I had to slow down my gymnastics training. I overdid it. Hurt my shoulder. But the good news is that it was all my fault and not because I am a bit old for a gymnast. Thank god I found a good physiotherapist who quickly recognised that muscular imbalances are behind my problems.
Here is the story:
Three years ago, I had a sudden epiphany. I want to do gymnastics. Again. At the age of 31 and after 16 years away from the sport. It wasn’t an easy journey. During the 16 years since having quit, I did various types of sport – a lot of running, quite a bit of yoga, some swimming. However, as I soon found out, I wasn’t doing enough to maintain my upper body strength. Quite on the contrary. My upper body muscles were in a very poor shape – a result of years spent sitting in university lecture theatres or hunched over a computer at an office desk. Once I hit the gym again and tried some of the acrobatic skills I used to find so simple as a 14-year-old, I discovered that my body had changed. My progress was slower and more painful than I hoped for.
I was able to do a back-walkover quite quickly but my reduced upper back flexibility resulted in me overarching in the lower back area. After a few weeks I had to stop because of terrible back pain.
Overall, returning to gymnastics and starting properly exercising my upper body again had a very positive effect on my health. During my twenties, I used to suffer from terrible back pains – a result of my weakening back muscles. These back pains pretty much disappeared soon after I returned to gymnastics (they were replaced with terrible post-training muscle-soreness but I didn’t mind).
Gradually, I felt that my handstands were getting more stable, my walkovers less wobbly.
But I was to learn a lesson. Being a journalist by profession and a blogger and writer in my free time, I spend most of my time hunched over a computer. In the gym, I was trying to compensate for that. I was trying to improve my upper back and shoulder flexibility. I really wanted to crack that beautiful valdez back kick-over.
Don’t ignore soreness
But I overdid it. I developed pain in my right shoulder, which had nothing to do with the regular post-training muscle soreness. I didn’t want to quit. I am stubborn, I wanted to progress. I was training despite the pain. Kept pushing my shoulders to bend more. And the pain wasn’t getting better. Obviously. My shoulder wasn’t up to any more walkovers. Not even handstands and round-offs.
After a couple of months, I was forced to surrender and went to see a physiotherapist.
It was pretty much the best thing I could have done and I recommend everyone who is struggling with any sort of pain to do the same. The pain most likely doesn’t have anything to do with age and you not being able to do gymnastics (or whatever other sport you want to do) because of that.
The physiotherapist instructed me to do some simple exercises. She examined how my arm and shoulder were moving. Her conclusion was simple – the muscles of my back and shoulders are not all as strong as they need to be for me to be comfortably doing the types of exercises I was trying to perform. Essentially, I was over-using certain muscles, because others were too weak. I could do the walkovers and other skills but not the way I should be doing them. As a result, my shoulder would get slightly out of position and it got to the point when the joint would squeeze some of the soft tissue, which got inflamed as a result.
However, the physiotherapist was optimistic. I need to focus on conditioning, strengthen where I need to strengthen, improve my weak spots and I shall be back to walkover-ing soon.
No walkovers for me now unfortunately but I hope to be back soon.
The importance of conditioning
She first started me with some very easy exercises since my shoulder was quite sore. After some weeks, I got to do more intense exercises and even more intense ones later.
It’s been almost two months and I have to say that my shoulder doesn’t feel completely healed yet. However, it really made me realise that getting superfit requires a more scientific and rigorous approach than just hitting the gym and doing whatever you want and expecting results. Especially in sports like gymnastics, it could be quite dangerous. I’ve seen newcomers spraining their ankles the first time they jump on a trampoline. You can do it but you have to build up your body first. It takes time, it takes commitment and it hurts sometimes.
I am being humble now. I am committing to two hours of conditioning and stretching a day. I will report on my results here. Hopefully, once all my muscles are as strong as they need to be and all my tendons nicely flexible, my progress will speed up. I am simply refusing to give up and I want to see myself progress faster than I have done over the past three years. I don’t want to keep doing two steps forward and one back because of injuries.
I don’t expect to become an Olympian, but I would like to catch up with some amazing people out there such as this great 67-year old pole dancer. Isn’t she awesome?