Exercise for Fibromyalgia
Exercise for fibromyalgia is one of the most powerful tools in a Fibro Warrior’s tool kit. It should sit in the hierarchy above medicine, self-help reading, and journaling. It’s that important. The only things more important than exercise are good nutrition and sleep, in that order. The recommendations I’m making here assume that you have access to an indoor gym with cardio equipment, a sauna, and a locker room with a shower. If you don’t have those things, I’ll see if I can help you improvise. Feel free to comment below if you have questions, and I’ll do my best to help.
The 5-10’s Workout
The 5 10’s are simply five sets of 10-minute activities. I say activities because not all of them are really exercises, but it’s important that you do them all in order to get results. They are: 10 minutes on a treadmill, 10 minutes on an elliptical machine, 10 minutes on a stationary bike, 10 minutes in the sauna, followed by a 10 minute shower.
- 10 Minutes – Treadmill
- 10 Minutes – Elliptical Machine
- 10 Minutes – Stationary Bike
- 10 Minutes – Sauna
- 10 Minutes – Shower
Why This Works
Why this sequence? First, our bodies are made to walk. More than anything else, we are built for endurance. Fibromyalgia steals endurance, so reclaiming it is our highest priority. This is why the treadmill is first. If you can’t make it through the whole program on a particular day, at least you’ve done what your body was made to do, and you can feel good about that.
The elliptical is second because more than 10 minutes of walking can be hard for a Fibro Warrior. Elliptical machines are designed to be low impact, removing the stress on your ankles, knees, hips, and low back that might be created by walking. You’re still getting aerobic exercise, but without the pounding. If the elliptical machine has movable arms, you can hold on and get some much needed movement in your wrists, elbows, and shoulders as well.
Third, the stationary bike allows you to continue with aerobic exercise, but now that you’re getting close to your exercise limit for the day, you’re using only the largest, most capable muscles of your body: your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings. You’re like a bodybuilder in beast mode for this set, but the Fibro Warrior version is more like, “I am small but hear me roar.” You want to do as much as you can without crossing through the threshold that says you’ve done too much.
Post workout is the perfect time to detox by sitting in the sauna. For Fibro Warriors, detoxing can be a crucial part of our self-care regimen because it helps reduce inflammation, continues the increase in circulation provided by your workout, and may even cleanse the body of viruses and bacteria. Before you go in, be sure your heartbeat is back to its resting rate and drink plenty of water.
Lastly, it’s important to take a shower after the sauna so your skin doesn’t reabsorb the toxins you worked so hard to release. Some people advise that you take a cold shower to close your skin’s pores. I say if it feels good, why not do it? I’m all for Fibro Warriors doing things that feel physically good. I’ll stick to my luke warm post-workout showers, thank you very much, because cold is a pain trigger for me.
Some Additional Tips to Make You Successful
Here are some more tips on the 5-10’s workout for fibromyalgia recovery:
- Walk on the treadmill at a medium pace with zero incline and don’t increase it until you feel that you have to or you’ll go crazy, even if it takes weeks to get to that point.
- Set the elliptical to zero incline and just enough resistance to counter balance your body weight. You can tell how much that is by how the machine feels beneath your feet. Too little, and the pedals with feel slightly wobbly. Too much, and your leg muscles will start to burn long before you reach your 10 minute limit.
- Set the stationary bike resistance to be slightly challenging, but when your muscles start to burn, back off. We’ll save muscle building for another day. Right now, we’re working on your endurance, and that means slow and steady wins the race.
- Throughout your cardio exercise, keep your heart rate in your target zone or below.
- If you have to abort your routine at any point, that’s ok, but don’t skip the sauna and shower.
- Using the sauna means that you must take a shower within 30 minutes afterward or else your skin will reabsorb the toxins you’ve just released, negating the benefits of your time investment.
- Some days, you’ll only have enough energy to sit in the sauna and take a shower afterwards, and that’s ok. Showing up is part of the discipline in developing a new exercise regimen.
- Use a timer to keep you motivated to stick to the 10 minute segments.
- Let your 10 minutes in the sauna help you build up a practice of meditating 10 minutes per day. This is also an excellent time for prayer or listening to music if you can take your device in with you.
- Always remember to stay hydrated throughout your workout.
Remember Your Priorities
Remember, the order of priorities for recovering from fibromyalgia are good nutrition, sleep, and exercise, in that order.
This means that you don’t show up to the gym if your body is telling you to take a nap instead. Never take a nap on an empty stomach. Always feed your body with the highest quality diet you can.
What to Do if You Don’t Have Access to a Gym
Here are some tips on what to do if you don’t have access to a gym with cardio equipment and a sauna:
- Replace the treadmill with a circuit you make yourself. Look around for objects that can help you. Do you have stairs you can climb safely several times in a row? Maybe you have a wooden box you can step on and off of, or a shoe box that you can step over. If you have a jump rope, teach yourself how to walk it, not jump it, then see how far you can go in 10 minutes. Use your creativity and have fun with it!
- Replace the elliptical machine with low impact floor exercises such as lying leg lifts. Or, get onto all fours and try lifting opposite arm and leg, then switch sides. Other ideas are standing knee raises, seated leg raises, and standing arm circles. If you remember your parents or grandparents talking about calisthenics, you’ve got the picture. Anything that involves bending, pushing, or pulling your own bodyweight counts in this category, as long as it’s low impact.
- Replace the stationary bike with a real bicycle and enjoy the scenery. Once around the block might be all you need. If you don’t have a bicycle, try walking outdoors. If that’s too much, march in place indoors to the beat of some motivating music. Just be sure to keep your feet moving. Dancing in the living room also counts in this category, and it’s a great mood lifter to boot!
- Replace the gym’s sauna with a personal one you can keep at home. For under $100, you can order one from Amazon that lets you sit in a folding chair that’s enclosed in a zip-up tent. Alternatively, if you live in a warm climate, you could sunbathe for 10 minutes, provided that the sunlight doesn’t interact with any of your medications or exacerbate any of your health conditions.
Some Final Thoughts
It is possible to have a level of fitness with fibromyalgia, and it’s even possible to recover from it. You may not do what you could before the onset of chronic illness, but remember that no one gets to increase their strength and cardiovascular health indefinitely. Set your sights within your reach, don’t try to overachieve, and above all, enjoy taking care of your body.