O Bendy Gymster: Boom and Bust

The cycle of doom that I’m about to describe definitely applies to people with hypermobility syndrome / Ehlers Danlos syndrome, but it can also apply to various chronic health issues, anything with a strong fatigue component and anything that reacts powerfully to stress.


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O Bendy Gymster: The Training Montage and the “New You” (or me?)

I look back at the last six months, and all I see is myself in a training montage (if you feel a sudden urge to listen to “Eye of the Tiger” now, that’s a feature, not a bug). I’m not new to gym, or fitness, by any stretch of the imagination – in fact, I think this year will mark about a decade of that sort of practice.

I am, however, new to doing it at this level of intensity, with this level of focus and research. I’m the sort of nerd who doesn’t do anything by halves. Every major decision or change in daily practice is constantly researched, discussed and considered. With the uncertainty in my scientific career setting me back mentally, I needed another way to progress and achieve goals.

I’d also become intensely aware of the fact that, if I want to stay mobile and functional into old age as a person with hypermobility syndrome (HMS), I needed to take charge of my core strength and balance. If I wanted to be fit as well, fit enough to run and lift weights (and go on cold-water shore dives without being wiped out afterwards), I needed to be informed and careful about how I managed my exercise for best effect: muscle gains, cardio fitness gains, and most importantly, offsetting the disadvantages (increased injury risk and prolonged recovery time) of hypermobility.

This meant that I ramped up my gym attendance and started clinical Pilates.

In July, I got an actual training program. I started really participating in the Fitocracy community – asking questions and reading articles – rather than just logging workouts. Since my brain works really well on dopamine rewards, I started to really “game” fitness, involving not just Fitocracy (a cartoon robot gives you points for exercising!), but also Zombies, Run! (story missions to motivate running), The Walk (the more you walk, the more episodes you unlock to listen to), and Fitbit (setting daily step and activity goals).

Points, story motivation, meeting daily goals: these things work for me. I started to see muscle definition in my shoulders.

Around September, I’d now read enough to realise I should probably be monitoring my protein intake to support all this exercise and muscle development, so I started using MyFitnessPal (MFP) to log food keep an eye on my macronutrient ratios and, well, to see how much I actually eat. Almost casually, this meant I started losing weight. I also found it very difficult to stay on top of protein targets and began to understand why protein powder was a thing (a horrible thing that tastes like slimy boiled arse, but I am told that it varies from brand to brand, and there are better ways to consume it than just adding it to water).

In November, I finished Couch-to-5K – wearing regular weight running shoes.

Around the same time, frustrated by my nauseous sugar response, I started eating a very low carbohydrate diet with the goal of getting into ketosis (the ketogenic diet). This was excellent for my general health and well-being, and didn’t noticeably affect my resistance training (although I plateaued for a while), but it set my running back enormously. By Xmas, it was starting to recover as I adapted to using ketone bodies and fat for energy. Meanwhile, I found it very easy to stay on top of protein targets while eating keto; in fact, the greater challenge was to avoid eating too much protein (excess protein gets converted into glucose. You do want a bit of this to help fuel your brain, but too much and it will lead to a rise in insulin, which switches off ketosis).

There were some struggles around Xmas and New Year’s. I fell off the keto wagon and set my adaptation way back. I was intensely frustrated, because it was also too hot to run and I started to feel as though I was never going to get on top of it all.

In the background, my balance had improved, as well as my core strength. I was able to stay upright with less difficulty, able to sit still without fidgeting for longer, and had less random back pain. My joints were more stable, able to work within a reasonable range of motion without subluxing (partial dislocation) or aching. I quit clinical Pilates for reasons of time and money, and picked up a bunch of extra physiotherapy exercises to compensate.

Meanwhile, my body composition continued to change. The scales were telling me some very surprising things.

On the tenth of January, I injured my calf muscle. The doctor suspected a tear, but an ultrasound happily revealed no such thing – merely a bad strain. I dropped leg work and running and wore a compression bandage everywhere I went, but a few days ago I started gently working it again.

