Why does it hurt?

First up on the topics for this semester: Pain.  And what did we learn? It’s all in your head.

Seems an appropriate topic to start with, given my last post.  I’m trying to take it as a lesson. (For the record: school is not that painful.  Being a full time student is actually more rewarding and totally awesome than I ever thought it would be.)

But what about the pain that comes with an actual injury?  And what about chronic pain, when it just never seems to go away and might even get worse over time?  Our textbook definition of pain (from Michelle Cameron’s Physical Agents in Rehabilitation) states that it’s a combination of physical and psychological input based on actual or potential damage to tissue.  Potential damage would be like walking barefoot on gravel – not actually going to injure you, but you probably shouldn’t run.  The physical input comes from the actual tissue sensation itself, and the psychological input is based on your previous experience, general knowledge about what should hurt and what shouldn’t, and even sometimes what you see can affect the way you perceive pain.   This TED talk explains it so well, and in an Aussie accent to boot:

Just like the snake bite in the video, your nervous system can strengthen pain responses and make you more sensitive to certain things in certain areas.  That can be a good thing, because pain is a way that your body protects you.  Unfortunately, those stronger pain responses can also lead to a not-so-helpful version of chronic pain.

We can block pain at the spinal cord level or reduce the peripherial nerve activation at the site with medications.  We can use physical agents (like cold, heat, electrical stimulation, and others) to reduce inflammation or keep the painful stimuli from traveling up to the spinal cord. Exercise has been shown to increase the pain threshold and decrease sensitivity to pain, which can be tremendously helpful for sufferers of chronic pain.  It has also been proven that conscious distraction can significantly help reduce pain levels, though that is a tough one to implement.  Re-training the brain to understand that “hurt does not necessarily equal harm” can be a major bonus, too.

Pain is so intensely personal, and it’s also very, very real.  Yes, it’s “all in our heads”, but our nervous systems are powerful machines. Bringing it down to levels we can live with requires a good variety of combined approaches, but it will be so important for me to explain to my future patients how it all works.  If we can take the mystery out of it… well, it might not hurt so bad.

student status

The semester starts tomorrow.  It feels like knowing I’m going to get sucked underwater for exactly 13 weeks, then I’ll finally make it to the surface again, breathe sweet fresh air, and be way better off in the long run.

But from where I stand, it looks like I’m diving head first into deep-sea darkness. And it’s going to happen five more times before I’m done.

The excitement of The First Semester has long gone.  We are now entering the drudgery of the middle part of graduate school.  Oh yes, this is where the true learning happens.   Until now, three years seemed like an incredibly appropriate and not-too-long amount of time.  Ha.  I miss my friends.  Maybe I’ll see them in 2018.

I’ve been on this wonderful thing called winter break for a solid month now, though, and I guess I’m forgetting a few things.  Like how amazing it is to be learning all day every day.  Full time student status is a gift that I do my very best not take for granted.  I can’t wait to be a licensed physical therapist, but I know I will miss this time tremendously.  My one job all day every day is to open up my brain and let knowledge pour in.  Nobody but a student gets to say that.  Everybody else has to produce some sort of thing with their days.  But us?  Nope. Just knowledge.

When I graduate, I will find a job that beautifully joins a few very important aspects: engaging, service-oriented, and stable.   My next life chapter will be powerful because of all this near-drowning I’m doing now, but right now, my focus simply can’t be on that faraway date.  That’s like watching the sunset when there are sharks nipping at your flippers.  Pay attention to the task at hand so you can punch them in the nose.

In truth, I love it.  I’m just nervous to start the next round of brain games.  This break has been gloriously fun and relaxing.  There is no complaining going on here, just good old fashioned anxiety.

But for what it’s worth… I’m a pretty strong swimmer.


Rugby Olympics!!!!

My two travel buddies were convinced that this was only the beginning: they wanted to be Eagles.

