This month's "The Mirror" column is a round-robin article written by all of its members and edited by Janet Rosen.
In March, 2004, we introduced The Mirror column with a round robin in which we discussed injuries, rehab, and issues related to coming back to training. We thought it might be nice to close out 2010 with a more positive round robin, exploring the ways in which we keep ourselves in good shape for training.
Linda: Since I started training, not quite 2 years ago, I have been eating more protein and fats (nuts, eggs, seeds, dairy, beans, tofu, salmon...), and a lot less carbs. Since then I've also cut out all wheat and glutinous grains. About an hour before I get to the dojo I have a snack, usually a banana and a nut bar, or sometimes cheese and nuts. Before I figured out that this is a must-do, I found I would run out of energy during the second class to the point where I really couldn't focus, and shouldn't have been on the mat. It also helps, especially during hot weather, to drink Gatorade between classes, and of course stay generally well-hydrated.
Pauliina: Before practice I've tried different things but apart from the really rather obvious - don't skip eating all day before an evening class, don't eat a huge meal right before, it doesn't seem to matter all that much. During summer school and weekend seminars I need to take care to get enough protein in every meal, otherwise I find it hard to get through more than one day.
And since I don't normally drink coffee, it works wonderfully as doping during seminars - usually at lunch, to make it through the second half of the day. :-)
Katherine: As long as I eat enough and avoid obviously stupid choices -- burritos at lunch during an all day seminar, say - I'm fine.
Susan: Me too. Whether I drink enough water affects me more than what I eat.
Janet: My dojo only has evening classes, and currently they all coincide with my workdays. So I have to play with my meal times to have a moderate main meal in the mid afternoon, about 2.5 hrs before class - typically, leftover veggie and bean soup or brown rice and tofu, or maybe a veggie sushi roll from our local Japanese restaurant
Pauliina: The big diet thing for me is that I can't have gluten, and if I accidentally ingest some, I'm not able to train for a few days after. Mentally or physically. I once tried attending a seminar too soon after a gluten accident, and exhausted my thigh muscles so badly I could hardly walk the next day.
Janet: There are a couple of things I do specifically because of training: I take extra calcium-magnesium-zinc-vit. D with my evening snack after training to reduce the risk of carpopedal spasms and cramping in my upper leg adductors to which I'm prone. Because of the risk of picking up respiratory infections at the dojo, I take the higher doses of vitamin D many doctors now recommend for healthier immune function.
Al: I take mg, zinc and Vit D also (get enough calcium from food). I avoid white flour, sugar, trans-fats, most saturated fats, snacks like chips, and except for rare occasions, pasta; I also avoid most packaged foods. It's easier to just cook fresh veggies; it's sort of a Mediterranean diet. I don't eat a lot of meat: most protein sources are yogurt/milk, eggs, fish, beans, nuts/nut butters, and a little cheese--got into that style of eating when I was impoverished and basically stuck with it because I feel better when I eat that way. I bake my own dense and toothsome whole-grain bread. I do indulge in good dark chocolate in small amounts, and occasionally have a glass of wine (once a week) with dinner. Eating this way, I no longer have "sugar rushes" or get dopey after eating, my allergies have all but disappeared, my skin doesn't break out any more, I have better endurance, and I get more restful sleep at night.
Pauliina: I read somewhere that the ideal after training drink is hot chocolate...milk has a nice ratio of carbs and protein, the next best thing would be a ham sandwich. So I tried that for while, seemed to work ok. But then I read somewhere else that a combination of carbs and protein after training might be best for men, but that women might do better on just carbs immediately after practice. so I tried that for a while. seems to also work ok. I think in my case the truth is, I don't train hard enough for it to make a significant difference! Though I think a banana goes down better right after class than a ham sandwich.
Janet: I always have to have a snack when I get home (usually peanut butter and banana on whole grain toast, or a bowl of rolled oats, fruit, nuts, and almond milk). Unfortunately, some nights I don't get home until after 9; I still have to eat something, even if its just a Clif bar or a Luna bar, and then I'm stuck sitting up for a couple of hours to let it settle.
Al: My suggestion would be to take a banana and maybe a plum or a handful of raisins along with it at night instead of the Calif bar. You can crash sooner if you eat fruit as it settles sooner. The Calif bar has too much protein, it keeps you awake. I went to a seminar once (in San Francisco) where they had bowls of oranges, cut in sections, for the attendees to eat. This was a really GOOD idea, and I didn't notice as many folks getting shocky after long exertions (it was a very active seminar). Sometimes all you need is a small piece of fruit to keep your blood sugar and energy stable.