On the seventeenth of January, I bowed to the inevitable, and reluctantly made my way down off the mountain to the shopping centre in search of a new sports bra, new t-shirt bras, and a pair of shorts that didn’t fall down. I stumbled onto some sales (and some things that were just always cheap – thank you, Target!), and was astonished to discover the current size bra I should actually be wearing (no wonder I was getting very, very uncomfortable… bordering on pain, honestly. Two cup sizes out will do that to a lass).

Then I did another running workout, which is what inspired me to write this post.

On the twentieth of January, I decided my calf was recovered enough to try a gentle training run. I was absolutely determined that I would stop at the first sign of any pain in the muscle – the last thing I wanted to do was take a stressed muscle that wasn’t torn and then tear it – so I decided on a Week Four workout from the Couch to 5K program (five minute warm-up walk; three minute run; ninety second walk; five minute run; two-and-a-half minute walk; repeat that last sequence again; five minute cooldown walk) on the treadmill (a much more forgiving surface than the trail I usually run on).

While keto-adapting, I’ve found I have a certain response. I get on the treadmill, and get through my warm-up walk, thinking “Whew, this is harder than I expected. It’s taking my body ages to warm up. Gah.” I thought this was just part of being on keto, and perhaps permanent. Everything eventually would kick in – but maybe it just took longer.

Then I start my running interval, and immediately my body starts crying, “ah crap! Oh god oh god – gah – three minutes of this? Okay, we can do this, we can do this…”

That’s… not what happened yesterday.

The warm-up walk was fine, but I was itching to run. I hit my running interval and-

-everything just worked-

-it felt like I could run forever

-I had to really nag myself to stop after three minutes.

I got runner’s high in about thirty seconds. I just didn’t get tired.

Now, keto is great, but it’s quite obviously not everything. It’s been a long time since I was able to run continuously, so I’ve lost some of my cardio gains – I did start to fatigue towards the end of the workout. The last five minutes required concentration, but what’s important is that they weren’t hell. I wasn’t gasping and forcing myself to continue. In fact, I was so psyched by the whole business that I increased the treadmill speed for the last ninety seconds, because I had so much energy I wanted to dance on the treadmill, and as much as I am perfectly happy to look psyched and silly in the gym, that’s a good way to sprain an ankle.

I’ve still got a way to go to catch up with my pre-keto level of cardio, and Melbourne summer isn’t helping (my blood pressure tanks more than most people’s in the heat; I just bought a pair of compression socks, which seem to help with that). I still need to do an extraordinary amount of pre-run physio preparation to avoid injuring myself.

But as far as fitness goes, it feels like everything’s coming up Kate.

Having said all that, and told my tale of glory (with one or two setbacks), you’d think I’d be more sympathetic to all this advertising that references New Year’s resolutions for fitness and the promise of a “New You!” And, honestly, I have no problem at all with people deciding that 2015 will be their year for fitness. Everyone starts somewhere and a new year’s resolution is no worse a starting point than “I’d like to run for the train without getting out of breath.”

What I do have a problem with is this “New You” issue. I see a lot of people on my fitness forums proudly proclaiming “Bring on the new me!” and while they have every right to say that and use that to motivate them, it honestly makes me twitch – even flinch – because I am honestly not sure that this is the most helpful and healthy narrative with which to approach fitness.

I’ve got a photo of myself from about a year ago that staggered me when I saw it. Whatever you think about intentional weight loss (mine was – mostly – a side effect, but as much as it confuses me, I’m not unhappy about it. Just conflicted), you could use that as my “Before!” picture, take a picture of me now, eleven kgs lighter with Bonus! Muscle Definition, call that my “After!” picture and declare that I have found my “New Me.”

But that’s a load of bollocks. Horse puckey. Balls. Bullshit, to really descend into the vernacular and make it clear what I really think.

I’m not a “New Me”. I’m the same me I was before, except that now I’m two cup sizes down on bras and I had to put a new hole in my belt with my dissection kit (which I’ve done three times over the years, and I now think I have it down to a fine art and possibly my dissection kit is not in super fine maintained condition). I’m the same me, except now I can run further – and I can run for the train without getting out of breath, and I can stay balanced for longer, and sit still more comfortably. I’m the same me, except that now I can lift heavier things and walk further in full dive kit without getting fatigued. I’m the same me, but I have a bit more energy and a bit more pep. I’m the same me, but I trust my body a bit more, and that is probably the biggest difference.

