By Perry Lefko
Embrace the pain, avoid the injury.
This is what I’ve been trying to do since I joined a Saturday morning fitness class at the Battle Arts Academy about two months ago.
The class is led by Steven J. Wong, who is also one of the owners of multi-faceted facility that opened in September.
I became aware of the gym while interviewing WWE “talent” Anthony Carelli, whose performs under the persona Santino Marella, for Goodlife Mississauga Magazine. I also had a chance to meet and interview Steven, a filmmaker/producer who a few years ago received acclaim for The Striking Truth, which centred on UFC competitors Georges St-Pierre and David Loiseau. It was a ground-breaking film insofar as it revealed insight into the preparation and attention to detail that has contributed to St-Pierre becoming a long-running welterweight champion and arguably the greatest Mixed Martial Artist of all time. From start to finish, it took Steven almost five years to do the film and he received unlimited access from St-Pierre.
Some of the insight that Steven gained from that film is being used for his latest documentary, Anti-Age Me, that juxtaposes traditional health and fitness with modern medicine. It is currently in the production stage and is the opposite of the shocking documentary Super Size Me, which explained how a “diet” of fast foods will ruin your health. Anti-Age Me will provide ways to improve the quality of your life.
Steven is also a certified personal trainer and is a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and I talked to him about exercising. I have been working out/training for several years, but more often than not I find myself injured. It is one thing to feel pain and soreness from working out, but when it begins at the start of it, a few hours later and continues to be an issue it is a sign that something is wrong. There are various ways to handle it: work through the pain, rest, rehab or a combination of them. Ice and heat only go so far when the problem becomes chronic.
Persistent pain usually indicates you’re doing something in the training or there is a specific physical weakness and either the body is compensating or the area simply can’t stand the stress or weight-bearing load. Without a certified professional to work with you, it is really hard to gauge the source of the problem.
Physical exercise is a great way to release endorphins, the hormones that are naturally released when you are involved in some physical exertion. Releasing endorphins can improve mental capacity and mood, so there are benefits to exercising.
But there is no benefit when the aches and pain go beyond what should be experienced from a workout in which you are pushing yourself to get physical value. When the muscles are being asked to do something that is either foreign or new, it will likely result in some pain the next day and, more likely, two days afterward. That’s a good sign. But when the pain lingers for longer and it hurts to simply do the exercise, it’s a sign something has been damaged. You can take two steps forward to help overcome the injury, but you can also take three steps backward by re-injuring yourself.
At least that has been my experience. And not being able to exercise can be mentally deflating.
I told Steven about that and he suggested I try taking one of his Saturday morning classes, which are all about strength and conditioning and improving the core by focusing on functional performance exercises including creating explosive power with plyometrics executed in safe manner. The definition of plyometrics is exercises that increase speed and power by exerting the muscles with maximum force in as short a time as possible while activating the stretch reflex. That’s a very simplistic way of describing what is otherwise doing some cardio exercises that are atypical from what you would normally do in the gym to get the heart rate pumping.
The classes begin with activation, using exercise rollers to loosen up the calves, hamstrings, glutes and iliotibial (IT) bands. Placing the rollers underneath these muscles and gently going back and forth helps to release the knots or trigger points, which is essentially what can be done with a deep-tissue massage. But for purposes of doing some of Steven’s exercises, rolling helps to loosen the muscles so they will be prepared for the exercises in which they will be used. In other words, it’s a pre-exercise exercise/activity, and while the rollers may cause a little pain while pushed against the muscles, it’s a means to get them loose. The pain is minimal, but it’s a good pain because it’s not an injury and can prevent one.
Following a few minutes of using the rollers, we move over to the mats and do some core exercises, such as lying down and using your arms and legs to create extension. Many of the routines use planking, which is done by supporting yourself with your forearms and lifting the body by springing up your toes. Holding that position for a few seconds and repeating it 10 times or more helps to strengthen the back, stomach and neck. Planking is not as stressful as pushups because the extension is being done by the legs as opposed to the hands. But we also do plenty of pushups during this phase of the workout. From there, it extends to some exercises, one of which replicates break dancing. It took me about eight classes before I finally figured things out from a confidence, coordination and technique standpoint. You won’t catch me in any breakdancing competitions, but at least I understand how to do it. I have the admiration of the people who can do it rapidly and transition into other phases.
We also do bearwalks using our hands and feet to move forward, and a variation of it sideways by crossing over the hands.
By the time this aspect of the workout is over you’re panting and sweating.
And then the “fun” begins.
We do squats to strengthen the lower body, essentially mimicking sitting down in a chair, but holding the position for a few seconds. From that base, we either do jump squats straight up, spring forward on to a box. We also squat down a path of some 50 metres and use a ball of eight to 20 pounds and either slam it down from high over the head and or move it from side to side.
Again, if you’re not already bagged from doing the mat exercises, you’ll be gassed from doing this.
The third part of the workout involves circuit training which consists of skipping rope, treadmill running and assorted other exercises.
Lastly, it’s pushing a sled some 50 metres and running back. We do it in teams, but after pushing the sled twice, you’re already breathing hard. After four times, you’re either totally out of breath or, in some cases, throwing up. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but it’s come close. With each week, my cardio is improving.
When it’s all over either an hour or 90 or so minutes later, you know you’ve been in a total workout, and while you may be tired physically, mentally you feel great having done it.
The next day, you’ll be in pain and maybe for a few days – and I’ll talk about how to lessen that in my next blog – but you shouldn’t be injured.
So far, so good for me. I work out two or three times a week in addition to the Saturday class, but I’m using much of what I’ve learned in it and applying it to my other routines.
Perry Lefko is an award-winning Toronto-based writer/author.