Janet: I admit to having an irrational fear of starvation, or at least of waking up with severe hunger pangs, due to having gone hungry too many times when I was first living in San Francisco. So while I do eat a very healthy, near vegan diet and watch portions, I'm not sure I could bring myself to eat nothing more than a piece of fruit between my 3:30 pm lunch and my 7:30 p.m. breakfast!
Linda: Between eating well and training a lot I feel much better, lost 40 pounds, and have more energy than I know what to do with. Now I really don't like days when I can't get out and move.
Al: Just from the vantage of having fibromyalgia, I'd say commit to working through the everyday achiness, etc. I'm not talking OMG pain here, but the discomforts of stiffness, achiness, fatigue, etc. You can do more than you think you can. If it's chronic, but not crippling, try to just go into it, acknowledge your body's protests, accept that its protesting, and try to keep going. You may just find your second wind. If you can't, you can't - but often you can.
Katherine: Yes, definitely. Not only is persistence a virtue in itself, but stiffness and soreness don't improve unless you move. If you let them keep you off the mat, you'll never get to the point where you *don't* get sore.
Something I've noticed is that aikido isn't terribly effective as "exercise" for me anymore. Partly that's because I've improved enough that I'm not working as hard as nage, and partly because practice at my current dojo is less aerobic, so I'm not working as hard as uke, either. (And I think that's also true of aikido practice in general: good conditioning is essential, especially as you're building the foundation, but the better you get, the less energy you use.)
Janet: I agree - I probably only build up a sweat or get more than a little winded in part of one class per week. As I slowly got back to training over the yrs post-surgery, I really focused on precision of movement and connection and on natural postures, which slows things down automatically; add in trying to move in pace with breathing patterns and it makes for interesting training but lousy exercise! So this leaves me with the puzzle that I originally came to aikido in order to "get exercise," and while it is great for movement and flexibility it isn't do much for endurance, stamina or strength and I'm back to forcing myself to do an at-home program.
Susan: I sweat every class, but still, I need additional exercise to say in reasonable shape.
Linda: Several months ago I realized I needed to step up the aerobic training. I was getting winded more easily than I liked during freestyle/jiyuwaza in class. So now a few times a week I take a fast two-mile walk at lunch, and have been doing more freestyle practice whenever I get the chance.
I had problems with my shoulders before I started training, and because of that had done very little that required much arm strength. Early in my training my physical therapist gave me some special exercises I can do on a weight machine to stabilize my shoulders. I also got some individual instruction from a personal trainer for building strength in general, to help me avoid injuries.
Al: In the morning to loosen up I do some modified natural stretching, mostly my neck (Ki exercise-type), roll my shoulders, and rotate my spine/stretch my hips--it makes my day go better. And of course, I'm a gym rat, which means cycling and weight-lifting large poundages on a regular basis. If I kink up on the mat, I get off and stretch my leg muscles until the kink goes away.
Susan: I had serious lower back issues. For years, my back has gone out maybe once or twice a year, and I'm stuck in a painful hunched over position for a couple of weeks. Sometimes it's bad enough I have had to have steroid shots, something I'd rather not do. So, several years ago I made these changes: try to walk as much as possible (2 hours a day if I have time), get a massage once a month, sit on an exercise ball rather than a chair at my desk at work, and roll out of everything instead of break-falling in aikido class. In August I added Pilates to this mix, and I believe strengthening my core has helped. In fact, last week I felt so strong I did a few break-falls and the next day couldn't even tell I had done them.
Janet: Like Susan, I find Pilates a very good fit with aikido. I'm naturally lazy, so I don't really "progress" in my core exercises, just keep doing the same ten minute routine I had an instructor work with me on many years ago. I use the foam roller for working out trigger points in my quads and ITB, then get on it for some Pilates, then do some crunches, hamstring strengthening, squats and against-the-wall pushups. I ride my adult trike or get on the exercise bike at least three times a week except in the winter when the darkness in the morning literally prevents me from being able to exercise before work (apparently I'm one of those people whose physiology simply doesn't permit us to move quickly or to raise the heart rate properly when our bodies thinks it is still sleep time).
Katherine: The challenge is that very few alternative conditioning routines place the same emphasis on mobility and flexibility that aikido does. Running, biking, swimming, weights... all these tend to (in my experience) create muscular tension, rather than release it. The more things I do outside of aikido, the more stretching and recovery seem to matter.