I could just tell, they were already at the National Training Center in their minds. The path was clearly laid out ahead of them, and they had that wiggly energy of someone who knows that if only they can stay focused long enough, they can get exactly what they want.  Our time with the South Senior Women’s All-Star Rugby Team had just come to a close, and we were returning from a national competition in Pittsburgh.

Rugby is a relatively small sport on the scene for Americans, especially for women, so the opportunity to be recognized as a dedicated and talented player is high.  I’ve crossed paths with several players on the Eagles player pool list during my time as a rugby player, and I haven’t even ever gotten “serious”.

It’s not easy, though. Both of those players would have had to take money out of their own pocket, budget days off work, and travel nation wide to clubs, camps, and competitions for exposure and top notch coaching in order to make it to Eagle status.  There are only a few paid professional rugby players in the nation (I mean, less than a single full teams worth), and so in order to become an elite rugby player most of it needs to come from your own funds.  So many other things can get in the way too, like injuries striking at exactly the wrong time, or family priorities, or whatever else might make a person need to sit still.  The journey that looks so simple from the beginning can end up being really freaking hard.  I’m not sure where those two former teammates are now, but I know they’re not at the Olympics…. yet.

How a Player Becomes an Eagle

I played in college with a goofy and talented athlete, who ended up moving to Little Rock to live at the American Rugby Pro Training Center there.  She has pursued her sport in every way that she could, moving only to cities that had elite teams and coaches, and traveling regularly nation-wide to play rugby.  Though her intense dedication may have stemmed from one too many concussions in college, that former teammate is now on the Eagles Player Pool list for the team that’s going to the Olympics.  Becoming an Eagle can be entirely possible for those that stick it out and strike the balance of quality, player position, and exposure.

Rugby is a sport that doesn’t yet require the commitment from toddlerhood, only the decision to make it your life combined with a healthy amount of athleticism and talent. Many players listed on the Eagles player pool didn’t start playing rugby until their late teens or early twenties.  That is cool.

The other thing that’s mightily appealing is that I can choose not to pursue Eagle-hood.  I can stay in Asheville, travel anywhere within a four hour radius on the weekends, and represent Asheville Women’s Rugby on the pitch.

And at the bar afterwards, too.

Rugby is fun for so many reasons that don’t include international recognition.  It’s an adrenaline rush.  It’s a push to better my fitness each week so that I can truly help my team for 80 minutes every weekend.  It’s a social opportunity, complete with Player of the Match awards, raucus singing, and off-weekend adventures.  Rugby has provided me with some lifelong friendships, and I am prouder than ever to call it my sport of choice.  For the first time since 1924, Rugby Sevens is an official Olympic sport.  Oh yeah, the USA won in 1924, too.

Rugby will start August 6th, with the women’s tournament taking place for the first three days.  The men will play next, and rugby will conclude on August 11th.


Get fired up, y’all.  This is a huge deal.

“You take lacrosse, hockey, soccer, football, basketball, throw ’em into a pot, stir ’em up, and you have the best game in the world.  You have sevens rugby.”

The “Goals” Thing


Goal-setting.  Ugh.

I have always actively disliked that phrase.  One time in kindergarten, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I sat there and thought about what my mom did (because naturally I wanted to be just like her).  So, I drew a Crayola woman on my piece of paper.  When the teacher asked me what it represented, I said proudly, “I want to be a mom, just like my mom!”   Apparently we’re all supposed to be motivated and hungry for professional success from a young age, so that did not fly in my kindy classroom.   I finally drew a picture of a firefighter, which was met with smiles and nods of approval.  Good girl.  Good goal.

As a person who fully enjoys living in the present moment, that task of conjuring up a realistic-yet-ambitious image of where I want to be in the future is really pretty hard.   But I am here to tell you, fellow goal-a-phobes, this task we call goal-setting doesn’t have to be so bad.

