thoughts on starting exercise

So I've gotten on the exercise train for a first time in a long time. And I have boarded a new train heading somewhere quite outrageous...

This is my first announcement in a public forum, but here goes. I intend to compete in a (sprint distance) triathlon next year. I'm not particularly fit at the moment, and can't yet do any of the distances for the 3 disciplines on their own, let alone consecutively. It's a process. My husband has decided to join in the fun, so we are both engaged in these struggles that can be both harrowing and ridiculously funny. There would be plenty of material for a knee-slapping gut-busting book or stand alone blog, but I just don't have time for that (how can I, when I already neglect this blog too often?) so I may share some of these stories in this forum.

On our journey to becoming athletes, we have already had a bike push (definitely couldn't be considered a ride) up and down a rain soaked clay hillside; a 2 hour hike into a canyon that required fording a river and another 2.5 hours to get OUT of the canyon; and a realization on my husband's part that swimming after a long bike ride is puke worthy. He has a serious strength advantage on me, and much greater skills in biking by extension, but I have the advantage in swimming thanks to years of lessons at the YMCA (thanks mom & dad!). So I learned a lot of technique as a child that I am now trying to impart to him as an adult. It makes for an interesting take on the difference between learning styles based on age.

The biggest technique piece so far has been introducing rotary breathing. It's a difficult concept for a novice swimmer. Those words were like poison to me for the entirety of 1994. It took me what seemed like a lifetime of 1x/week screaming by unpleasant swim instructors to be able to put my face in the water and master this concept. So even as an adult, when I (prior to the past few weeks) swim only 1x/year, I still can pull that out easily, like riding a bike. Since my husband wants to be able to finish the triathlon too, it was a skill he needed to learn.

As a child, (obviously I wasn't paying the greatest attention to instructional detail at the time) the instructors specialized in breaking down the steps to the task and repeating the practice in various ways. Blocked practice. First, kicking on the side and blowing bubbles. Then, kicking with the kickboard and doing head turns to one side. Then putting it all together into the crawl stroke, which you now have to do since we've thrown you into the deep end of the pool. (I'm having terrible flashbacks trying to write this, even now). Ultimately, until I got a new teacher and went from weekly practices to daily practices, progress was minimal at best.

My husband doesn't really have the attention span to do nothing but work on breathing for an entire hour in the pool, and approaching this from that angle might mean that he would never master it. So I gave him a few tips about how to turn his head while taking a stroke. (In retrospect, this probably shouldn't have taken place in the ocean, but like I said, we are having quite the funny journey). Then I would either answer his questions ("am I supposed to breathe out at some point?") that I hadn't covered earlier or offer some technique feedback. More of a contemporary motor control theory for learning, letting him practice and try on his own. After a few sessions (<5) he feels like he has a rhythm, and even if it doesn't look perfect, he is still able to crank out lots of laps while taking in more air than water.

So what did we learn here? Obviously, having an OT for an instructor is terrific! :) Personally, I think that learning the skills as a child made them well ingrained into my muscle memory and expect that to be unforgettable. It took a lot longer time for me to be able to learn and integrate that skill though as a child than it took my husband as an adult. But I think that the longer time to learn will make it harder to forget. It was easier for me to teach refinements to an adult than for Ms Pam to teach basics to a scared child who could barely stand up in the shallow end. I could compare this to different motor learning theories, but my books are all in boxes anyway. :-/

Well that was a bit rambling.
Personally, I am trying to take a balanced approach in this fitness plan. I really don't want to get an injury or derail this plan in the first month. Trying to add in workouts for flexibility, core, and overall strengthening into this plan. It's really hard to find time and motivation for all of this (and I have no kids and a 3 day/week job) so the ultimate goal seems very daunting at this time. Hopefully I can pull this into line (along with the rest of my life... house shopping, OT presentations, new job, other endeavors etc). And if I come up with things that are potentially interesting or tangentially related to OT, I'll try to share.


TherExtras said...

So how's it going?

Nice rambling.


Cheryl said...

Thanks Barbara,
So far going well except for some R shoulder soreness after swimming. The exercise is actually really helping with stress management as things are getting quite out of control at the moment. hopefully I'll get a better handle on things soon so I'm not terribly rambling :)

phillipagrace said...

I'm a third year OT in New Zealand and have enjoyed your blog. It's great to see the range of topics covered.
Good luck with the exercise