Growing Stronger

Activity. Our bodies are made to move. Even when I’m in the hospital with lung infections/pneumonia, my doctors expect me to exercise regularly (as tolerated, of course). At my hospital, CF patients now usually stay on the Pulmonary floor, have visits from Physical therapy to walk in the hall or up and down stairs, and a stationary bike moved into the hospital room. This is in addition to Respiratory Therapy six times a day.

I am not a fan of the stationary bike, as it’s really uncomfortable to sit on, so I walk the halls several times a day, and I do Pilates right there in my bed, when it’s safe to do so (as in I don’t have low blood pressure, low oxygen levels, or low blood sugar, all of which can happen during these infections).

Last fall, during and post hospitalization, I had lost a lot of my muscle tone. Pilates has brought me back from a state of weak muscles and as a result, even poorer levels of endurance.


What is Pilates?

It’s a series of movements, designed to stretch, lengthen, and strengthen your muscles, especially your core – the center of your body, including the abs and your back. It helps you strengthen and sculpt your muscles and gain flexibility.

Some people use pilates machines at the gym, resistance bands, or simply, their own bodies, to create resistance. This is what makes Pilates so simple – you can do it anywhere, even in bed!

In fact, physician Joseph Pilates created the exercise regimen for bedridden patients,rigging springs to the hospital bed to create resistance . Its effectiveness was tested during a flu epidemic that struck England in 1918, when thousands of patients died, but not a single patient trained in Pilates. Interestingly, Dr. Pilates’ movements influenced the curriculum of modern dance training and techniques.

The Basics

Many people simply use an exercise mat on the floor, and use their own body for resistance. It looks easy, but it takes practice to not only learn the movements, but to learn what muscles you’re supposed to be feeling, where they are, and how everything’s connected.

I learned Pilates through watching DVDs created by instructor Mari Winsor. I wore out my first set of DVDs after a few years and bought a second set. After another few years, I pretty much knew the movements and routines by heart, so I didn’t have to watch them to complete a workout.

Although it’s not an aerobic exercise routine, prepare to sweat! Imagine holding your arms out straight in front of you, gently reaching them as far as they can go, and seeing how long you can hold them out. That’s what Pilates feels like.

Getting Started

The first step is to learn the movements. They look simple, and they are, logistically. It’s a series of stretching, reaching, and performing gentle movements in repetition.

Once you learn the movements – some might take a few weeks before you can actually perform them all – you can move on to performing repetitions. Some of the movements are done in a set of 3, others in a set of 10. Many are done forwards and backwards, up and down, left and right.

After gaining enough strength to complete all of the reps, you can start working on increasing your resistance – whether it’s on a machine, using an exercise band, or your body’s own weight. I prefer using my own body for resistance, but just recently started to experiment with exercise bands.

A Lifetime of Growth

When I watched those DVDs the very first time in 2003, I remember thinking that I must be crazy. Although I had studied dance for several years, had been through ACL reconstruction and rehabilitation, and knew a lot about stretching and leg exercises, the movements were excruciating to master. I thought that I was pretty good at exercising – I was a gym rat during college and my 20s, and could do 50 sit ups, but this was like sit ups on crack, in every part of my body.

What was great, though, was that this particular program – Winsor Pilates – had 5 training DVDs, beginning with the “Basic” 20-minute learning workout, and specific workouts for the Abs, Upper Body, “Buns & Thighs” and Advanced Slimming. I later purchased an Aerobic version which was intense, non-stop movement, and it wiped me out.

It took a few weeks just to learn the movements and develop muscle memory. It took another month or two to work up to getting through the entire beginner 20-minute workout.

I tend to go through phases when I do it 3-6 days a week for several months, only to have to stop for a while due to a setback like a bad infection, belly problems, etc.

A ToniV Tradition

Regardless of where I am health-wise, however, I always come back to Pilates when I need to regain lost strength and/or endurance. Since restarting several months ago and focusing on my core and legs, I have gained enough strength to carry me up the stairs without putting all of the onus on my lungs and heart. The gains I have made have inspired me to start working on my arms this past week. A pair of 10-pound weights and determination are all I need to start building some lean muscle in my upper body.

I look forward to continuing to grow stronger, which will provide me with more endurance and support when I am not well.

What do you do to stay or get stronger during or after a flareup?


2 thoughts on “Growing Stronger

    • Thanks, R! It’s definitely helped me, even if it’s been a slow process. The answer is to be consistent. It’s that way with anything.

      Just like it has been for you and your new adventures. Really proud of you!!

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