The short answer is: very slowly and very carefully.
The long answer is: well…
I don’t really have all of the answers, I only have the answers that have worked for me, and I have a slightly higher than normal baseline fitness, so I’ll tone it down a bit more.
On a side note, I don’t think I’ve ever looked that happy to be exercising. Or that good while doing it. I’ve never enjoyed exercise, especially running, because it causes so much pain. But these days, alarmingly, I’ve been running. It still causes so much pain but I balance it by doing a day of running and a day or two of non-impact leg exercises.
So here’s how I have found exercising works:
Do Some Sit-Ups
Park your butt, shove your feet under a sofa or a chair or something, and lower your back a little bit. Don’t let your back hit the floor! It’s so much harder to do a sit up from there than it is from just above it!
Lower your back to the point you’re capable of, even if it’s only to a 45 degree angle with the ground, stick your arms across your chest like you’re imitating Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus, and haul yourself back up to your knees. Do that … twice. Maybe three times. It’s your first day, you’re gonna do other stuff.
You’re also allowed to cheat if you’re having difficulty. Use the fact that your feet are under a weighted object to leverage yourself back up. You’re still using your muscles!
Don’t Do Push-Ups
I’ve found these just too much, personally. Even though I’m lifting weights (hahaha look at me, ‘lifting weights’, I’m lifting a 6kg dumbbell 10-20 times a day), and even cheating, the I can do maybe three.
If you can do them, good on you, but honestly I’d skip these ones.
Yes, you too can get the rippling muscles of a body builder!
Although I’d maybe hold off on quite so many weights.
Get yourself a set of 0.5 or 1kg weights. The cheap ones that are all hard plastic and such. If you’re feeling like splashing out, get yourself a set of light dumbbells, too!
Hold those weights in your hand, stand with feet shoulder-width apart and your knees bent for support, and slowly lift one of your arms directly out from your side … without counter-balancing! Tighten those stomach muscles! Lift it until it’s in line with your shoulder if you can and hold it there for a few seconds, then slowly drop your arm back to your side. Do it with the other arm.
Do your typical bicep curls. Do just enough that you can feel the start of muscle burn or fatigue, and stop.
Then do this one:
I don’t know what it’s called. I actually half climb onto my sofa or my arm chair to do this. I have one knee braced on the sofa cushions and the corresponding arm on the sofa arm, my other foot on the floor, and I swap around with each side. It takes all the strain off my hips and legs and allows me to just focus on my arm.
Lift Those Legs
I did pilates a long, long time ago. Whenever I can’t run, whether that’s because I’m having a bit of a painful day, or it’s peeing it down with rain, I lift my legs.
I lie on my side with my spine straight and my hips straight up from the floor – if you’re doing this, spend time feeling, with your hand, where your hips are in relation to the floor. You want those hip bones stacked on top of one another.
I bend my leg on the floor a bit for stability and use my free arm to brace. I then slowly raise my other leg up, sometimes as high as I can take it, other times just a little bit, and then let it slowly back down. When I started, I could barely lift my leg, and that’s okay.
If I’m feeling really game I’ll even do circles with my leg, but I’ll do them really slowly so my body doesn’t rock around. The aim of the game is for your body to remain completely stable while you’re doing all these things with your legs, so only do what you can do!
This is probably the most important think you can do with fibromyalgia. A lot of the pain is from stiff muscles, because when we’re sore, we don’t want to do anything. In particular, a considerable amount of pain is from our stiff backs. I physically roll out of bed each morning because I cannot ‘get up’ like a normal person. I’m lucky enough that my bed is almost waist-height, so when I roll out of bed, I can just stand up.
This takes a lot of time to un-stiffen, and doing exercise or stretches with a stiff back is painful, so wait for your body to wake up before you do any of this.
But make up your own stretches. Stretch your arms out in front of you and arch your back. Stretch your arms out to the side of you and really open up your chest. Wiggle your hips! As you’re sitting on the couch, push your leg out to the side and flex and extend your foot. Or just straighten your legs and flex and extend your foot. Rotate your foot around the ankle axis. Bend your leg and open and close it to work your hip.
Stand up, bend your knees, and slowly (very very slowly, and only after you’ve been awake and moving for quite some time!) reach for the floor. If you don’t have that much balance, do it while you’re sitting! Park your butt near the edge of the couch, straighten your legs out, and slowly reach for your toes. Keep your head down as you are stretching down – your neck is part of your spine! You want to keep that spine in line!
Even if it’s pottering about at home, or in the garden, get up and walk. Even on your worst days, spend a few minutes on your feet. Yes, going to the bathroom counts as walking!
Can’t fully do an exercise? Cheat! Make it easier! Half-arse it! Change the exercise to suit where you’re at!
If you’re struggling with the weight lifting, just hold the weights! Spend a few minutes each day tightening your arm muscles and loosening them again (I’d suggest doing this with your elbows bent).
Can’t lift your leg? That’s totally okay! Bend both of your legs and stack your feet on top of one another and open your legs like a clamshell like that. Can’t do that? Sweet as! Make something up.
Having a bad day? Just stretch!
Got a spot that always hurts? Do exercises around that spot. For me it’s my hips – they always burn. So I do exercises that stretch my hips, but don’t involve me putting much strain on them.
Yes, it’s going to hurt
Start off only doing one or two things a day. Do that for a few days, and if you’re not hurting more than usual, do a bit more. Build up from there. If you go in whole hog you’re gonna hurt like nothing on earth and you’re not going to exercise. But if you do one or two things a day, and build up from there, you’ll find that within a few weeks you’re able to do more.
And the way I see it, I’m going to hurt anyway, a little bit more pain isn’t going to make much difference.