I got an email this week from a person who had bought my book. She was super excited about getting going on the exercises, but she had gotten stuck. One of the early exercises (exercise #2 in fact) was entitled rock the block. This exercise (which is also available on my website) suggests that you walk around the block as many times as you can to determine an accurate starting point for your fitness efforts. On the surface, this seems like a great idea. You’ll never be too far from your front door, you can just keep a water bottle on your front porch and you know the neighborhood. All good except for one thing. What if you can’t do it?
What do you do when you come up against an exercise that you simply can’t do–one that just doesn’t fit? Do you just give up? No! In the tradition of the best Academy Awards red-carpet gowns, you tailor it. You alter the gown to fit the star, you don’t alter the star to fit the gown. It’s the same thing with exercises. If the exercise doesn’t fit, just change it!
There’s no law that requires you do a particular exercise. Most of the time you can find a simple change or substitution that will get you past the roadblock and on your way. Can’t walk an entire block outside? Okay, walk 1/2 or 1/4 of a block. Or do laps inside your house from kitchen to living room to bedroom and back again. Does walking hurt your ankles, knees, or hips? Try walking laps in the local pool. The water will remove most of the force of gravity off your joints while offering greater resistance than air. You can get the same level of physical exertion walking slowly in the water as you can get walking much more quickly on land.
Sure, you say. It’s relatively easy to modify moves when you’re all by yourself. But what about when you’re in a class? The answer is the same. Tailor the moves to you. You’re not a member of the Rockettes. There will be no dire consequences for doing things differently than the other folks in the class. If a particular move or exercise hurts, scares you, exhausts you or causes you to lose your balance, DON’T DO IT! It’s as simple as that. Your teacher should be willing and able to help you figure out modifications for virtually any movement in your class. If your teacher isn’t friendly and accommodating about finding modifications, maybe you need a new teacher. This is your class and YOUR exercise time. You shouldn’t feel exhausted, deeply frustrated, scared, unbalanced or in pain.
While there are specific modifications for nearly every kind of movement in the universe, there are some typical modification tools you can call on when you’re having trouble:
1. Slow down: If a move is going by too quickly to do it properly and comfortably, just do it more slowly. In a dance class you could do the move at “half-time” (meaning that you take twice as long to accomplish the move as those around you). In yoga classes, you can also choose to flow more slowly from posture to posture. Just make sure you have space around you so that you’re not banging into other folks who are not quite in sync with your movements.
2. Make movements smaller: if you’re finding that you can’t quite keep up in class, you can simply make your moves a little bit more contained. In dance class, you can keep your feet closer together and closer to the ground. If you’re doing a step-touch, narrow your stance. If you’re doing kicks, just kick a little lower or do a point or a tap instead of a kick. Also if you suffer from hypertension, you should probably keep your arms at shoulder height or lower most of the time. It may raise your BP to work out for extended periods with your arms over your head.
3. Simplify movements: If you’re finding yourself overtired in class, you can simply do the leg movements and drop the arms to your sides. Or you can sit in a chair and just do the arm movements. You can also use this strategy for pain management. Legs hurt? Just do the arms. Do your arms hurt? Just do the legs. Is your right arm killing you? Just use the left one. You get the idea…
We could go into a lot more detail about this, but here’s the key point. It’s YOUR body. Nobody knows more about how your body feels than YOU do. So take charge! Apply some simple modifications, ask for help, speak up, and be the boss of your own body. Just make sure your fitness FITS you.
The Fat Chick