Finding Alternative Sport | Uphill Athlete

Finding Alternative Sport

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  • #56495

    I came across this site and bought the New Alpinism book out of a desire to find a new sport, or exercise to replace by lifelong addiction to cycling. I’ve bicycle raced since I was 12; I’m now 59. I’ve won age-group state championships as a time trialist, and I’ve been on the podium in many road races. This was until three years ago when I underwent hip labral reconstruction on both hips. Recovering from the hip surgeries I took up cross country skiing (skate or free). However, while skiing I developed a drop foot and was forced to have a lumbar laminectomy to correct the problem. I subsequently developed basal arthritis in both thumbs, and have had surgeries to fix this problem (my hands became useless despite steroid injections). I also have neck pain that’s severe when riding my bicycle, and like my degenerative lumbar spine, my cervical spine is a nightmare, especially the entire row of facet joints. I’ve had a few doctors tell me that I should probably give up cycling so that I can limit extending my neck, else I’ll need my whole cervical vertebrae fused; the prognosis isn’t good without cycling, but I should be able to delay the surgery for several years. Oh, I’ve also had surgery on both feet due to severe osteoarthritis, and my left knee is also showing signs of significant arthritis.

    So, I need to find a new sport. During the last couple of years I’ve taken a fondness to nordic skiing and feel it’s relatively friendly to my spine and aging body (despite a torn gluteus Maximus from a fall last March). But skiing is mostly a winter, weekend activity. I need an endurance sport (preference) that is kind to my back and body that I can participate in year-round, a sport where I can put in HIIT intensity a couple of times per week along with base training.

    I need to step up my gym work – strength, flexibility, balance – and I’ve gotten better with this aspect of my training the past 5-10 years, but it could always be improved. And yet, I don’t want this to be my sole exercise. I used to play competitive badminton, but like running it’s too high impact for my spine. There’s always swimming, but swimming laps in a pool just doesn’t get me excited. I suppose I can walk and hike, and I suppose I can hike up hills as long as I take it easy on the descents so that it’s not jarring to my back.

    Anyway, it’s been three years with off and on training. I’m woefully out of shape. As I heal from my recent hand and foot surgeries I need to start training again, but for what? I’ve lost my sport. I’d like find a replacement. Suggestions?

Posted In: Injury & Rehab

  • Moderator
    Thomas Summer, MD on #56505


    Sorry to read about your long list of injuries and troubles.

    First, you probably should ask yourself the question: why do you want to train and do sports? Then: what sport are you excited about? It shouldn’t be just about training and “replacing an addiction to cycling”. It should be something you enjoy and look forward to doing.

    I wouldn’t rule out cycling completely. If you enjoy it so much, you can always adjust your bike, so that you sit up straight and don’t bend your spine too much. That’s also easily achieved on a stationary bike. Cycling in a good position, to get the endurance training, combined with lots of core work!?
    Or what about elliptigo ? It’s almost like cycling, but you are standing. It’s a great movement for your spine and you don’t have an impact on your joints. And you get a bit of a “cycling feeling”. I tried it several times, and really liked it.

    Roller skiing?

    What are you excited about?

    happy to discuss this further, because it’s a topic for a lot of people!


    wacomme on #56512

    While I like competition and have been competitive my whole life (swimming, track, cycling, badminton, triathlons, marathons), I like the feeling of being outdoors engaged in strenuous physical activity (non-competitive – skiing (downhill and cross country), surfing, pickleball, sailing, rock climbing). However, once I start a new activity (skate cross country skiing) and start to engage in that activity more and more I inevitably gravitate to the competitive side of the sport, not so much because I need to win, but because competition motivates me to improve and to get better at the sport, and to train. I enjoy the structured aspect of training.

    I also like sport because I want to thwart the aging process as much as possible. It’s not that I hate getting older, but as I age I want to be active and able to move (with all of my medical issues and arthritis, perhaps due to age, genetics, and sports my entire life, I’m not doing a stellar job at this goal). In Friel’s book, Fast After Fifty, I want to continue to eat well and get plenty of exercise, include HIIT. A few years ago my VO2Max was above 60 mL/kg/min. It’s not the number I’m seeking (I’m sure my VO2Max has taken a dramatic nosedive over the past three years due to all of my surgeries sofa lifestyle), but I want to stay physically fit to ward off a falling VO2Max and sarcopenia as much and for as long as possible. Not only will I feel better, but I think I’ll live a much happier and productive life by doing so.

    I might be able to continue riding my road bike on my trainer since I won’t need to bring my neck into extension as I would need to do on the road. I think I would get frustrated with an upright bicycle; I wouldn’t be able to generate the same kind of power as I would riding a bicycle in a more bent over position. The ElliptiGo is a possibility and something I need to investigate once I can walk without limping (two days weight bearing on my left foot). I’m pretty sure I’ll be hiking, and likely seek out steep climbs (the Incline in Manitou Springs, CO is a famous outdoor stairmaster from an old funicular), though I need to be careful descending (no running) to protect my back. Roller skis scare me. Falling is inevitable, and falling on pavement does not sound wise. Climbing? Perhaps. My wife thinks it’s too dangerous and I’ve agreed not to do it any longer. But . . . maybe some indoor bouldering would be acceptable.

    What am I excited about? Nordic skate skiing. My technique needs a lot of work, but I love it! However, I live in Colorado Springs, the Rocky Mountain front range, and a good two hours from any ski area. I’m on the Board of a local nordic organization that offers skiing on a golf course in Monument, CO (20 minutes away) when snow conditions permit, so I’m hoping for a lot of local snow this winter. I hope to ski a lot this winter, but unlike cycling, it’s not a year-round sport.

    Ultimately, how do I stay active as I age, especially with a degenerative spine that eliminates most impact sports? Swim? I don’t hate it, but it’s not my love. And during COVID times, I really don’t to be swimming in public pools ( I gave up my gym membership and now have a workable gym in my garage – but no swimming pool). Also, with my spine the way it is, how much and how hard and heavy should I be lifting weights? Due to an imbalance of using a knee scooter and iWalk, I have some residual radiculopathy running down my right leg following an acute flair-up a couple of weeks ago where I lay on my left side in a fetal position all weekend. I don’t want the pain to increase to the point, or a loss of bladder control, to necessitate more back surgery. Thus, I’m interested in learning what I can and cannot do, and finding exercise that is enjoyable, enduring, and physically taxing.


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