At some point, I moved from doing rehab to exercising. I never considered the distinction before I lived it. They are really not the same at all.
In rehab, you work your injured areas every day, sometimes twice or three times a day. You set a goal, identify weaknesses and strengths, and create opportunities to enhance performance. While the same can be done when starting an exercise regimen, most people don't take it quite so seriously. Most people don't keep records of their recreational sessions in the gym or on the bike path or running track, although that seems to be changing as FitBit and phone apps make keeping track more convenient.
For me, gym time was my time. I listened to my body and did what it told me to do. Back and biceps, then chest and triceps, then legs and glutes and shoulders... each group twice a week, and one day off to recover. I never did legs two days in a row, and certainly never three or four or five days in a row. I was maintaining and building. Repairing required a different strategy entirely.
So much of my early rehab was intentional rather than actual. I knew that I should bring my inner thighs together when standing, activating my upper magnets in Pilates-speak. I struggled because it's hard to engage a muscle which you cannot feel, especially when it's surrounded by other muscles you cannot feel. The numbness from my hip flexors to my kneecap rendered mind-over-matter an impossibility. Still, I thought about it every time I placed my foot centers squarely and evenly on the floor.
Prof. Harold Hill was right; the Think System does work. When time had passed and I regained sensation, my body knew just what to do. It was startling the first time the adductor engaged; it knocked me off kilter and I slid not-that-gracefully to my left before I righted myself and saw a big grin on my face in the mirror. All that preparation had been worthwhile.
Exercise becomes more difficult the more weight or time you invest. You can up the ante by adding more plates to the bench press bar or doing more squats or laps. Rehab becomes more difficult the more progress you make.
t doesn't get easier; the aggravation just moves around. Each new accomplishment puts stress on a different muscle group, reminding me that fixing one spot doesn't mean anything at all, in the overall scheme of things, because each little spot is connected to other little spots and there will always be more spots to uncover and improve.
But one day all those little spots did make a difference, coming together in a lovely whole that was my entire quadriceps flexing and my ankle feeling the pressure of my toes pushing off the earth and my femur moving freely in the socket and, without pain or effort, I was walking across the room and out the door and all day long I was using my leg.
All that rehab paid off. I was walking. There was still a little hitch-in-my-gitty-up, as a gym rat friend phrases it, but the hitch is looking less like a lurch and more like a hiccup. It felt good to be back in the gym, in the weight room, carrying the weights without worrying. I was doing old work-out routines. I was exercising.
I was also continuing my rehab program. Two private and three group pilates sessions, yoga, walking, home programs from both pilates and yoga, swimming.... something every day and most days two or three different experiences. I was getting stronger, and I was aching more and more. My limp was reverting to a lurch. I hurt all the time. Arnica and Advil and Bayer were my friends once again, and I worried that I was going backwards.
And then, I slept in one morning. The studio was closed one morning. My yoga instructor was rafting in the Grand Canyon. I went to the gym one morning and did light, repetitive, slow, long, stretchy pieces. I swam gentle laps and lolled on the noodles in the pool. I gave my body a rest.
And now, it seems, that I'll have to reorganize what has worked so well for me for so long. I'll have to be certain that Pilates doesn't concentrate on the same muscle groups every day, because I can really use them now and they get tired and sore and they need a rest. My experiences are no longer intentional. They are real. They have consequences. I have to pay attention.
Getting better is hard work, that's for sure.