One of the hardest things for a person with Lupus to master is the art of finding a consistent, manageable workout routine. One day, you may feel like a superstar and the next you may feel like an invalid. A workout that may seem completely manageable on Monday may seem like trying to climb a mountain when you re-attempt it on Wednesday. I found myself struggling with all of the above, even though I’ve been a personal trainer for over ten years.
I had to re-learn how to assess my exercise intensity and how to differentiate between an oncoming flare and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). For those of you unfamiliar with the term, DOMS is that soreness you feel for up to a couple of days after after you workout. It’s not a bad thing, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re injured. I have also struggled with the ever-common conundrum: I’m exhausted and don’t feel up to working out, but I know if I workout I’ll feel better…or will I? Will this workout be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and throws me into a flare? Below you will find some tips I have learned in the last four years since I was diagnosed with Lupus.
To workout or not to workout: That is the question…
Some days, I wake up in the morning feeling like I’ve been hit by a Mack Truck. Fortunately, as with many rheumatoid diseases, activity tends to alleviate those aches and pains. However, there are times when I just know that nothing will quench the fatigue besides sleep – and sometimes that’s not even enough.
If I can’t get out of bed, or if I need my husband to open my medicine bottles for me, that’s a clear sign that a workout is not in the stars for me. However, if I notice that getting up, feeding my fur-babies, brushing my teeth and getting dressed starts to loosen me up, I will go and take a gentle yoga class, then come home and take a nap if I’m still tired. Usually, I don’t need the extra nap once class is over.
What’s enough of a workout/what’s too much?
Let me give you a little background on what life was like before Lupus. I would wake up, probably go for a run (the distance would depend on what race I was training for – I used to train for marathon after marathon after marathon, with a few half-marathons thrown in there for fun, maybe a triathlon to keep things interesting…), then I would lift weights about 4-5 times a week, as well as taking Bikram yoga classes up to 7 days a week on a good week. Did I mention I was a full-time personal trainer and fitness model?
It was my job to be super-fit, and many a doctor assumed that my fatigue was due to working out so much. My aches and pains were attributed to running too many marathons. However, no one really questioned the pain in my shoulders, my wrists and hands…
So how do you know the difference between DOMS and a Lupus-related crappiness? That’s a tough one to answer, and it really depends on the person. I have, through trial and error, learned that if I am unusually sore for the amount that I just worked out, then it’s probably not DOMS. However, if I went on a run for the first time in a month, it’s quite likely that my muscles just got a wake up call because I hadn’t used them that way in quite a while.
If you are trying to start an exercise routine, or are unsure if you are going too hard, start a log of your workouts, and log how you feel that day – and the next morning. If you see a recurring trend, you’re probably just “ooh I really worked those muscles” sore. If all you did was some light weight lifting and you feel like someone punched you in your sleep, then you know the L-bomb has landed and it’s time to take a rest.
Here are a couple of tips on how to schedule your weight training and strength training routine so that you can get a good sense of how your body is responding, as well as to space out workout so that you get a sufficient amount of rest between workouts:
- Strength train a minimum of 2-3 times per week, but never on consecutive days
- You can do cardio on consecutive days, or even on the same days as your strength training, but don’t do sprints, or high-intensity cardio on consecutive days.
- When you do cardio, aim for 60-80% of your Max HR, Which is 220-your age (see below on how to calculate it)
- Yes, a nice, long walk IS exercise. It may not be high-intensity cardio, but it will certainly get you moving and is MUCH better than nothing.
- With strength training, aim for 2 sets of 12-15 reps and use a weight that becomes challenging during those last three reps.
- STRETCH after you workout! It will make DOMS much less likely to occur.
And my most important tip of all:
If you don’t start feeling better 10-15 minutes into your workout, then call it a day, do some gentle stretches and relax a bit. That, for me, has been the #1 sign that my body needs a rest, not a workout.
Remember that not only are we each individuals as it pertains to our workout needs; Lupus is a disease that manifests differently in each person. Get to know your body and listen to what it has to say to you.
How to take your Heart Rate While Exercising:
- Gently place your index and middle fingers on the side of your neck, just below your jaw until you feel a pulse (See photo above)
- Count beats for 30 seconds and then double that number. The result is your beats per minute.
How to calculate your Heart Rate Zone
Your max HR is 220- your age (ie: if you are 30, your Max HR is 220-30 = 190)
Then you take 60% and 80% of that number: ( 190 x .6 = 114) (190 x .8= 152)
Therefore, you would want your HR between 114 and 152 when you do cardio.
Monica Vazquez LoConti is a Personal Trainer, Yoga Instructor and Reiki Master. She recently attained her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Columbia University, and is the President of the SLE Lupus Foundation’s Young Leader’s Board. She lives in Rockland County, New York with her husband, two dogs and two cats.