The one thing that I have found makes a big difference is stretching after class. (I'm sure Janet will have comments on post-workout stretching, too.) Especially for those of us with sedentary jobs. I'd encourage those with dojo keys to make a particular habit of it, so that those without don't feel like they need to rush out the door.
Susan: I'd like to second the stretching after class comment Katherine just made. A few years ago I taught back-to-back 1 1/2 hour aikido classes at the college. I hurt all over! (We have concrete floors under very thin mats. Ugh.) This semester I'm doing a Pilates class immediately after my aikido class, and I love it - seems to make a huge difference.
Linda: Me three!...It takes me longer to warm up and stretch than what we do in class, so I try to arrive at least 15 minutes early to get through some warmups, slow rolls, and gentle stretches before class starts.... When I first started training I found my legs would get really tight an hour or two after class - it felt like my quads were trying to pull my kneecaps off! Doing some warm ups and stretching after getting home really helped with that. That's also a good time, since I'm warmed up, to work out any tight spots (IT bands) on a foam roller, and do any other strengthening exercises.
Pauliina: Funny. Stretching before, after, during or outside of class makes no difference whatsoever for me. I'm much more flexible nowadays than I was, say, ten years ago. But that is mostly due to Alexander Technique I think. And oddly, after I attended a seminar by Akuzawa Sensei, and started doing some of the solo exercises (mostly shiko), my legs got even more flexible.
Janet: I'm like Paulina: general stretching doesn't do that much for me. Periods of time during which I did do a lot of stretching, whether I was 18 or 48 yrs old, didn't seem to do much of anything in terms of either overall flexibility or pain. I do targeted work on the foam roller a couple of times a week to let my back open and relax and to get any trigger points out of my quads and ITB - neither of which is stretching - but the only stretching I do is if there is an acute, specific issue.
Linda: Then there was the other night, when after a hard 4 hours on the mat I came home to a long hot soak in an Epsom salt bath. Ahhhh...Good as new the next morning. Got me thinking about including a reasonably big bathtub or Japanese style tub if we ever remodel our bathroom.
Al: No bathtub, so I have to take a long, hot shower if I need water therapy, or use the hydro pool at the gym; but if you have a tub, Epsom Salts works wonders--soak for at least 30 minutes. I also highly recommend using a sauna weekly if you have access to one. Just be sure to take a bottle of water in with you to drink, so your body can sweat its impurities/toxins out, and try to stay in for about 30 minutes.
Pauliina: I seldom have a chance to sit in a sauna after aikido, but I'd like to second the recommendation! Sometimes when we have a seminar in Rotterdam I visit the sauna of the Finnish Seamens's Mission right after the end of day one. And I feel like new after that!
Susan: Several years ago while in Japan, I experienced the onsen and the communal baths. Oh my! There's nothing like a hot, hot soak after days of intense training. Once I got home, we splurged and put a hot tub in our backyard. My back, my knees, and an old shoulder injury appreciate this addition to my routine. Too, spending so much time at the dojo means I don't have as much time outdoors as I'd like. Soaking in the hot tub gives me some of that back.
Linda: I'm also a huge fan of icing, and massage. I cannot tolerate NSAIDs (like Aleve or Motrin), and haven't taken any since before I started training. Any strains, spasms, and so on are handled with aggressive icing, stretching, massage, gentle exercise, and rest.
Al: In the summer, I try to swim frequently. It improves flexibility and gives you not only exercise benefits, but is also like getting a good massage. For the last four years I have also not had to use any painkillers (RX or OTC).
Janet: I also can't take the NSAIDs. I'll ice and rest like mad after an acute injury, but my chronic arthritis responds much better to heat, whether a hot shower or a heating pad (folks with arthritis tend to have a real strong, idiosyncratic preference for heat versus cold). I do use a low dose acetaminophen with codeine on evenings when I've worked out really well but my knee and thumbs have been bothering me most of the day and I'm just plain tired of hurting.
Linda: Overall I'm delighted that I was able to start training as an out-of-shape, overweight 46 year-old with an array of tendon and joint problems, neuropathy and chronic vertigo, and not only get by in class, but actually do well. I've seen vast improvement in those specific problems, and in my general health and fitness. It's meant learning to be disciplined, conscious, and proactive about taking care of my body.
Susan: If I'm around, I hope to be doing aikido another 20 or 30 years. I have no idea how my body will change in that time, but hopefully it will hold up long enough for me to learn a thing or two about this art I love.
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:
We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.