Those things are all great, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud to add “total gymster” to be long list of identifying labels, but they’re not who I am. They’re not all completely superficial – having more energy means it’s easier to keep depression at bay, and that honestly makes me a much nicer person to be around – but I don’t have to reintroduce myself to my husband and friends.

The best change is that I have a better relationship with my body. I know that we can get things done when we work together, and even that’s an artificial plural; in many ways, I am my body. I’m my legs, my arms, my ribcage, and that funny looking mole in the middle of my back. And it’s still the same body.

When it really comes right down to it, we are constantly rebuilding ourselves: physically, mentally, emotionally. Every day can bring a New You, if that’s how you want to look at it. As I get older, my body will continue to change – I’m in my mid/early thirties now, but there middle age to be greeted, there’s menopause, there’s other changes in body shape, there’s a certain amount of frailty to be expected. My interests will change. Hobbies will come and go. Other identities will be added to those I already claim.

None of that will change who I am, or what I am, and I don’t think there was anything wrong with the so-called Old Me. I was a bit less fit, definitely fatter, and at a very similar state of emotional equilibrium. I had the same friends, the same opinions, the same interests. I mostly liked who I was then, and I mostly like who I am now.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the notion of trying to re-invent yourself, but what I am saying is that sometimes this “New You!” narrative can be unkind in the short term and self-defeating in the long term. I’m saying that, at least in my case, I found my pursuit of fitness and health a lot easier from the perspective of working with my body and self-image rather than against those things. It’s not that I haven’t tried the latter – I certainly have – but it wasn’t effective, and ultimately, it was psychologically harmful.

So yes, I still see the last six months or so as a training montage, because that entertains me. I am vain as the proverbial peacock, and sometimes shallow as the equally proverbial puddle, and I’ve internalised the same body image bullshit as everyone else, and yes, I’m happier with how I look now.

But I am not fooling myself. This is not a New Me. This is the same Me, who does different things and is currently having a good time doing it.

I hope, if you’re pursuing a similar idea, that you have a good time doing it, and that you embrace the so-called Old You and take it along for the journey.

Post. “O Bendy Gymster” is the name I give to posts on fitness and gym and exercise as a hypermobile person. I’m a gymster, and I’m very bendy, and there really isn’t a story behind that title; but knowing that I have a particular biomechanial issue means that it’s easier for me to work out effectively, and I find that really empowering, so here we are.

Hypermobility, Episode 2: The flesh machine

At this point there is disagreement over whether hypermobility syndrome – HMS – is simply a subclass of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or a separate disorder. What is known, is that the problem of generalised hypermobility (where it affects all joints, and is not just an issue of shallow sockets) is a problem of collagen. While it is constantly invoked in skincare ads of doubtful veracity (this amazing serum will stimulate the production of collagen! Sure it will. Sure), it is actually a fairly important protein (edit: collagens are actually a whole class of diverse proteins, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m referring to it as the one item). Collagen is a major component of your connective tissues: skin, ligaments, tendons, and so on. It needs to be reasonably strong in order to keep bones and muscles attached where they should be, but it also needs to be reasonably flexible, in order to allow them to move.

In the case of hypermobility, there is a genetic flaw in the production of collagen (thanks, Mum). It is too flexible. For example:

I thought it was normal to be able to pull out stretchy skin (note: hyperelasticity is not a feature of hypermobility- generally it’s associated with other forms of EDS. However, people with EDS/hypermobility class or HMS will generally show more elasticity in the skin than most people).

I thought it was normal to be able to bend your wrist back past ninety degrees, or your knees and elbows back past zero (hyperextension).

I even thought it was awesome that I could bend over and put my hands flat on the floor. I thought it meant I had flexible hamstrings. Sadly, it just means I have a very flexible lower back, and that this stretch is just going to do me damage in the long run unless I consciously “hinge” from my hips (at which point I actually am stretching my hammies, and not my back).

…although I suspected that my very bendy feet had something to do with the mysterious plague of sprained ankles that has haunted me throughout my life.

