The verdict is in:
cubital tunnel syndrome.
That’s been the root of the nerve pain I’ve been experiencing in my left arm for the past few months. The pain would come and go intermittently, like an unwelcome neighbor poking his head into my business. Then last Monday, he decided to make a permanent place for himself in my home.
Since then, it’s been a struggle to stay focused on work. I’ve stayed up late several nights, willing the pain to leave me alone just long enough for me to fall asleep and get a half decent night’s rest.
At this point, it feels like a dull buzz in my elbow. The condition is best in the morning and slowly worsens as the day goes on.
Am I upset about this? Not really.
Maybe it’s that I haven’t fully grasped the extent to which it’s been affecting my daily activities. Perhaps I have no idea how much worse it’s going to get.
After visiting the ortho doc earlier this week, we’re taking conservative measures for the time being. Elbow splint at night so I don’t innervate the nerve, but that’s about it. If the pain persists in four weeks, we’ll explore alternative routes.
What that means for me is that I have to modify not only my everyday life but also my training.
It’s one thing to experience anxiety at the mere thought of having to pick up a pot with your left arm because you’re not sure if that one simple action is going to send a shooting pain down your arm.
But when you walk into the gym and you’re not sure what you’re even capable of doing anymore, that’s when things get serious.
(I say that in half jest, of course.)
Here’s how I see things:
Yes, nerve issues are a pain in the ass. More than likely, I’ll be dealing with this for a very, very long time. Nobody knows if the pain will eventually go away on its own or if it will get worse.
But what’s the point of worrying?
I’m thankful that it’s my non-dominant arm that’s hurt, that there are times when it doesn’t bother me at all, and that I’m otherwise perfectly healthy. I’m still able to keep up with my work and, while I do have photoshoots coming up, I’m not panicking about how I’ll look because there are always, always ways to work around training limitations.
Ain’t nobody got time fo’ injuries.
With that said, I sat down earlier this morning and took some time to write out a modified training program for myself. The stipulations are as follows:
• primary focus on glute work and pulling work
• limit pushing movements, as that places bad pressure on my arm
• stick to neutral grip whenever possible
• cross grip for front squats
• if it feels bad, don’t do it
• glutes, glutes, glutes
As far as metabolic conditioning (which I love to hate), I’ll have to put that on hold for the time being. I’m finding the ballistic and fast-paced nature of those kinds of workouts to be a little nerve-wracking as I’m not sure that my left arm will hold up to that kind of work at this time.
In place of metcon, then, I’ll be going out on extra brisk walks (if and when I can stand the blistering Georgia heat), but besides that, nothing more on the exercise front.
And with nutrition, I’ll be pulling back on my carbohydrate intake solely to account for the reduced time spent in the gym. But other than that, my food choices will in large part stay the same: primarily whole foods with a small sprinkling of daily treats (half&half in my coffee, mini Twix bar, two bites of red velvet cake).
But enough talk.
Here’s the 4-week training program I wrote up for myself.
Training Day 1: Lower Body
A. Box squats 4×3-5
B. Sumo deadlift 3×5-8
C. Single-leg hip thrust 3×8-12ea
D. Front-squat grip barbell reverse lunge 3×8-12ea
E. Kettlebell swings* 3×10,10,10
F. Seated band hip abductions 2×20
*I love this one because I get in a good amount of posterior chain work without getting too tired out. For each set, I use a 26lb, 35lb, and 44lb kettlebell. I’ll do 10 reps with 25lbs, move immediately to 10 reps with 35lbs, then 10 reps with 44lbs. That’s one set. Rest for one minute and repeat for two more sets.
Training Day 2: Upper Body
A. Bodyweight chin-ups 4×3-5
B1. Pendlay rows 3×5
B2. Alternating incline 1-arm DB press 3×5-8ea
C1. Standing 1-arm band rows 3x10ea
C2. Split-stance 1-arm DB press 3×10-12ea
D1. Inverted rows 2×15
D2. Band pull-aparts 2×20
Training Day 3: Lower Body
A. Barbell glute bridges 4×10
B. Barbell front squats 3×5-8
C. Trap bar deadlift 3×8
D. Dumbbell step-ups* 3×8-12ea
E. Single-leg kettlebell deadlift from a deadstop 3×12-15ea
F. Constant tension hip thrust 2×20
*You know, I really fucking hate these.
Training Day 4: Upper Body
A. Band-assisted pullups 3×8-12
B. 1-arm dumbbell floor press 3x8ea
C1. Face pulls 3×10
C2. Standing 1-arm band press 3x10ea
D1. Neutral-grip pullups 5xmax
D2. 1-arm kettlebell push press 5x5ea
D3. 1-arm KB snatch 4x10ea
At a glance, it looks like each training session should take me anywhere between 45-60 minutes.
I’m by no means tied to this training program. I’m open to modifying each training session depending how I’m feeling on the day – some days my arm may feel great, other days I may have to avoid upper body movements altogether. Maybe other days, I’ll ditch the gym and go out to play tennis instead.
This is simply a framework for me to work with. I’ve never liked walking into the gym without a plan to follow, so this is what’s going to be up on my whiteboard for the next month.
Feel free to steal this program for yourself and/or modify as you see fit. As you can see, I’m big on compound movements (especially glute variations) and am not big at all on isolation movements. I do like a fair amount of volume for myself and have found that others, especially female clients, also like and tolerate a pretty high volume as well.
Here’s to building glutes and working around injuries.