Getting motivation to get in the gym with a chronic illness can be tough. Between the fatigue and the pain, it’s very easy to feel like going to the gym will be only make things worse.
But think about this. If you were to pick up an exceptionally hot cup it would hurt and instinctively you would drop it. What is happening here is pain signals are being sent to your brain and fight or flight mode kicks in and adrenaline will spike. With nothing to fight, your body goes to flight and drops the object causing pain. Fibromyalgia causes the nerves to over fire, sending pain signals to the brain. Fight or flight kicks in, adrenaline gets pumping and your body wants to react, however you can’t fight Fibromyalgia, and you sure as hell can’t run from it, so you end up with all of this pent up energy inside your body which turns to tension. Going to the gym and working out helps to release this tension and ease the pain, along with the added bonus of boosting your feel good hormones and lifting your mood.
I’ve made a few errors in my fitness journey; I pushed too hard, I lifted too heavy, I made things a lot worse before I realised how to make things better. So here’s my top tips on how to train with Fibromyalgia.
1. Keep in mind that your nervous system is over firing. Push your body too hard and you’ll put further stress on the system and your pain will flare. This will only set you back so it’s ridiculously important to start listening to what your body is telling you. Are you actually too tired for the gym or do you just not want to go? It may take some trial and error learning what your body is actually telling you, but I’ve learnt that if I always make myself go (unless in a flare up, that’s a no no) then my body will tell me within 10 minutes whether I should have stayed at home. When I get that message from my body, I leave immediately.
2. Strengthen your body through weight training. Not only will this help your physical health and sculpt your body, it will help your mental health through making you feel stronger, more confident and like you have control over your body. How you feel about yourself and the control that you have over the pain will boost your overall mental health and well being. Building muscle will help to support your joints, help maintain posture to ease back pain, boost your metabolism, help keep bones strong and more. So many positives!
3. Your ego is not your amigo. Train because you’re doing it for your health, not because you’re trying to compete with anyone. Keep your weights low, especially when starting out and gradually work your way up. The heavier you go, the more strain on your nervous system, the more your pain will flare. I used to be so set on lifting as heavy as possible, and there are some movements that my fibro can tolerate the heavy weights, but I not only angered my illness, I ended up injuring my back and I sadly had to learn the hard way that it’s simply not worth it.
4. Cardio is tough on the body. It requires energy and endurance, something fibro isn’t a fan of. When it comes to working out, avoid hour long sessions on the treadmill or cross trainer or you’ll find yourself wiped out. Take time to go on gentle walks and you’ll find yourself feeling mentally and physically better without straining your body and focus on weights in the gym
5. Stretch. I cannot express how important this part is. I stretch twice a day, every day. Your body is in constant need of TLC and I cannot express how much relief you’ll get from the tension just from 10 minutes in the morning and evening, especially when training. Stretching my hamstrings, hip flexors and back is always my biggest focus as this is where I hold most of my tension and find these areas super tight and painful.
I hope this helps! x