I’m not that severe, to be honest. My joints shift and subluxate (partially dislocate) but don’t fully dislocate (with the exception of my kneecaps, which have wandered off far too many times for my comfort), and unlike some people with HMS, I’m not in constant, severe, chronic pain.

It’s still bad enough to cause me injuries. Hypermobile people tend to sprain things. They tend to experience overuse injuries. More importantly, it’s quite common for some very useful muscles to simply not activate the way they should, because they are not properly supported.

Knock-on effects due to leverage

It all comes down to angles.

If, as a small child figuring out how to walk, your joints are lax, then your legs are going to move at a different angle than they are “supposed” to. Instead of staying straight, your knees might fold inwards and forwards due to loose hips. This can in turn send your ankles outwards. What this means, O bendy small child, is that you aren’t actually using the same muscles that everyone else uses, even when you’re trying to do the same thing. Muscles activate in response to a particular angle of pressure.

An easy example is the upper arm. When you want to curl your arm up towards yourself, you activate your bicep. When you want to extend it, you activate your tricep. That’s a really obvious one, but when it comes to hips and back and shoulders, there are a whole bunch of medium sized muscles that kick in due to different angles of movement.

This means that the muscles that bendy child is supposed to be using don’t develop properly, or at least not to the same extent that they do in non-hypermobile people. We end up with sway backs, weak core muscles, and butt muscles that just don’t do what they’re meant to. I can activate some of these muscles, but it has required physiotherapy, clinical pilates, and sheer bloodymindedness to get them working, and I’m still not very good at it.

These are called “bad motor habits”, and they have long-term consequences.

Why does that matter, as long as you get from A to B?

Well, setting aside that one gets a certain amount of heckling when one spends one’s childhood and adolescence “walking funny”, it turns out that you end up putting pressure in places that weren’t meant to experience it. This leads to sore backs, shoulders, and joints in general; a tendency for joints to buckle unexpectedly; and an overwhelming tendency to fatigue.

I am not good at holding a position. Anyone who has sat next to me at a conference (or in a lecture, or on a plane…) is probably aware of this. I get comfortable. Then I shift. I cross my legs. I straighten them. I lean forward. I sit back. I turn to the side. And generally, I take a seat at the end of the row so I don’t bug people (ever since I realised that not everyone does this). Why is this to do with HMS, though? Couldn’t I just be fidgety?

When most people maintain a seated position, they have their ligaments holding their joints in place with very little effort (if any) on their part.

My stretchy ligaments aren’t going to hold jack shit in place, so I end up activating a whole bunch of small (underdeveloped) postural muscles to hold a seated position. These muscles get very tired, very quickly. It is very, very tiring for me to hold a position, so I am constantly shifting to work different muscle groups.

This is a special kind of hell on long-haul flights. Everyone else seems to be able to sit upright with their feet on the ground whereas I desperately want to lock my feet up against the back of the seat in front (something of a faux pas I understand if one is older than six years of age) because otherwise sitting up requires me to use core muscles that, in my case, suck and it is miserable and painful and exhausting. It is far more comfortable for me to just fall into my joints.

Not only that, but when you have HMS, you are always, always thinking about what your body is doing and how it is doing it (case in point: while typing that sentence, I just hooked my right ankle around my left shin to lock it in place). If you don’t think about it, even just in the back of your mind, that’s when ankles roll and muscles tear and you trip over your own goddamn feet (again). And that’s pretty tiring and distracting too.

I get tired when studying from having to shift positions over a textbook. I get tired when writing in a notebook from having to constantly change the angle of the book against my arm.

Why yes, HMS is linked to chronic fatigue syndrome. When sitting can make you ludicrously tired, fatigue is just a given. I actually find that a good gym workout is, in many ways, less fatiguing than sitting up on the couch. It’s still tiring – obviously I’m deliberately working to develop certain muscle groups – but the machines support all the flaily, falling-over bits of me while I work the target group.

I repeat: up until recently I thought all this shit was normal. It’s thought that between 5 and 10% of the population are generally hypermobile but don’t necessarily experience all these symptoms: you can be generally hypermobile without experiencing HMS.

There are other symptoms that are even less fun than being somewhat bendy and spraining the odd ankle (edit: I have a sprained ankle at the moment. The synergy, it burns).

