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Getting (Back) Inline

Literal volumes have been written about how the human body changes as it ages. Monthly magazines by the score paired with an entire industry are at the ready to “inform” the reader/listener/viewer of the (mostly negatively) impacts of these changes. And, of course, some secret or other of how to counter them so “you” don’t suffer like some other sucker.

I’ve not actually read any of these magazines; the cover’s copy & accompanying image all but convince me not to. I’m not “ripped,” nor have I ever had any desire to be so.

Overall, my participation in sports has always been casual. I’ve enjoyed taking part in this sport or that (except for that one time I subbed in for second base during a company’s softball game one evening—it wasn’t even my company, but I was asked by a friend who was pitching, and the guy playing center nearly took my head off by attempting to throw through me in order to get the ball to home ahead of a runner who had barely rounded third) but only really found my niche and true enjoyment with seemingly solo sports, such as cycling and later running and eventually triathlon. But between my second foray into cycling twenty-one years ago was inline skating.

While the exact details around what inspired in me to pick up a pair of blades (originally some cheap set of Rollerblades and two days later their somewhat elite Macroblade) are fuzzy, I’m sure it had something to do with Leon and maybe the movie Airborne. But whatever it was, I was hooked on skating as a fun way to get something resembling fitness, literally wearing the umpteenth set of wheels off the skates and eventually wearing out the skates themselves.

Fast-forward to present-day twenty-twenty-one, and inline skating appears to be having somewhat of a renaissance, especially with me and many others in my general age bracket. While I certainly cannot speak for others, I’m not naive enough to deny this could very well be a midlife crisis for me, attempting to rekindle what gave me fire, gave me purpose through most of my twenties—maybe all; I don’t recall when, exactly, that buckle broke on my blue & silver Macroblades, but I can still feel the weathered plastic strap and its sundry notches in my hand, staring in abject horror at the literal destruction of the symbol of my younger years.

In between bouts of inline skating, I had somewhat of an athletic life, cycling tens of thousands of miles, running a dozen or so marathons, and completing who-knows-how-many triathlons, including three full-distance Ironmans. Even with my lackluster time since Ironman Arizona five years back—where increased responsibilities as a dad and caretaker for my wife, whose diagnosis with MS continues to compound as her body’s mobility degrades by degrees at a time—I’ve managed to maintain something resembling fitness. So even that had me ready to re-enter inline skating.

The “return,” in fact, was inspired by leg exercises prescribed by the biomechanics guy (Coach Joe—you remember Coach Joe?), where I remembered the sensations inline skating instilled, so I began poking around the interwebs for information on inline skates before stumbling upon a Facebook group geared towards a community of beginners who had a passion for not only skating but also—and especially—encouraging others to pursue their passion in the myriad disciplines of inline skates. It was here where I read so many hello-themed introductions of folks returning to the thrill of their respective youths by strapping three or four wheels inline with one another to their feet.

Now a month and change into being a part of this group, several who joined around the same time as I are beginning to lament injuries beyond the blood and bandages accompanying falls or crashes. These are the injuries of the aged, myself somewhat included.

Without even considering what happens to the forty-something’s body when it impacts with pavement, there’s a lot going on, especially for the lot of us who spend so much time in a chair or a car or otherwise not being terribly physically active—or haven’t been physically active since last lacing up a set of skates. Once those hunks of plastic and aluminum and countless other compounds are fastened to the feet, a multitude of muscles go into overdrive to stay upright, to say nothing of staying in motion.

Because I’m not a physical therapist or a coach of the caliber who should be spouting advice about preventing or treating muscle injuries, I’m, instead, going to just anecdotally disperse what’s worked for me for keeping me relatively injury free. Despite not having felt any of the calf cramps that necessitated my call to Coach Joe back in January, I know that no one is immune from the prospect of injury, myself included.

To note, my involvement with inline skating is, well, in line with fitness, tiptoeing up to speed skating. I’m no Apolo Ohno—though we are both Ironman finishers, even if his was Kona—but that’s more akin to what I fancy in comparison to aggressive or urban styles.

A few of the muscles & muscle groups that go into inline skating

Looking at the image above, it comes as no surprise that the bulk of the work comes in with the hips & thighs. This should not discount, though, the importance of the abdominal muscle region; a strong core will help with both balance and the muscle movements in the areas south of the abs. Sure, there are sit-ups and burpees, but other ab-building exercises exist, many of which are far friendly to those of us closer to retirement than to our sweet sixteen. Myself, I prefer indoor rowing and am fortunate enough to still have my own WaterRower onhand when I want (or need, like last night) to hammer out a couple-thousand meters.

I’m working from memory here, but most hurts incurred have come lower back and the thigh muscle group as the primary culprit in keeping folk in this FB group from (enjoying) skating. The aforementioned indoor rowing will help with this, too, but a far cheaper means is available from Amazon: Stretch bands. Paired with the Phase I Hip Corrective exercises from Peak Fitness, this $20 pack of bands goes a long way in building & maintaining strength in critical muscle groups associated with inline skating, running, cycling, and swimming.

And then there’s what to do when the skating’s done.

Most anyone with any sort of kinetic experience sill simply say stretch, but that itself becomes a complicated process in terms of which stretches are best and for how long and blah, blah, blah. So I defer to the experts at The Sufferfest.

(Anyone who’s read most anything I’ve written the past year or so knows that I can’t shut up about the best app for cycling & indoor training—nor will I—and for good reason: It works.)

While the Strength section of SUF, too, will help build essential muscle groups to help with leg-based endeavors such as skating, it’s under the Yoga heading where salvation is to be found here, most in fifteen minutes or less. Yoga sessions such as “Hip Openers” I & II, “Hips & Hamstrings” (my favorite), and “Hip Flexor & Groin Recovery” all have invaluable benefits to anyone making any use of these muscle groups, regardless of fitness levels.

There are many, many more yoga sessions available through The Sufferfest (who, in turn, contracts them out from Abi Carver of Yoga in 15, which has its own horde of an additional 100 videos), but those mentioned above are kind of my “go-to” sessions when I need to loosen up critical sections of the body to be able to function, let alone skate. Or ride. Or run. Or whatever.

Because getting old sucks.

Whether or not returning to rollerblading is a midlife crisis is irrelevant—though if it is a midlife crisis, it’s fairly tame by comparison. What’s relevant is keeping moving which will certainly require some endeavors sans wheels. Cross-training through other sports can certainly help, but not near what building strength & endurance through exercises like those with the stretch bands or trips to the gym—if you still do that sort of thing in the midst of a pandemic—because there is significant importance to strength training as we age.

Thanks for reading.

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