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Carolyn’s Workout Diary: Week 11/12 – Knee alert

In week eleven/twelve of her fitness challenge, Carolyn manages an injury while swapping her trainers for high heels.

Carolyn’s Workout Diary: Week 11/12 – Knee alert

It has been almost two weeks since my last fitness report and there have been two contributing factors.

One, my trainer Gaz Brown of GetRunning packed me off to physiotherapist Vaughan Craddock of Sports Lab because my right knee started to give me trouble.

Two, iD Dunedin Fashion Week and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Sydney were part of my work agenda alongside helping the fabulous team at MiNDFOOD get the next issue to the printer before Easter. Busy times.

Vaughan’s diagnosis: Slight swelling on the knee, otherwise known as patella femoral which is a common running injury.

The timing of my ‘injury’ was fortuitous because Fashion Week is an around the clock event making working out an almost impossible challenge. If I was going to rest my knee this was the best time to do it, though it turns out wearing high heels proved to be a bit of a hazard.

On day three of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week I wore higher heels than usual and my knee decided to protest. So much so that I was worried that I might not make it across the forecourt of the Carriageworks venue. What if I stacked it? Plunging to the ground in an inelegant heap, nose diving into the sharp end of a pair of Manolos or Tony Biancos?

Thankfully my knee held until I reached the media centre where I gratefully sank into a chair. Sitting for the fashion shows (like this picture shows) also helped.

Afterwards I asked Vaughan about it. “If you are standing on the ground and you raise your heel what happens is to keep your knee straight, which looks nice and elegant, you have to lock your quads out. Locking your quads out compresses the kneecap onto the femur and will cause it to drift out because you’ll use the outside quads more than the inside quads,” Vaughan explained. “You know rookies walking in high heels, they walk like ducks. So to stand upright in heels and look elegant you have to lock that leg in so the quad has to work really hard. It’s what makes the leg look nice and elongated but it’s going to aggravate your knee. It’s like you are walking downhill for as long as you are in those high heels. It’s a massive eccentric load (muscles undergoing heavy eccentric loading suffer greater damage when overloaded). Not your friend.”

So wearing high heels was not what I should have been doing but as Vaughan said I survived it, “it’s what you’re going to do isn’t it [at Fashion Week]” and at least I didn’t look like a duck.

One thing that worried me about resting from training for 10 days, however, was losing fitness and putting on weight.

Vaughan, however, assured me that ‘selected rest’ as opposed to ‘default rest’ is vitally important.

“When you feel a niggle coming on the best thing to do is understand what is causing it, it is often tightness, take a day off and let that tightness settle (that’s selective rest) and let that swelling resolve and then you can go back to training as soon as that is resolved,” he said. “Whereas if you persevere through it, and create more and more swelling, it gets to the point where you have to have default time off and you don’t get to choose on that because the body says you can’t move any more and that’s the long rest and that’s where you lose fitness.

“You don’t lose fitness from taking selected rest here and there because that actually keeps continuity of training going, and fitness and performance comes from stringing together continuity of training.”

He admits that this is where runners find it hard. “It’s a runner/athlete mentality. They think ‘I’ve got a niggley knee, should I take today off? No, if I take today off I’m going to lose my fitness that I have spent all this time going for’. But that is almost a little bit irrational because if you think about it, if you take one day off to resolve some pain is that going to negate three months of training? No way. You actually have to take six weeks off completely to lose your fitness. But if you get an injury it is often four to six to eight weeks off and that’s where you lose your fitness, not a day here or a day there. We all have these things about I’m going to get fatter, I’m going to get slower, I’m going to lose all the gains I’ve had. It’s simply not true.”

There are two reasons for this, he said. Research has shown that if you do nothing for six weeks your cardiovascular system stays stable, then you have a very sharp drop off. When you start exercising at the end of six weeks you’ll ‘feel’ unfit because your muscular system has changed and is stiff from disuse.

The key, said Vaughan, is if you’ve had some time off, introduce exercise slowly and give your body time to adapt to the load.

“Most people go back to the level they were at straight away and it hurts. And so they go, ‘oh man, I’m unfit, I’d better train harder’ but actually the reason is they are tight and their body doesn’t have the fluidity it had and if they train harder their body just gets tighter and that’s where another injury occurs. You often find someone gets re-injured 10 days after they return to sport because they are going to hard trying to catch up for ‘lost time’. That’s the danger zone. Whereas if you relax, and let it happen, you find in three or four or five days you’re back into a rhythm.”

The other piece of science that goes with that, said Vaughan, is if you want to maintain your fitness but don’t have time in your week, two quality workouts a week will maintain your fitness indefinitely.

“You don’t gain it but you maintain your current level,” he said. “If you can find half an hour twice a week in that time to exercise, and it doesn’t have to be running, you will maintain your exact fitness level and you will feel good because you’ll get endorphin burn.”

And he was right. After 10 days of no ‘structured exercise I headed out for a jog. The knee held and while it felt a little harder my time per/km hadn’t changed at all. I was at the same fitness level. Wow, that is a head adjustment but one I’m happy to have discovered.

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