Taking A Break

No, this is not a post about graduate schools, I promise! But if anything about them sneaks in here, sorry — it’s sort of all I’m thinking about currently.

This is a post about my almost month-long break from the gym/any type of exercise for my concussion. Not only was it hard being away from working out because I genuinely enjoy it, but it was also terrifying to think of the progress I was losing.

Detraining is a very real thing, and can happen within a few days. In swimming, we were told that a day out of the water is like a week out of practice for land sports (or maybe it was 3 days, I don’t remember). So that’s why we had to practice on Saturdays and holidays. Now that I’ve been out of the competitive water sports for almost around 3.5 years…it’s a struggle. But anyway, with land-based workouts, it doesn’t happen that quickly, but it can happen.

I honestly also have a fear of getting fat. As a kid/teenager, I always ate the most in my family. Every time I went home from college, my parents commented that this is the only time they would eat so much rice or buy such a large amount of meat. Kinda annoying, kinda proud of myself. For me, I gain weight mostly around my midsection, but I can easily fluctuate it. If I eat poorly for a few days, I’ll notice it, but if I cut back to my healthier habits for a few days I can notice it too. Also, you have to take into account bloating, and the body can’t be perfect. So this was weighing on my mind a lot.

Granted, I didn’t have much time to feel bad about missing the gym because my head was killing me. So to be honest, I wasn’t as upset as I would be normally if I just didn’t workout for 3 weeks. It wasn’t by choice. The hard part was the fact that I couldn’t just exercise around my injury. This wasn’t a hamstring strain that would only allow me to do upper body for a few days. This was a real, live head injury that people need to start taking more seriously.

Here’s the other thing: I didn’t take care of my concussion as well as I could have. I got so bored, I decided it would be ok to watch a few episodes of my show on about my 3rd/4th day out. It really wasn’t. But I started repeating that pattern, and I still had to go to work. I had to be around loud noises, because everyone knows athletes can’t lift without the loudest music and the heaviest bass in the world. But in all seriousness, it was a lot of stimulus for my head. About 10 days after I was hit in the head, I tried to go back to the gym with my little concussion protocol, but it was too much. So I stopped. That weekend, I didn’t do much to help my head either. 2 weeks post-concussion, without any sort of RTP protocol, I went on a hike with a friend at a pretty high elevation, but felt fine. Next day was a disaster at work so I knew I had to be more serious.

But then, my sister visited about 18 days after the injury. I couldn’t just sit at home with her! We went to do stuff, which meant I wasn’t looking at screens/technology, at least. However, I don’t think she truly understood the seriousness of concussions, and I was having major anxiety that I would never get fixed, as usual. Thankfully, I had a few friends who understood and helped me along the way and told me things were going to be okay. So I don’t think my head got any worse, but it didn’t get better as quickly as it could have.

Some other stuff happened this week that’s pretty unremarkable, but basically now, almost 4 weeks out (in 4 days), I’m feeling a lot better. I can now do grad school/studying for a good bit, and I’m probably going back to the gym tomorrow, but all I’m going to do is bike for 10–15 minutes, then stretch for a really long time. I haven’t stretched or done a single thing, no lacrosse ball rolling, no cupping, nothing. It’s been weird, but it leads me to my next point.

I had lived for years thinking that there are so many things wrong with me physically. I thought that my body was so dysfunctional and screwed up and I’d be doing rehab forever. This experience proved otherwise. I think it showed me that I am strong, my body is strong, and I can do more than I think I can. I used to not go more than a few days without doing some sort of “rehab” or myofascial release on my body, not only because I was sore, but because I thought I needed to just attack my body with everything. I believed that I would be more sore/in pain if I didn’t workout (this has it’s merits, but not here).

But weird stuff happened during this break: I was really enjoying being away from the gym, even though I was having concussion symptoms. I could just chill. I found that the break was good for me, although I wouldn’t willingly not workout for 3 weeks again. Deloading/rest weeks are pretty important in lifting, honestly. Although I wasn’t stretching or doing any sort of rehab or maintenance, I wasn’t even sore. Every day at work, I was still running around with water bottle racks, I was on my feet a lot, and I was okay. In the past I would have tapped out. I would have cried. I would have told myself that I’m not good enough and I would not have made a good impression on my coworkers (really not ok).

Another funny thing happened: I think my arms/abs are the last to lean out, I just generally have squishier arms and I think that’s from the years of water sports I did. I’m also not as naturally veiny/lean in my arms, so that’s ok. However, my legs actually maintained a lot more muscle/strength than I thought they did, and they were just as lean as before (which is to say, not very). You can still see my abs when you flex, but yes, there is a bigger layer of fat around them. But that’s okay, I’ve realized just how difficult it can be for some people to maintain competition-level abs. For some people it’s easier. But we’re all different, and I had to come to terms with that. I suppose I just wasn’t eating as much as I did when I was working out, but I swear I am.

It’s so disheartening to see your progress go down the drain. However, I see that as an opportunity to almost rebuild myself from the ground back up. The break allowed my shinsplints and strange lower leg pains/annoying things to clear up — it was honestly probably from squatting, oops, gotta work on that. But now I can really set up a good protocol for myself. I think what I’m going to do is take it week by week. Whenever I set up a workout plan and say “hey, I’m doing this for the next 4 weeks”, I get discouraged and annoyed. But if I make a general plan, like I’m definitely going to deadlift, squat and do pull-ups as my basic exercises, and have room for modifications, I think I’ll enjoy it more. I love variety, trying new things, and that is why I like playing sports to work out — you never know what can happen. I also wanted to add in cardio, just running on the treadmill 1 day a week to get in some cardiac shape…very much needed haha.

So anyway, leg day will also be upper body rehab/mobility day, and arm day will be lower body rehab/mobility day. I think I like that so I get some variety each day. I think each rehab day will target the same muscles, but I’ll do a different exercise each time. I have so many exercises for serratus anterior muscles, psoai muscles, glute medius, etc. and I think that will help me a lot. I’m a current state where I want to hit 100 for squats and deadlifts, I’m sure I could squat at least 100 for 1 rep but I’m not at that level of comfort yet.

My ankle mobility and hip mobility seem pretty solid still, but I know that if I want my squats to be even better/more efficient, I’ve got to work more on those 2 things, as well as thoracic extension and my lat tightness. Even my external rotation is making me struggle to keep my arms back. I’m probably at around 130–140 degrees of total shoulder rotation, which is TERRIFYING because I used to definitely be past 180. But perhaps that means stronger shoulder muscles. Anyway, my goal is just to target these things. Yes, I want these things to help me lift better, but I want my goal to be joint health and general happiness from moving more freely.

This was a bit random of a post and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, it’s more just me rambling, but this has been a good lesson on the lack of our ability to care for ourselves when we most need it (ex. my lack of self-control, oops), the resilience of human bodies, and general thankfulness that I am okay and I’m not going to have symptoms forever.



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Jen Xu

Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, coffee lover, looking for a hobby I don’t have time for. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.