It is very hard for people with endometriosis to build up a consistent fitness regime, which is the one thing everybody tells us is necessary to be fit and healthy. I want to discuss a couple of low-impact exercises that are good options for people with endo. I’m not going to talk about yoga, because I’ve gone into it here and here, but it is 100% on the list.
Swimming is probably the best exercise I have found for endometriosis. You are stretched out, long and lean, you are supported by the water, and you aren’t bouncing up and down (which is particularly nice for those of us who get breast pain in a flare-up). All you have to do is push those muscles through the water. It is a really good way to build muscle, improve strength, and increase your cardio-vascular fitness.
If you are a beginner, don’t be scared to take a couple of lessons to help with your technique. You may not think you need to worry about that unless you want to be a professional swimmer, but good technique will help you move faster and cover more distance more efficiently, as well as avoid injury.
You can do different things with swimming. You’ve got the option to just do laps in one stroke at a steady pace. You can try different combinations of strokes over your laps – butterfly, backstroke, breast-stroke, freestyle and side-stroke are all options. You can try drills focused on just your arms or just your legs to improve technique and build strength in specific spots. Whatever you do, though, move at your own pace and check in with yourself. You may not realise how exhausted you are until you turn to climb out of the pool and discover that it was the water holding you up, not your legs. Also stay hydrated. You may be in water, but you’re still sweating fluids right back out.
If you want to get into swimming, I recommend at least a good swimsuit and a pair of googles. You want your swimsuit to be comfy (no chafing, no bits that might slide off if you push off the wall hard, not too short in the body). A one-piece is best for training as it is all streamlined, but go with what you feel good in. Goggles are good because they let you see where you are going (no crashing into other swimmers) without exposing your eyes to chlorinated water. Make sure they are not too tight, don’t get foggy and don’t leak. Once you find a pair that works, stock up.
If you want to take things to the next level, get a swimming cap to streamline your head, a kickboard so you can work on those legs, and a pull-boy. A pull-buoy goes between the thighs, knee or ankles to keep your legs bouyant and let you work on just your arms. You can also get a pair of fins, if you like. However, none of these are necessary if you don’t fancy them.
Cycling can be another good option, again because it is low-impact. It is a great workout for the legs and surprisingly tough on the rest of the body too. However, because you are sitting down, more or less, it isn’t as hard as running on our poor abused uteruses.
There’s really four options with cycling. First is just having an ordinary bike that you use to get from point A to point B. This is good gentle exercise that can slot into your day easily, but because it is transport it doesn’t feel like a workout. You still get some benefit, although not as much as if you were training hard, but sometimes that’s all you want. Of course, you run the risk that you will get to the shops, have a flare-up, and then have to cycle home through the pain. On the plus side, you have something to lean on as you hobble home.
The second option, which is more likely to involve a racing bike, is to cycle purely for exercise, Tour de France style. This can involve training for speed, hill climbs, or distance, or a combination of all of them. Each type exercises a different muscle group. This is a hard cardio exercise as well as being amazing for the legs and bottom. It may be a little beyond your average person, particularly your average person with chronic pain, but on days you can do, do.
The third option is mountain-biking, which requires a sturdy bike with thicker, off-road tires. It is a whole-body workout that generally involves going up and down hills and manoeuvring around or over obstacles. Done professionally it is super impressive. It carries a big risk of falling off, which isn’t great, but it is super fun. It is tough on the muscles, though, and incredibly hard to do through a flare-up.
Option four is a static workout bike at home or in the gym. This is a great option if you have the room at home or money for a gym membership. You can cycle whilst watching tv, you don’t have to worry about getting hit by a car, and if pain strikes, the couch or floor is close by. Whilst the least adventurous of the options, it may be the most practical for us. Adrian K over at Live Healthy and Well has a great post on the benefits of static cycling.
Ok, so it may not sound exciting, but walking can be great exercise. I often find that while I’m in motion, my symptoms are reduced (although I generally get hit by a little extra pain when I stop). It burns a surprising amount of calories, can get the heart-rate gently elevated, and gets you out into that lovely vitamin-D-filled sunshine. It’s good for the legs and bottom. You get to see pretty things, and being outside and in nature can help reduce your stress levels. I don’t have a whole lot more to say on the topic of walking except: wear good shoes, apply sunscreen, and drink water.
Pilates is an absolutely killer workout for many muscles, particularly the core. It involves a series of exercises such as leg raises, planks, side-crunches and sit-ups. I would recommend caution, though – intense ab workouts can trigger a flare-up. Take things slowly and gently and let the teacher know what is up. Avoid sit-ups and crunches (although side-crunches may be fine).
My sister-in-law does power-lifting, and she is incredibly strong and fit. It’s envy-inducing in a big way. Weight-lifting generally is a great way to improve muscle tone and strength all over the body, without having to do crunches and sit-ups for core strength. I would strongly advise working with a trainer for this, though – it’s way too easy to injure yourself doing something wrong.
Always remember that, in addition to wonderful gym classes, there are heaps of free workouts on youtube, or you can buy some fantastic workouts on DVD to do in your own home. I really like Prevention Fitness DVDs, particularly the 3-2-1 Workout. They offer different impact and fitness levels within each workout so you can just do what you are comfortable with.
If there is something to take away from all this, let it be these points:-
- Low-impact exercises are the easiest on our bodies;
- It is still possible to get a good workout with low-impact exercise;
- Listen to your body – if your endo is flaring don’t let anyone, including yourself, guilt you into just pushing through it because you will make it worse by doing so;
- Do everything safely and properly to avoid injury.
What is your favourite exercise? How do you find it impacts your endo?