Cutting the cord from the big box gyms is a great feeling. You get more money in your wallet at the end of each month, the convenience of not having to add time in transit to the front and tail ends of your workouts, and also the general feeling that you are training what you need to train, when you need to train it.
There is a dark and gloomy down side to the home fitness/RefuGym phenomenon though, and it’s nothing really new, but often overlooked. Getting injured while working out from home can be a major roadblock towards pursuing your goals. In this post I hope to cover some of the things you can do to overcome these barriers and get back into the gym.
Working out from Home is the Holy Grail
Several years ago when I realized how easily and cheaply I could create an efficient and effective home gym, I was super stoked. The biggest hold-back in my fitness progress up to that point was having the motivation (and time) to get all my gear together and transit myself to and from the gym every day.
The time spent getting to and from the gym on many occasions kept me from going at all. I knew how much it would cut into my leisure time after a long day of work, and I would have rather spent that time with my family, cooking, eating, or relaxing. It got to the point that I spent more time in transit than I spent working out. Momentum killer.
I used some very basic fundamental equipment, some of which you can find here, and built my own gym in about 2 months, after budgeting a little bit to afford some of the higher end gear, such as the Concept2 Rower. I justified it all by subtracting my annual gym fees, which were at that time pushing $1,100.
Now I was in heaven. My schedule used to consist of waking up 2 hours before work. 45 minutes to get going and get to my gym; a quick 20 minute workout; a 20 minute drive home; 20 minute clean up — maybe have a snack if there was time; and then off to work. In the afternoons it was about the same amount of time budgeted. Working out from home was truly liberating.
Rise of the rotator cuff
I never took Newton’s talk of equal and opposite reactions at face value, even though I’m sure it makes perfect sense. With my newfound freedom of having my gym only about 20 feet from my bed, let’s just say that I was in there a lot. So much that it started filling in those 2 hours that I had freed up.
Overtraining started to occur. Even though I felt great having everything within an arm’s reach, I was spending a lot of time working out and not much time recovering. Time that I used to spend warming up, getting ready and cooling down, was now spent just going at it.
I had recently installed a StudBar Pull-up Bar, to round things off in my setup and I was loving it. I had gotten into kipping pull-ups and was amazed what a beating this bar could take, and I was doing tons of them! And then I started running into a problem I hadn’t expected: overtraining.
Until recently I had spent so much time getting ready to work out, and so little time actually working out, that over training was never a risk. But with all of this newfound freedom, I was taking an unknown toll on my body.
One cool morning I woke up before work and went into my garage. I did a few arm circles, some push-ups, jumping jacks… something to get the blood flowing. And then I decided to get into some tabata kipping pull-ups. I dropped down when the workout was done, felt an unfamiliar pinch, and entered into what would end up being a 6 month recovery process from a rotator cuff injury.
Recovering from a rotator cuff injury
I’m not a doctor or physical therapist but I know how to listen to my body now more than ever. Sometimes it takes a “life altering injury” to get you to change your ways.
My biggest road block to recovery was my home gym itself. The convenience of being right there made it a very tough temptation to resist. And so my injury got worse… and it got worse.
Knowing when to recover is one of the most important parts of getting fit, and it’s a tough lesson to learn.
By the time I sought medical treatment, I was told my labrum was about to tear. I was one workout away from requiring surgery and possible permanent injury to some degree.
And so my home gym started to collect dust
I’m a proud person and I don’t like finding out I have limitations, but there it was. Instead of adjusting my workouts to cater to my injury and limitation, I stopped working out. My beautiful home gym became clutter in the garage, and before I knew it, the garage was back to a storage room for boxes, christmas decorations, goodwill items. It was no longer my shrine and sanctuary.
Four months into my recovery, which consisted of weekly physical therapy, lots of rest and stretching, my injury started to improve. I was getting my mobility back, and by month 5 it was mostly pain-free. Unfortunately, my fitness was now my biggest injury.
I had forgotten my philosophy about home fitness that had made me so motivated, happy and healthy. I was so focused on my injury that I think to some degree I had forgotten that my shoulder was just a part of the larger machine that was me.
The road to recovery has a lot of curves… and sometimes requires a U-Turn
There I was at month 6. I was pretty low. I had gained about 15 pounds of not-so-great weight. My heart rate rarely elevated in any sort of positive way. And I was back to being your standard U.S. drone, waking, working, eating, and sleeping, but not quite living.
My shoulder was better at this point. I had stopped my physical therapy appointments. On occasion I would still do some mobility exercises at home when there was literally nothing else to do. The physical therapy and recovery were so monotonous, and — other than reduced pain — unrewarding that I had forgotten what physical fitness progress felt like.
One morning I went into my garage again. The morning wasn’t too dissimilar from the morning of my injury. I noticed my garage was packed; a far cry from its glory days. I opened the garage door and a breeze blew into the room, and I saw a coat of dust blow clean from my pull-up bar.
I don’t know if it was one of those “A-ha!” moments everyone talks about, or if it was some sign from above. But as I sat there watching the dust swirl about the room in the sunbeams, I realized how different my life was now. It was a visual and visceral feeling and it jolted me awake.
Being human means never settling
Once we decide that things are good enough, life stops. I think as human beings, we should never be satisfied. Happy, absolutely, but satisfied? Never 100%. We would otherwise stop exploring, stop learning, and stop improving.
I realized I was primed to get back into it. I noticed the weight I had gained, the dust on my gym equipment, my lack of energy, motivation, and thrill of life. It all hit me on that morning in the garage, amidst the swirling cloud of backlit dust.
And I resolved to start anew. Again.
The Trilogy is now complete
I’m hoping the story doesn’t end here. But I’m also hoping that this concludes the ever-emotional freedom-prisoner-freedom trilogy that has illustrated the last few years of my life. I’ve now felt the feeling of being reborn as an independent, progressive, home fitness enthusiast.
I’ve witnessed the profound improvements that getting fit from home brought to my life and my family. Then I felt the rebirth of injury, and how it can so quickly change and uproot everything you’ve worked for.
And finally I lived the rebirth of post-injury revelation. I feel now that I am more resolute and committed toward a total life fitness.
Having the freedom to exercise and improve yourself on your own terms carries with it a lot of responsibility as well as pitfalls. At a big box gym, there is a structured way of things. There are trainers, gym partners, and everything is built to cater to your weaknesses. This is one of the great things about box gyms, but also one of the biggest drawbacks. There is little room to improve if you are constantly catering to your weaknesses.
But one must look at fitness as a whole image… a sum of its parts. If you never challenge your weaknesses, they will never improve. But if you abandon structure and ignore your weaknesses all together, they tend to become injuries. They then tend to handicap you and force you to either quit the game or at least hit reset.
Pay attention to your weaknesses. Listen to your body. Train so your weaknesses don’t become injuries. And if/when they do, do not let them defeat you.