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This wasn’t my first time lifting weights. Like I mentioned in my last post, in the past I only followed exercise videos, attended group fitness classes, or did whatever my former coaches told me to do. I have never created a program by myself. And after several months of inactivity healing from my neck fractures, I just didn’t know where to start.

Sure, I could have read the thousands of how-to’s online and learned about it on my own, with all my free time off work. But my situation is quite different with my neck injury. I didn’t want to mess this up; the very last thing I need is ANOTHER injury.

Very early in my physical therapy, my former physiotherapist advised me that personal trainers at the gym wouldn’t necessarily know how to safely progress me. I sought the help of my friend/kinesiologist who had more background in dealing with injuries. I gave her all my medical documents (X-rays, prescriptions, previous left arm and neck exercises, etc.) so she could plan my strengthening exercises accordingly. The goal of this weight training program was to restore the strength in my upper body after being in a neck brace for so long – not only did my neck muscles deteriorate, but also the muscles of my entire upper body.

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Evaluation letter from my former physical therapist
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Simplified illustration of the muscles of the upper body

My $60 session with her was well worth it as she created an exercise progression for the next three months and demonstrated how to perform the exercises. I started with three basic exercises on my first week of this weight training program (January 12th), five weeks after my neck brace was removed. I was really just playing around in my first five weeks off my neck brace, trying to get myself used to moving more. (Imagine me doing Aquafit with seniors.) Now it was time for the hard work.

I was to do the one-arm row, goblet squat, and dumbbell chest press for the first few weeks, three times a week (with the number of reps increasing after each workout day). As our legs are generally stronger than our arms, I started with five-pound weights for the upper body exercises and seven and a half for the goblet squat. I was to increase the weight by two-and-a-half-pound increments each week.

Here’s part of the workout progression my kinesiologist gave me:

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Oh, and as we were classmates in French immersion school, we were trying to do all of this in French. Haha.

Upon receiving this workout, I felt extremely intimidated and nervous. I was to meet my neurosurgeon on March 1st and had about only two months to get myself back in shape, in case he allowed me to go back to work. But at least I now had a plan, and all that was left was for me to actually do it.

Week 1, Day 1

Alright – the first time I touched weights again after ten months!

First off, I go about all my workouts like this:

  1. Dynamic stretching – 5 to 10 minutes
  2. Cardio (low-impact options only because of my neck injury) – maximum 30 minutes, minimum 5 minutes (depends on how much time I have to do the entire workout)
  3. Weight training
  4. Static stretching – 10 to 15 minutes

That day I was feeling especially motivated and tried this:

It wasn’t so bad! I just had a hard time maintaining strength in my left arm (see 3:44 and 8:11), given my injury there. And the push-ups (9:36)? They barely happened

The weight training portion wasn’t a complete failure either. I pushed myself through the goblet squat, even though I had to do only eight reps per leg! I wasn’t really sure if I was doing the one-arm row right so I had to look it up online (a perk of working out at home!). It took me about 20 minutes to do two circuits of all three exercises at eight reps each.

Overall, I felt pretty good about myself for having completed a real workout!

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Week 3 onwards

Starting Week 3, my kinesiologist tacked on new exercises. I had to create an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the poundage/progression because I knew I would forget them and get confused. Because I could lift only a maximum of 30 lbs. as per my neurosurgeon, I could only increase the weight for some exercises after two weeks and not every week.

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Click to enlarge

Week 6 was supposed to be my “rest week” wherein I would simply repeat the poundage from the previous week (I was to do three reps instead of the usual two, but I forgot to look at the paper my kinesiologist gave me). As the weights increased, I felt I had to move it to Week 5 instead. Although I was definitely getting stronger, those weights were getting heavy!

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One-arm row

A couple of new exercises were added by my occupational therapist starting Week 6. Here’s my record of what I’ve actually lifted:

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Click to enlarge

Currently at Week 8, I have 12 exercises and it’s starting to get overwhelming. Although my routine is still challenging, I’m getting bored of it. “Regular” or intermediate weight lifters advise changing your routine after a maximum of six to eight weeks, or when you notice a plateau in your strength or a lack of physical results. But since I am merely a humble beginner, maybe it would be too soon.

If you’re new to exercise, you should initially take a longer period of time before switching programs. The body undergoes an anatomical adaptation phase where the muscles, nerves, and hormones have to get accustomed to the new phenomena of learning movement patterns, getting the brain to recruit the right muscle fibers, and neuromuscular coordination. This phase typically takes upwards of 6 weeks, and true benefits from a program can extend beyond this initial stage. It would be too soon to change programs in a case like this. (Source)

Maybe until I can do 15-lb. bicep curls WITH PROPER FORM, I can change it up. Here’s me struggling, with improper form, with 10-lb. weights.

I’m doing this weird flailing thing with my left arm to compensate for my lack of strength there. I’m also swinging my lower back to create momentum. So terrible. I still need to work on that. In fact, today I will find the proper weight that allows me to do the exercise with perfect form.

Lessons learned

The most important lesson I’ve learned was to listen to my body. Whenever something doesn’t feel right or something hurts, I just stop doing the exercise all together (and maybe continue later if it doesn’t hurt anymore). It’s been hard for me to do that with my go-go-go, competitive nature, but again, I don’t want another injury.

I also learned to strive for perfect form. I would sometimes videotape myself doing my exercises if I wasn’t sure. Looking in the mirror helps a great deal too, especially when making sure your knee doesn’t go past your toes when you squat. An exercise is basically worthless if not done properly.

Lastly, I’ve learned to rest when needed. I never do weight lifting workouts on consecutive days. I usually do them with one day in between, sometimes two. I’m doing other activities outside of weight lifting as well (hot yoga and swimming), so I make sure to pair my workouts wisely so as to not rob myself of energy when I need it.

Results

I’m not one to take before and after photos of myself. Besides, I only want to get stronger – and I absolutely feel it. I don’t know how to to be able to quantify that, besides the ability to progress and lift heavier weights week after week.

And maybe the fact that I don’t have those “batwings” on my triceps anymore!

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This is clearly not me… I’m not even white

Just kidding, I still have them.

My legs are getting so muscular, though! Hehe.

Improvements to be made

I need to work on further strengthening my core. Yoga helps in that department, but I’m going to add some back and ab exercises to my workout routine. I also started doing core exercises in the pool.

Ideally I would like a shorter, more efficient routine, much like the workouts I was doing before I got injured. It takes me up to two hours to complete my workout, from beginning to end (including all stretching and cardio warmups). But it’s okay I guess, I have all this time to do it anyway! Maybe I can want that when I’m a lot stronger, hopefully by Week 12 – when I can do a full push-up or follow an entire group fitness class. Until then, I just have to keep working at it, workout after workout, rep after rep.

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