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Cramp

It has been my observation that we humans can reach a certain point where our physical pains successfully metastasize into our mindset. Everyone experiences pain, some of us more than others, and some of us much, much more than most. It’s real, it’s debilitating, and it can cause the quality of our lives to suffer on more than one front. As pain slowly drips into our lives like water torture, day by day, week by week and year by year, the self-talk seems to progress from, “I better not move this or that way…” to, “I can’t do anything without experiencing pain.” As you can imagine, this frustrating and discouraging experience can lead many down the path of avoiding physical activity out of fear of exacerbating pain that is associated with movement.

Ultimately, however, we always have two options. For one, we can succumb to the suffering. And, frankly, that doesn’t make you a wimp, and is quite understandable. I’ve had people walk into our gym after dozens of surgeries for various reasons. For example, one man walked in at 73 years old with a history of 40-plus surgeries from job-related injuries. Who am I to judge him if he became fed up, decided to throw in the towel and lived the rest of his days popping painkillers like Tic-Tacs? I wouldn’t blame him if he did. However, there is another option.

Option two is simple, but remember that "simple" and "easy" aren’t synonyms. Option two requires effort, dedication and consistency. Here it is: In order to improve your physical situation, and hopefully your mental well-being as a consequence, you need to begin where you are, right now, and gradually progress from there. Can’t stand up without a struggle? Start sitting and standing a few times today, a few more times tomorrow, and so on and so forth. Have trouble walking for a sustained distance? Start with what you can tolerate, maybe even start too easy, then add a few more meters next time. Do that for a few weeks and see how you feel. What I’m illustrating is a universal principle of a human capability that has stood the test of our existence, and perhaps is the fundamental reason we’re all still here — that is, our bodies can and will adapt. The rate at which we can adapt may be different throughout different times in our lives, but we can adapt, always, right here, right now. If you’re breathing, your physical capabilities can improve, but what your body adapts to is dependent on what you tell it to adapt to.

If you sit and wallow in the physical and psychological pain experience, that’s what your body will adapt to. Weight gain, increasing incapabilities and chronic negative emotional states tend to coincide with a slow, physical decline. However, if you go forth with a consistent practice of accepting the pain such that it may or may not go away, no matter what you do, yet you tell your body to adapt through physical actions anyway, you will be able to do more. That walk at Hoopes Park with your friends, the summer concert at Emerson Park, the numerous festivals downtown held every year, breakfast at Pavlo’s or the Auburn Diner — all of the things you used to love doing are on the other side of choice, the choice to move through the fire that plagues you, because that’s the only way out, straight into the belly of the beast.

My brother-in-law and partner in crime, Dr. Jeff Batis (D.C.), tells me, “We don’t have the right to live pain-free. It’s a consequence of the human condition.” Essentially, “Accept and you will be free.” Your pain may or may not be attached to your being, forever, like an extra limb, but what isn’t permanent is what you do about it.

My bias is toward strength training, but for good reason. Strength is our muscular ability to produce or resist movement. Read that again: Strength is what allows you to move, and therefore, perform anything physical. I think it’s the “egg” rather than the chicken. If you don’t believe me on the importance of strength, ask someone who has experienced tremendous declines in their capabilities to move and you’ll be convinced. Nevertheless, the miracle of adaptation can and will allow you to progress, no matter how old, broken or incapable you think you are. You can still become better than you are right now, and maybe even better than you expected.

Look up that physical therapist who advocates movement and resistance training over passive care, find that chiropractor who makes you do more than lie on a table, seek that family-run gym in the basement of a warehouse in Skaneateles where people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s are getting strong. But the one thing that’s massively important no matter what action you choose is that you start where you are, now, and gradually progress from there. It can be done. Pain is inevitable, but living is a choice. Strong to the end.

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Dan Flanick lives in Auburn with his wife, Taylor, and dog, Mowgli. He, his brother-in-law, Dr. Jeffrey Batis (D.C.), his sister, Brianne Batis, and Taylor (a Doctorate of Chiropractic candidate) run Skaneateles Strength, a small and private strength training gym in the village. The team has more than a decade of personal experience as well as a master’s degree and two doctorates in the field of human physiology. For more information, visit skanatealesstrength.com.

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