I have recently come to understand the point of all this elementary school drama.  As a 28 year old “late bloomer” (ie I spent my post-college years bashing around my life without much of a sense of direction) I have finally set a goal that really gets me fired up.  And that, my friends, is the point.  It needs to stem from a sense of excitement, and a true deep desire to get to where you’re going.  If we fake it, we probably won’t care much about it.  And then we won’t succeed.  Note: I am neither a firefighter nor a dog groomer.   Nor am I a stay-at-home mom, but that wasn’t allowed to be a goal anyway.  I am on my way to becoming one hell of a physical therapist.  (For the record: my mom is an extremely successful business owner who still works from home, and I still want to be just like her.  :)

My point: you won’t find that motivation by pulling something out of thin air.  Make a goal you care about.  Write about it.  Especially about how it makes you feel when you’re freshly fired up.  And then write that goal on your mirror in words that conjure up the fire and look at it every single day.  Read it out loud.  Conjure up that feeling.  The initial excitement won’t be in its original form, but it will ultimately be the secret weapon that helps us get to where we’re going.

And if you don’t have any goals right now?  That’s okay too.  But as a reformed non-goal-setter, I have learned that even a little goal, a teeny tiny seemingly inconsequential goal, like getting up ten minutes early to stretch in the morning, can be the ticket towards forward momentum.  And ultimately, those little goals can help pave the way for a bigger, more exciting life dream.

So don’t stress about your goal worthiness.  Start with a single step towards where you want to be tomorrow.

Rocinha’s strength, and why the world cup matters

I will open this conversation with the statement that I believe in with my heart and soul: Athletics are an essential part of life.  Not just for the fun of watching the pros, but for making every single one of us better.  With a good training session or competition, the soul of the athlete is strengthened.  When people exercise in groups, the bond created there forms a community, which in turn strengthens the community at large.  As a result of that one workout, every one of those athletes – whether ordinary or professional – now has a slightly stronger support system within his or her own body, and also within their city.   Every one of those athletes now feels empowered to achieve those things that were previously thought to be impossible – regardless of whether the playing field is in the gym, on the court, or in the office.

My friend Rogério is the trainer at the only nonprofit Crossfit affiliate in Latin America, Rocinha Crossfit.  Rocinha is a favela (a shantytown) in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  You know, Rio, that city where the world’s most elite soccer players are getting paid to play the best soccer of their lives right about now.

Rocinha CrossFit typically holds classes outside in the city, on the beach, and anywhere they can find a little space.   But Rogério has informed me that he has had to put many classes on hold lately.   Not because he doesn’t want to run the programs.  Not because his members all quit.  But because sometimes it has become too dangerous to hold classes in the streets.

The Police Pacification Program (UPP) in the favelas of Rio has been moderately successful, returning control of the favelas to the government rather than the drug cartels.  However, despite the good intentions, things have become a little more inflamed in this city that my friend calls his home.  This program was implemented mainly as as a direct result of the international athletic events that are being held there.   With the buildup professional sport in this case comes the slight downgrade of sport for those who truly need that sort of strength in their lives.  Unfortunately, that’s the irony.  But we can do something about it.

The community in Rocinha and other favelas like it need our help.  Now more than ever, they have a tremendous need for the community empowerment that fitness can foster.  Rocinha CrossFit needs a home, a physical space, where they can attract new members and be a beacon of personal and community strength at all hours of the day.  

 Rogério plans to host workshops and events several times each year in order to afford to pay the utilities on the building.  This man is one of the most supportive, uplifting, and community oriented people I know, and he is continually encouraging his members to be proactive about the changes they want to see in the world.  

From what I hear from Rogério, with no permanent address and no equipment the strength is already starting to take hold.   

Keep an eye out for our Rocinha CrossFit fundraising effort coming your way this summer.  Please be in touch with any comments, ideas, or if you would like more information.   And in the meantime, please visit their website at www.rocinhacrossfit.com and check them out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rocinha.crossfit.




Functional vs. Optimal

Someone recently sent me a link to this article, which basically bashes the use of the word “functional” when discussing fitness regimens.

