My PiYo Review: PiYo, Running, Bad Knees and Arthritis
I’ve resisted writing this very personal PiYo review and testimonial for some time.
One reason is because this blog is not really about me. I could post sweatie workout selfies, but who does that benefit? I try to post information that is useful to others. My “dear diary” of fitness and weight loss is boring. Trust me.
Secondly, my PiYo results don’t necessarily correlate to what you or your friends might experience. This is why my brain automatically shuts down when someone says “my friend lost weight on the fill-in-the-blank diet…” Fitness and health is very individual. How my body responds to food or a workout is just, well, how my body responds.
So please take this with a grain of salt. And perhaps pop a batch of popcorn to go with your salt, because this is very long story.
Why I need PiYo.
I used to be fat and lost about 80 pounds. It took me about a year, from 2008 to 2009. Once I got smaller, I began running. I was immediately hooked. I ran my first 5k on December 5, 2009 and ran my first full marathon, the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon, exactly one year later. I discovered I loved racing and the half marathon was my favorite distance. Running was a huge part of my social life and it made me feel like an athlete for the first time ever.
But long story short, I have bone-on-bone arthritis in my left knee. I also have arthritis in the right knee because heck, who wants to be unbalanced? I mistakenly thought that arthroscopy two and a half years ago would “clean it up” and I would get back to running in four weeks. That didn’t happen.
By the time I worked up to running four miles shortly after surgery, I hurt my “good” knee. Thus began a vicious cycle of pain and injury and NOT being able to run. In fact, exactly one year ago the arthritis in both knees was so bad that a one mile walk (twenty minutes, more or less) caused my knee to freeze up.
At that point it was no longer about running, but about LIVING. How can you go to the zoo if you can only walk twenty minutes? Or go Christmas shopping at the mall? Or any of a zillion other normal daily activities?
I was depressed and in pain and I forced myself to give up the dream of running again.
The first glimmer of hope.
Mid-June 2014 I read an article suggesting walking 6000 steps a day actually helps those of us with knee arthritis. (Read the article HERE.) I decided it was time to revisit walking as a form of exercise.
The second glimmer of hope – PiYo.
It was about this time I learned that the Beachbody program PiYo would be released at the end of the month. I was already a big Chalene Johnson fan and TurboFire is one of my all-time favorite workouts. My ears perked up.
From all the interviews and promotion surrounding the PiYo release, it seemed I would be a perfect candidate for this workout. It focused on stretching and flexibility - which I need. It’s basically no impact - which would make my knees happy. So I ordered it the minute it became available.
I was also intrigued when I listened to Chalene talk about PiYo. (See What is PiYo and Why Chalene Johnson Created it for YOU.) She said, “you will feel the difference when you get out of bed.” Surprisingly, Ms. Fitness herself had aches and pains like the rest of us, which she attributed to getting older. PiYo was created to eliminate many of those common aches and pains.
I began walking and cross-trained with PiYo.
I started PiYo on June 27, 2014. I did not do PiYo exclusively because I have exercise ADD. I get bored. I like variety. Almost immediately I noticed a difference in my flexibility (plus the workouts were fun!) so PiYo was added to my fitness calendar four to five times per week.
About the same time I started tentatively adding a few seconds of jogging in the middle of my walks. I started so slowly that I hoped my knees wouldn’t notice. And they didn’t – for awhile. When the knees gave me any twinge or sign of trouble, I immediately stopped. I wanted to be smart this time.
New running goals.
In July I made it my goal to run a 5k in the fall. I was gradually lengthening my running intervals and a 5k seemed like a doable goal. But I progressed even faster than I had hoped. By late July I joined a Wednesday night running group. The first night I was scared to death. I had only been doing run/walk intervals and I was afraid everyone would be faster or go farther than me. Happily I was wrong. Not only did I find a fun group to run with, but I made some great new friends as well.
As I ran more and walked less, the frequency had to decrease. My knees were cooperating to an extent, but my goal became three runs per week, depending on the knees. Most weeks I ran only twice. But those two times gave me results. I ran 3-4 miles one day and did a long run on the weekend.
When my long run reached 7 miles I was cautiously optimistic that instead of running a 5k in the fall, I might be able to tackle a half marathon.
While running became my focus, I still faithfully did my PiYo workouts. I did not follow the calendar, but chose more intense workouts – like Sweat and Drench – on non-running days, and portions of easier routines as a cool down and stretch.
In August I ran my first 10k since knee surgery. My time was not blazingly fast because I continued the run/walk intervals (I was determined to remain cautious and careful) but it was respectable and I came in 3rd place in my age group.
Also in August I took a leap of faith and registered for a half marathon – the Go Girl Run Half Marathon on September 28, 2014.
Even PiYo can’t guarantee success.
