For my first “proper” R.P.M. Project post, I’ll fill you in on a little experiment that I have been running lately.
In recent times (as in the last 5 years, give or take) I have been a severely fatigued person. Ranging between “pretty tired” to “impossible to keep my eyes open without mechanical assistance” is my general state; primarily associated with the shift work that I do to pay the bills and the fact that we were blessed with a lovely baby girl in the middle of 2010.
At the best of times, my joints are fairly vulnerable. History and heredity both imply that my tolerance for joint stress is, by default, lower than the average person. Unlike many who take the “just protect them and pray” approach to this issue, I decided to take the offensive. I figure, if my joints respond to training, I should train them to a level of uncommon strength so that if they deteriorate they have much higher to fall from; before they become useless and chronically painful.
So far, this has been a largely successful strategy, as I regularly involve myself in physical exertion for work and play and rarely suffer negative consequences in the joints. However, my recent history relating to my elbows is not so rosy.
The problem with seeking causation…
The first thing that anyone will ask you when you say you have pain in a joint is “How did you hurt it?” The problem in my case is that the honest answer would be: “I’m really not sure.”
Don’t get me wrong, I can identify things that place strain upon my elbows, but that’s not what is being asked here. I am being asked how I hurt it, which is something that I can not answer. I can tell you that I did push-ups and loaded pull-ups/chin-ups; kettlebell work (fast and slow; “ballistic and grind”); handstand and bridging practice; dips; and grip work including crush grip with my Vulcan Gripper. All these things (and more) that I have practiced stress the elbow, so how can I pick a culprit? How do I know that it is one of these things?
Association = “Best Guess”?
All I can do to address these issues is take a “Best Guess” at what is most strongly associated with the elbow pain and attempt to address that. When I looked at the issue I realised 2 things:
- Some movements (usually) diminish the pain; some exacerbate it; there is very little neutral. As soon as I introduce any load to the joint (and I mean ANY; explanation soon) it shifts the pain one way or the other; greater or lesser. There is almost no case where I am utilising the elbow to resist or generate force where the pain is not perceptibly modified. What’s more, the movements that shift from painful to painless as the pain is resolved usually follow a pattern of progression.
- My highest association with the pain returning after being imperceptible is NOT linked with exercise. The most common thing I associate with the pain returning is infact most often induced when in a RESTING STATE.
“You hurt it at rest? What?!”
Okay, so it’s not as simple as that, but hear out my thought process. My elbows often hurt most when I wake from sleep. Some would say that this is due to them “stiffening during the night” or something; implying that there was an injury caused beforehand. But what if the negative process is actually taking place DURING sleep?
An internet acquaintance of mine, Josh Hanagarne of World’s Strongest Librarian (I won’t presume to call him a friend, though I do think fondly of him (awwww)) has spoken at length about his process of trying to get his Tourette’s Syndrome under control. I highly recommend that you check out his site and all relevant information as it is a goldmine of mind expanding stuff, but the real relevance here is that his experiences are what drove home the idea to me that an “unskilled movement” is a higher risk movement. (I believe Josh attributes this understanding in a large part to his experience with The Movement, but I have not undergone the specific training he has, so I won’t state that as fact.) I can’t think of a single time that my movement is more likely to be “unskilled” than when I am asleep and hence unconscious of movement in any way I can assess.
In a Nutshell (Getting to the point now…)
My current experiment is using cheap ($14/pair) bandage based bracing on my arms during times of rest. I have currently defined times of rest as when I am asleep and when I have no intent of significantly exerting myself physically. I don’t always have the bandages on at these times but I would say I am wearing them during approximately 90% of my sleeping time. My theory is derived from the fact that I do not control elbow use/position effectively when I am asleep but due to movement and positioning I may be exerting force upon them on any variety of angles. All it takes is a small shift of my body to put sideway stress on the elbow joint in my sleep, so I am attempting to neutralise/minimise this using the Minimal Effective Amount of intervention. Sure, I COULD use a more sturdy brace, but I don’t desire to rely upon bracing for function so I am first seeing if a lesser option can aid me.
What’s this all got to do with Rest Per Minute? Why the does this qualify for the R.P.M series?
When I get more than a 5 hour block of uninterrupted sleep, it is rare for my elbows to hurt. This lead me to the thought that perhaps the forces being resisted/encountered during sleep time were reducing my elbows’ ability to rest during my body’s most pronounced “down-time”. It is very very hard for me to consistantly increase the quantity of rest I can obtain, so I addressed the Specific Rest Quality relating to my elbows during sleep.
My hypothesis is that by allowing the brace to absorb more of the forces at play around my elbow joint when it is at its least active I may increase the possibility of my elbows receiving enough specific quality rest to recover more effectively from the days’ stresses. So far, it seems to be working. Push-up patterns have been found to be the first movement to lose pain (after becoming painful) and I have achieved a few push-up PRs since adopting this approach. Meanwhile I am using dipping movements to increase eustress on the elbow and this often decreases any pain that is acutely present.