Of course,  he’s right.  The word IS overused.  But that doesn’t make it a bad word.  It can be appropriate, if defined properly.  What is “functional” for your activities of daily living or athletic pursuits may not be appropriate for the next guy.   But there are some things, namely working on the primal patterns of movement (push, pull, squat, bend, lunge, twist) that are things we do every day no matter WHO you are.    So shouldn’t we always have an  eye on doing those things the best we can, whether you’re a professional baseball player or a desk jockey?  

Of course that’s not all the baseball player should do to train for his game.  And it’s also not all the desk jockey should do to keep his or her body in great condition.  But it’s a start, and it’s a baseline that most of us can relate and adhere to.  

I originally named our classes Functional Fitness because it is built on the concept of cultivating optimal function for life in general – walking, running, MOVING better, with the added bonus of feeling and looking great.  

 But there’s that word “optimal” again.  So, should we change the name, as he suggests in the article? Optimal Fitness Asheville? Has a nice ring to it… And it covers what we’re aiming for: Optimal Life.

Want to check out our Optimal/Functional Fitness classes?  Join us at 7am every Thursday at Splashville in Pack Square Park, Downtown Asheville.

Confession of a Personal Trainer

I’m a fan of playing.  If you were ever a kid, I bet you are too.   I like running, jumping, climbing, and crawling around, preferablyin the dirt.  After five years in Asheville, I have finally gotten on a mountain bike.  And I loved it.  There’s a spark, a fire we feel when we’re excited to go outside and play.  It’s like sunshine welling up from my belly, and it makes me smile…and then I go play.

We all moved to Asheville to be rich in the head and the heart, and not, most certainly not, rich in the wallet. Am I right?  (Ok, yes, some people make it big, but most of us just live here because we like it :)

So here’s my confession: somewhere along the last year and a half I’ve forgotten all that.  I’ve been sitting behind my computer stressing about that damn wallet.  As my body melts into the desk chair, so does my motivation. And there it goes…  I can see my fire flickering, sputtering, and ultimately reduced to smoking coals. Continue reading Confession of a Personal Trainer

The Magic Ingredient

There are few things on my calendar that I refuse to change.  When that little alarm pops up at 2:50 on Tuesdays reminding me to get my shoes on and grab some money, I almost always do as I’m told.  I have even told potential clients that no, I can’t meet at that time.  I have priorities.

I’ve wavered from my routine in recent weeks.  Travel, work, laziness, and a generally unconcerned attitude has kept me from making my weekly appointment at the West Asheville Tailgate Market.  Excuses have crept in and sounded legitimate, “I can just go the store tomorrow instead,” or, “Oh well, I’m a little late.  I will have missed all the good stuff by the time I get there anyway,” or, “Nobody will miss me.”   But when I made the valiant effort to go yesterday (it’s a 6 minute walk from my house), I was rewarded with the beauty of human interaction, supporting our local farmers, and recognition of the amazing community we call West Asheville. Continue reading The Magic Ingredient

Mom’s Marathon: Childbirth

A friend of mine completed the infamously challenging Shut-In Trail Race this past fall.  She trained for months, and even went out and ran the course several times.  Her nutrition was on point.  Her mental state was in-line at the start of the race.  By the end, however, running the last three miles toward the finish line, the thought that got her through was simply, “If I made it through childbirth, I can make it through this.” Continue reading Mom’s Marathon: Childbirth

Top Ten Rules of Living

Imagine yourself as a caveman (or cavewoman).  This list includes only the things that would keep you alive.  You would do them out of necessity, and as a result, you would be healthy, lean, energetic, happy, strong, bright, and productive.  However, we all know we can’t live like cavemen.  In modern times, we have to make a list and pin it to our computer monitor so that we remember to make them happen.  But if we do, and we focus on just these ten things, we’ll be that much closer to optimizing our bodies abilities, and therefore living a happier, healthier, stronger, longer life. Continue reading Top Ten Rules of Living