No matter how many times I did PiYo, I was still at the mercy of my knees. That's because arthritis is unpredictable (and a crappy deal all around). Sometimes out of the blue my knees ached so badly that I had to hobble down the steps sideways. So I crossed my fingers as I continued training.
Every single time I thought about the upcoming half marathon I got teary eyed. It had been my dream after knee surgery to do another full marathon a year later. That didn’t happen. I couldn’t even run across the street for crying out loud. But now I was staring down my first half marathon in two and a half years. It felt like a miracle.
Thirteen weeks after starting PiYo I ran my 20th half marathon.
It was today, as a matter of fact. It was a bit humbling to line up with the slower runners in the back. But you meet a bunch of great people and have wonderful conversations when you’re not running for time.
I ran a different kind of race this time. I was relaxed since I had no time goal. I stopped and took pictures at almost every mile marker. I snapped photos of a pumpkin patch that we passed, and a church with my son’s name on it. A nice lady took the picture above when she saw me struggling to take a selfie. I told her I owed her two minutes off her time.
This was my slowest half marathon EVER. But I have a smile on my face and I'm feeling incredibly blessed.
I checked the stats on my Half Fanatics page (this is a group for people who run lots of half marathons) and it was interesting to see what I had written about my last half at the end of April 2012: "Heading off to knee surgery. Hope to be back soon!" That final race was also a sub 2-hour half that I ran dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. (Don’t judge, it fit the theme!) Today my time was 45 minutes slower. And yet I am celebrating.
Life after PiYo
A lot has changed since I started PiYo a little over three months ago.
I can run 13.1 miles
My balance has improved tremendously
My flexibility has increased by a TON
It sounds cliché, but I do get out of bed with no stiffness
My left knee doesn't cave in when I walk and run
My back hasn’t hurt in ages
I can bust out a few triceps push ups
I get to work out barefoot
Oh, and did I mention I am running??
Why does PiYo help runners?
I am convinced PiYo has been the key to earning back my running legs. Many movements are balancing on one leg and, when you run, you are always balancing on one leg (or the other). The functional training movements in PiYo mimic running and strengthen the muscles (without the impact).
In fact, a few weeks ago I started taking a running strength and conditioning class, led by one of our area’s elite women runners. Almost ALL of the exercises we did were similar to those in PiYo!
Strengthening the muscles around the knees
When I first tried to run post-op, my left knee caved inward. I have a huge, expensive deloader brace that literally pushes the bones in proper alignment, but I don’t wear it. I’m vain and it messes with my tan lines. So I have to rely on my muscles to hold the bones where they’re supposed to be.
When I started running THIS time I had to consciously contract my butt and thigh muscles CONSTANTLY or else my knee would buckle. Which hurts like heck. So I would go out, walk 5 minutes, and limp/jog/hop for 10 seconds and call it a run. All while contracting my ass muscles. Fun.
At some point in August I realized I wasn’t contracting those muscles. They were doing their job without me having to tell them what to do. I could relax and run - for much longer than 10 seconds.
Is PiYo a miracle cure for runners with knee arthritis?
I am not claiming PiYo is a miracle, because I can’t say for sure it was the only factor, but I have improved more in thirteen weeks with PiYo than with months of working with a physical therapist, training on my own, or working with a personal trainer.
Thank you Beachbody and Chalene Johnson.
It’s more than just the physical results.
Regaining the ability to run has done WONDERS for my attitude. Running shouldn’t be such a huge deal, but it had become a big part of my life. I loved training for races, being competitive with myself and others, wearing cute race clothes and collecting medals. Running was a large part of my social life, with my running club and running groups and running friends.
When my friends continued to run and I couldn’t, it became incredibly depressing. To the point where I took myself off race email lists and removed myself from running-related Facebook pages.
Regaining the ability to run has made me come alive again. I feel happier than I’ve been, well, in two and a half years. I may never break a speed record, but I will enjoy every minute I am able to run. I will not take running for granted.
And I won’t stop doing PiYo.
PiYo will be a permanent part of my exercise rotation. I will still run and do TurboFire, swing kettlebells, and lift weights. But you better believe I will keep cueing up my PiYo dvd’s on a regular basis.
Did PiYo give me an amazing body and abs? Uh, no. In fact I actually GAINED weight doing PiYo, but that was due to my inability to stop stuffing my face.
But I don’t need visible abs to meet my fitness goals. I'm just a mom who wants to fit into her skinny jeans and run a couple half marathons every year. I want to feel strong. I want to walk without hobbling and I don’t want my back to hurt.
Did PiYo cure my knee arthritis? No. Will I do PiYo exclusively? No. Will I do it every day? No.
But I will do PiYo consistently, at least 3-4 times per week. Forever.