensitive to their disability because of my blog; obviously that's their choice, but I am also affected by their disability. I just chose to do my utmost to overcome it or risk my job, my relationships & my quality of life. That's not to say that I'm superhuman or superior to anyone. Far from it. I whined & complained (shocking, huh?!) from day 1 - I can't fucking lift a thing in the gym. I can't even lift my body out of bed. I can't cook because it makes my whole body ache. 

That's not to say that everyone can do what I have, but for me, it was worth an attempt to alleviate the soul crushing agony of every single day. I'm glad I've done it. Everyone starts somewhere, and there's no shame in starting with baby steps. 

The long and the short of it is, my blog was to help people like me. People like me (not all, but a few) weren't really interested. I felt a bit like my blog was pointless after that, so I kind of gave up. The people most interested in reading my gym antics were friends, family & gym enthusiasts with no disabilities at all - I find that a bit overwhelming really. Friends & family, granted; they can now understand what I go through & how I feel & I'm grateful that they took the time to find out. But gym enthusiasts? Powerlifters, bikini/fitness competitors, strongmen/women - why the hell would they be interested in what a crippled girl has to say about the gym?? 

I have nothing to share that they don't already know and I am not very strong or in good shape. Yet they still took the time to read and comment. So thank you all! I've come to realise that people who train hard, are generally very supportive of fellow gym goers, regardless of their goals or weaknesses. I should've realised this being married to Terry - he is always watching videos online of various different things regarding training; not always strongman specific. I guess it's just a lifestyle you embrace as an athlete (him, not me!) and you enjoy seeing what other people are up to in their chosen discipline. 

Anyway, enough of the waffling. This is just supposed to be a quick recap & a new beginning of my blog - I'm going to keep the rest succinct (hopefully)... 

Things that annoy me: 

1) People telling me I should give up lifting weights because I'll end up with huge muscles - this is an insult to people who are in great shape. It takes 100% dedication & determination to build lean muscle and it doesn't happen overnight. Women don't build muscle like men as we have minimal testosterone. It would take me at least 2 years of seriously heavy lifting & carb loading to gain even mildly 'bulky' muscle mass. So if you're one of those people that believe this bullshit. Stop it now. It's ridiculous. 

2) People telling me that yoga or swimming are better for my condition. Ok... Are you a physiotherapist, doctor or personal trainer? No? Well fuck off then. Yoga elongates the muscles. Mine are already elongated because of my lax joints. Do I want to make them worse? No! Get it?? Jeez. Swimming is fine, but it's not enough to manage my condition. It just aids/doesn't exacerbate it. Simples. 

3) Being asked (usually by other HMS/EDS sufferers) why I can't put my hands flat on the floor because they can and it's one of the tests on the Beighton score. It's ONE of the tests. Not the defining one, just one. I will reiterate; I can't touch my toes very easily because my muscles are constantly hard (instead of soft) due to overwork. My knees bend backwards causing my hamstrings to be overstretched, along with throwing all my other muscles out of sync. I am working on correcting this, but when I've been this way all my life, it's going to take time to retrain my body. 

Bit of a moan, no accusations at anyone in particular, but I felt it needed to be said. My mum is hypermobile, in her 60's and has always been able to put her hands flat on the floor. She has never had any back problems or pains because of it - it's just the way shit goes. No 2 people are the same, you just have to go with what your body is telling you and try your best to deal with it. 

I hope I can help people like me, let them know they're not alone, and maybe have them try some of the things I have if they feel it might help them too. That's all I would want - I wish I had had someone to encourage me to try strength training because it had helped their condition. I'm just lucky I have a very knowledgable husband who did a lot of research to help me out. It's all been trial and error, and so far it's paid off. 

I'll write more about my training sessions in my next blog, but one thing I will mention is my recent strongman training day! Me, Terry & some friends went to Bulks to train, so I decided I would join them in whatever they did - mainly to save time, but also to mix it up a bit and have a bit more fun at the gym. My buddy Jay Hughes taught me how to log press & to load an atlas stone on a platform. Log pressing went ok, but I seriously lack confidence - something to work on as I go along. After extensive technique coaching with a medicine ball, I then managed to load Bulks' smallest atlas stone onto the platform - it was quite an exciting moment and because I had an end goal, it made the hard work so much more fun. I'll see if I can upload the video onto my next blog, it's quite funny to watch :) if you can't wait (yeah right) just go to Terry Hollands' YouTube video posts - it'll be on there somewhere...! ;)

Even though I have been very sporadic with my training, I am stronger with each session; it's very encouraging to know that my body is still responding in the right way, even though I'm not doing as much as I should. The body is quite an amazing thing when you really think about it. 

Anyway, enough of my rambling; I hope this blog is a semi entertaining read and if it's not... I will try harder next time ;) or not. I don't fucking know. 

Smell ya later :) 

Look at my weird arm! Very attractive!