One of my favorite hobbies used to be powerlifting. When I had to take time off to control my ankylosing spondylitis (it’s an inflammatory spinal condition) I was simply in too much pain to walk around the block let alone squat 250lbs. But as we’ve controlled my symptoms so efficiently I’ve been able to pick back up weightlifting this fall. I’m overjoyed as this represents full recovery to me.
I’ve been slowing introducing weight using the core barbel lifts using the Starting Strength method. It’s been a blast as I get to have beginner gains all over again after being sedentary. The biggest change in how I train compared to my time before managing a rheumatoid condition is timing my training around my recovery. I used Whoop and Welltory who both measure my HRV or or heart rate variability. It’s basically a measure of how well your autonomic nervous system is coping with stress and turns out to the best predictor of how well I will feel on any given day.
I’ve noticed that lifting hits my HRV hard. And it takes time to get it back to a normal place. Sometimes several days. I absolutely cannot not push my recovery frame without making my HRV dip even worse. It’s fascinating to see how well correlated the two appear to be.
On days when my HRV dips my resting heart rate is noticeably worse and using an app like Welltory I can see much more stress I’m under and how damn active my sympathetic nervous system is at work. The stress of recovery is significant. And my symptoms will tend to flare. Pain and fatigue are noticeably worse.
Despite the evidence I have found it mentally challenging for me to trust this stress and recovery process. On bad days when my HRV dips I forget how well I felt on the good days which leads me to some emotional flailing. Instead of trusting the routine I’ll panic at how shitty I feel. I’ve got amnesia about how terrific & productive I can be.
I’ve got to learn to trust the numbers. Otherwise I’ll do stupid shit like push to get something done on a bad day. That activity will take hours of hemming and hawing and willpower and brute force. If I had just waited for a good day to get my shit done chances are the task will take me 5 minutes.
Forcing myself to abide by the recommendations of Whoop and Welltory gets me out of the cycle of flailing. Listening to the data can override my amnesia. If a bad HRV day happens I just don’t try to do ANYTHING. Because I know on a good HRV day I’ll be 1000x more productive. It’s a discipline I need.
Everyone has different capacity. Forcing yourself into the “industrially necessary” routine of a 9-5pm weekday only makes sense if you are in a bigger corporate system and must be reliable even if you are not performing at your best.
Freeing myself from the mentality of being available on a bourgeois schedule is challenging. I hate feeling like I disappoint people by not always being “on” and productive. I feel like availability & reliability matter more than outcome (which is occasionally true but not generally true). The reality is you can have 10x Julie or you can have consistent Julie. I’d pick 10x personally.