Collagen, unfortunately, is all through your body. This means that HMS and/or Ehlers-Danlo are systemic conditions – having excessively elastic connective tissues leads to problems in your gut (weak intestines which in my case result in the occasional genuinely agonising gut cramp), problems with airways (tendency to asthma), problems with blood vessels (low blood pressure, orthostatic issues as in a tendency to pass out), problems with vision (yes, there’s collagen in your eyes; HMS is linked to myopia a.k.a. shortsightedness) and problems with various components of your autonomic nervous system – that is, the bits of your nervous system that are supposed to do things without having to be told. Some people can have seizures. Some people have temperature anomalies (hot head, cold feet, etc.).

What is common to most people with some form of this condition is chronic pain. I’m not sure how I got lucky on that one. I don’t have chronic pain (or if I do, it’s so mild that I’m obviously disregarding it).

At the moment, I have a sore left ankle bone on the inside, a weird stabbing pain in my right toe for no reason I can think of, shoulder pain and back pain. None of these pains are serious enough to even need ibuprofen, let alone anything stronger. For many who have HMS, however, the pain appears to have no cause and is a function of an over-sensitised nervous system.

So what does this all mean?

The problems that I have because of this condition are problems that I’ve had all my life. Although I’ve been tired enough to miss out on things from time to time, I don’t have chronic fatigue, and although I tend to be a bit achey and sore, I don’t have chronic pain. The only reason this is an epiphany is because it explains so many weird and odd things about my body in a rather elegant way.

But… HMS has implications for pregnancy and childbirth. The collagen problems are exacerbated by exposure to progesterone, leading to pelvic girdle pain, even looser joints than normal, and all sorts of problems in childbirth. You have a much higher chance of experiencing permanent damage throughout the process. Husband and I have been considering adding to the population some time over the next year or so, and in that light, suddenly a caesarean is starting to sound pretty good (because who wants their pubic symphisis to permanently separate? Freaking no-one, that’s who).

Also, the agonising gut pains… they’re pretty bad. To give you an idea of the pain, I was checked out for gallstones, kidney stones and appendicitis (none of which I appear to have). My vision goes grey. I’ve actually passed out from it. It’s like being stabbed (I imagine). It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, Jesus fucking Christ, it hurts.

Can any of this be fixed?

Well… not really. It’s genetic. It can get better, though, through rigorous exercise designed to strengthen the muscles supporting the loose joints and to stabilise and activate those neglected core muscles (at least one of which, apparently, everyone else activates automatically without even thinking about it, whereas I was staring at an ultrasound, randomly flexing, trying to figure out where the damn thing was). Apparently strengthening those deep core muscles will actually help with the gut pain. That’s promising.

One thing to remember is that, if you are hypermobile and show a bunch of these systems, exercise is not entirely optional (if you want to stay mobile and active and free of back pain and so on for an extended period).

When I went to the physio as a precursor to undertaking clinical pilates, I filled out a new customer form asking me what goals I hoped to achieve.

I kind of stared at it for a while. I knew I needed to do pilates if I was going to fix the problems with my core muscles, but that was part of a general desire for health and fitness.

In the end I wrote: “1. Stabilise core muscles. 2. Reduce pain and injury risk. 3. Improve proprioception.”

In the actual appointment, of course, the physiotherapist administered the Beighton test. When asked to bend forward and put my hands as close to the floor as they could go, I asked, “Really? As far as I can go?” because hey, it’s nice to be good at something, even if the thing you’re good at it is ultimately pretty bad for you.

About eight months on, and the core work has actually, genuinely helped. I can hold a ninety second plank. I can stand and walk for longer without getting lower back pain. My form with free weights is improved. I still can’t sit still in one position for very long, but I don’t think that’s ever really going to change – my joints are what they are.

Unfortunately, nothing can really be done about the gut pain that strikes like a vindictive ninja a few times a year. One takes a couple of very strong painkillers and tries to pass out until the pain goes away.

So, while HMS/EDS has an extremely varied presentation, this is what it means for me.

