Please note exercise after injury should be discussed with your medical practitioner. This is what I did, everyone’s recovery is different.
The one thing being immobilised taught me was the importance of moving, for both my physical and mental health. I had got into some really bad habits before my accident. I found excuses not to exercise rather than just get on and do it. I don’t quite know how I fell into this rut, but the longer I left it the harder it became as my fitness obviously declined. As an ex dance teacher I clearly loved dance and I knew how good it made me feel. The excuses had to stop if I wanted my health to improve.
Once my airboot cast was removed I was offered physio and was given some gentle exercises to perform to build my strength back up. The physio advised that I could go back to whatever exercise I wanted as long as I was realistic and that I’d “know” what my body was capable of. This was quite a scary prospect. Did I trust my body?
I started off gently with swimming and aqua aerobics. Knowing my ankle was supported in the water was comforting, but the walk from changing room to pool was terrifying. What if I slipped? But I did it! We also did a number of gentle walks to ease me back into things.
By December I felt ready to go back to some exercise I loved – Zumba. I returned to a lovely class just round the corner, with a fab instructor, Gemma Pearson, and a very supportive group of ladies. The class is a fantastic community and I knew I would be able to take things at my own pace without judgement. I took things steady and replaced anything jumping with low impact alternatives – step touches and side taps, marches etc. The workout was still high impact after literally doing nothing for months but I wasn’t putting unnecessary pressure on my joints.
I also started exercising at home using YouTube. YouTube is a fantastic resource with literally every type of workout you could possibly want available. You obviously need to exercise caution as you don’t have an instructor there to correct you so I would only recommend if you have some knowledge of what is safe for you. I chose to do mainly light weight-based exercises, to help strengthen muscle tone and actually surprised myself as to how much I enjoyed this type of training. One of my favourite channels is @bodyfitbyamy. She has a great selection of workouts and always gives lots of options for different levels of fitness.
By March I was feeling so much stronger and started to add some other classes into my repertoire including Clubbercise, which I attend with some work colleagues and some more gym based classes including booty blast! I was getting into some really good habits and now I like to exercise 3-5 times a week. This may only be a short 20 minute blast at home on some days or a full on hour long class on others, but the difference now is I look forward to a workout and miss it if I don’t get chance.
So what are the secrets to getting back and sticking at regular exercise?
1) Find something that brings you joy. For me anything dance-y is great. Anything on gym machines isn’t and I know I wouldn’t stick at that.
2) Try new stuff. Recovering from an accident almost felt like I had a clean sheet to give something new a go. I gave hand weights a go and was amazed how much I enjoyed it. They have also helped strengthen my back, neck and shoulders which I have had problems with for a while. I now am largely problem free in those areas.
3) Know your limitations. When recovering from exercise and going to group classes I found I had to very much be my own welfare officer. Know what is right for you, don’t expect the instructor to always be giving you options but don’t be afraid to ask for them (my Zumba teacher was great at giving options but other instructors not always so). Build up gradually i.e. when I felt strong enough to try a high impact move I would start with one or two in a class, not attempt to be high impact for a whole class.
4) Build in rest. In the early days I needed to rest after exercise, proper feet up rest. It would take a lot out of me. Very quickly my stamina and strength built up and therefore the amount of rest needed lessened. Listen to what your body needs.
5) Take it slow and realise that even if you can’t do much to begin with it is better than doing nothing. There is no such thing as a bad workout.
My physio was right. I did “know” what my body was capable of. I still don’t feel I can do everything I did before the accident but I’m not far off and the overall health and wellness benefits have been incredible.