Why I love the gym since this often confuses people… (Hypermobility, episode 1)

My love of the gym is weird to many. Here is my explanation (no, it’s not just endorphins)

When I was a kid, it didn’t take me too long to work out that most of the other kids were a bit different from me. It wasn’t the reading or the red hair or the good marks that really set me apart, at least not as far as I was concerned. It was the fact that other kids appeared to be able to do magical, superhero things with their bodies.

My first ever P.E. report (tender age of five) read, “Kate is unco-ordinated.” This meant nothing to me at the time. Looking back, it’s just a concise summary of how I felt.

I felt like, when all the other kids were receiving normal human kid-bodies that leapt and ran like fleet-footed bipedal gazelles and tumbled and swung like unusually tall spider monkeys, I had somehow been given a weird, lumpy, alien flesh-machine. Where others raced and flew, I bounced and flopped. I was out of breath. I was chubby. I couldn’t cross the monkey bars. Nothing seemed to quite work the way it should. There was nothing in particular wrong with me (this is true. I have always been able-bodied and am in no way trying to claim a disability here. This is just the story of how I live in my body). It all just felt wrong.

This didn’t stop me doing some things. I rode my bike (slowly). I swam (badly). I jumped rope (differently from how other people do it, which is relevant to this story – I never actually jumped, I just kind of stepped quickly and kicked my legs back). I liked stretching and doing forward somersaults on the big gym mats. These were my limits, though.

Some of the lack of co-ordination was down to undiagnosed short-sightedness. After I got laser eye surgery a few years back, it turns out that I can (at least sometimes) catch things thrown to me, rather than simply squeaking, ducking and trying to blindly bat them away from my head. That helped.

I felt like I could never quite explain why some things were so hard. I knew I was unfit, but that wasn’t the whole story. Things hurt. Joints hurt. Not in an arthritic way, not in a broken-bone way, and not in a “your muscles are just weak and will get stronger as you go” way.

Several years ago, I was having knee problems. My doctor explained that my patella was, and I quote: “rather like the surface of the moon.” Great. I’d started going to gym and doing high impact exercise, and this is what my freaking body does to me; it breaks its goddamn knees. Nice work, cartilage. Thanks a bunch.

A few years later, in the hope of running without knee pain, I started running barefoot, and discovered that I quite enjoyed it, but ultimately this lead to other problems.

Enter the physio and the podiatrist, and my current epiphany, which explains everything right down to why I never jumped rope the same way the other kids did.

The flailing. The bouncing. The hurting. The lack of control and co-ordination. It all comes down to range of motion. Since my joints are too mobile, I can’t control where they go – or rather, I can, but only if I am doing things very slowly and concentrating rather fiercely. This explains why I can’t run (at present) but why I can, in fact, swim without too much trouble (the water pressure contains the excess motion and it’s easier for me to be in charge of where all my limbs go). Swimming is glorious because it is, for me, almost pure cardio – the muscles work and build but they are not frantically working to keep my hips and ankles and knees where they should be. I’ll concede that it does get a bit trickier with a tank, 10+kgs of dive weights, and a current, and that there’s a reason I went with split fins for scuba diving.

My friend Nadia convinced me to try gym classes and I finally plucked up the courage to walk into a BodyPump class (this is back before the your-knee-is-full-of-craters conversation). If it sounds strange that one needs courage, most of my previous experiences of exercise with other people around tended to result in at least embarrassment on my part, if not downright humiliation.

I was a convert.

People look at me strangely for treating a trip to the gym as a reward for a job well done, and that’s fine. Not everyone likes gym. Weight training is gym training, essentially, and I will always love gym because of weight training (also stretching, but that’s another story).

When I train with weights, I am isolating muscle groups. I am working on one thing at a time. I am planting my feet or seated on a machine and I only have to worry about one set of joints. Usually the exercise is done in such a way that it braces joints anyway, although bench press gives me trouble because of my wrists (they don’t hurt, I’m just constantly rotating them to make sure they don’t tip back too far, because they really want to). Tricep kickbacks. Bicep curls.

One thing at a goddamn time, and it actually works and I can actually feel it. It feels right. It feels how I imagine most other people’s bodies feel most of the time. It doesn’t bounce and flop and hurt.

I can control my range of motion when I do weight training.

When I do other things that move too fast – aerobics classes, for example – I have to keep too many things in line at once. The hips will shift or the knees or the ankles or the wrists – something will go. While I am trying to keep those where they are supposed to be, that will overload the supporting muscles, so meanwhile the other muscles will try to compensate and get overloaded themselves, and it becomes a vortex of hypermobile disaster. I can do combat classes and step classes and so on, but I do them in a slow, low impact style because otherwise I’ll probably do my ankle.

The feeling of being in charge of how my body is moving has been so foreign to me, so unachievable, that doing a set of weights feels like I’m triumphantly flipping off the universe. I’m not amazing at weights. My technique is not perfect. All the same, when I do a clean-and-press, I might as well be dancing Swan Lake for how good I feel.

Learning how to run barefoot was like that, but multipled by hundreds, thousands, because I could never ever ever run before that. Running barefoot gave me more control over how my feet landed. Running in shoes makes me feel like I have weights glued to the end of my ankles. Remember how my ankles are hypermobile, and it’s hard enough to control where they go? Adding stiff, unbending weights to them multiplies the problem.

But running barefoot, unfortunately, means that, even though I am finally in charge of my feet to a marvellous and empowering degree, I am less in charge of my legs (at least, the right leg, which is the really stupid one). Not being in charge of my legs means I end up overloading my feet anyway (but at least not my knees. For once) (note: when I was starting out very slowly and working up to 5k barefoot, my legs actually survived the experience very well – but I did have to concentrate fiercely to keep my right leg landing straight on. Recently I started running again after a break and overdid it and now I have zero power to keep my leg straight).

At the moment the compromise is to have a very light, flexible shoe with orthotics in it. In combination with my physio strengthening exercises, it’s actually working quite well – the other day I completely forgot to change to my light shoes for the treadmill work and managed a good run without even noticing (very slight shin pain, so I’ve taken a few days off from running and will get back to it tomorrow).

In recent times I’ve investigated hypermobility more closely. It very much appears that I may have Ehlers-Danlo Syndrome / Hyper mobility type (or hypermobility syndrome, or joint hypermobility – names and classifications vary). I have the stretchy skin, the myopia (at least prior to the laser eye surgery), the sensitisation, the painful gut involvement, the (juvenile) asthma, the poor proprioception (exacerbated in the presence of progesterone. Yay?).

I also score 7/9 on the Beighton test – the only thing I can’t do is bend my thumbs back onto my arms, and apparently if you score 4 or more that fulfills a major criteria. The minor criteria include dislocations and subluxations (hell yes), myopia (yes), stretchy skin (yes, although I only worked this out recently when I realised that not everyone can pinch the skin on the back of their hand that way) and a bunch of other things.

In terms of classic hypermobility, it all does explain why I can’t do shoulder presses (my ligaments hurt) and even when I do the shoulders never get stronger, why I developed RSI from pipetting (Gilson pipettes – heavy spring action; I’m fine with Eppendorf and more lightweight and ergonomic pipettes) when no-one else seems to do so, and why stretching feels so amazing at the time and later on starts to hurt in a suspicious and sneaky way. It explains why I fell over at least once every day in primary school, why I could never cross the monkey bars, why it took me two years to learn to ride my bike without training wheels, why I can’t do cartwheels but I can put my hands flat on the ground without bending my legs, why I walk funny

I’ll be writing more on this as I am currently fascinated and it falls into my category of biomedical obsessions (with an intriguing genetic slant). The down side is that, since it is genetic, there’s no cure or treatment (so I’m stuck with the occasional agonising gut cramps that make me pass out but hey, codeine still works). The up side is that, if I know what’s going on, I have a much better chance of avoiding injury. I’ve already worked out some alternative weight training that will build muscles without overextending around the joint (i.e., no more shoulder presses or tricep presses. Assisted chin-ups and tricep pull-overs or kickbacks are much better).

I will also be visiting the local clinical pilates business and seeing if they can help me. Watch this space.

[This was originally posted on my private blog a few months ago, and the last few paragraphs were added in response to some reading I’ve been doing over the last few days. I feel as though I may have opened a biomechanical can of worms, here. – KN]