When Not to Push It — Understanding the Limits of Your Body

Getting back on the horse, are we? Whenever we start up a fitness regimen again for the first time in a long time, we have grand aspirations. “I’m going to work out five days per week!” Or, “I’m going to run three miles every day!” While these notions are great, their places in reality are not quite that.

Take, for example, a person who has been inactive for years. He/she sees their friends, their coworkers and their family members constantly active, so aspirations like the ones listed above tend to seem like a very realistic and a very attainable aspiration. However, those individuals that are active around them have built up a physical tolerance to those specific activities, as well as a physical tolerance to the frequency with which they participate in those physical activities. For example, if your dad lifts weights five times per week, he’s probably been doing that for a while. He probably didn’t start out that way. In fact, I’m willing to bet he started out far from it!

Understanding the limits of your body is something many of us just plain suck at. I know for me, personally, if I feel a twinge in a joint during the middle of a workout, I’ll ignore it and push on unless it completely incapacitates me. When your mind is focused on the prize (finishing that workout, run, etc.), you’re not worried about the ramifications of what comes after. You just want to get through it and wear that badge of honor for the rest of the day.

If you’re a beginner, please heed these words: Do NOT overdo it! We live in a society where fitness participants are working out at CrossFit boxes, boot camps and MMA gyms. They run marathons, triathlons and ultra endurance events. Having to ice, having to soak in a warm Epsom salt bath and having to wear kinesio tape on a daily basis is their way of saying, “I’m a bad ass m*&@# f*&@#$!” While you may feel accomplished by being a regular participant in these activities, the degree of soreness, the degree of muscle aches and the constant fatigue just isn’t worth it. Below you’ll find some strategies I implore you to implement so you can better understand the limits of YOUR body.

  1. Do NOT work out more than three days in a row.

I don’t care who you are or how ‘good’ you feel. Rest is a crucial component of optimal health and fitness that has seemed to get lost in translation over the past decade. Despite public scrutiny, I believe CrossFit has the best weekly workout/activity splits in the business. Basically, work out three days in a row (Monday-Wednesday), take a day off (Thursday), and then work out two days in a row (Friday-Saturday) and take a day off.

The three-day-on, one-day-off, two-day-on, one-day-off split is great in that it forces your body to recover from the demands being placed upon it through out the week, while insuring an adequate amount of activity. Obviously, if you’re not quite ready to get in five workouts per week, then definitely follow the next two steps to better understand the limits of your body.

  1. Listen to your body.

It’s not uncommon for a person starting up again to feel a great degree of soreness the day after their first bout with physical activity. Heck, it’s not uncommon to feel like a giant muscle ache for the first couple of weeks back in the game. That’s OK! What’s not OK is to continue to push that same muscle group even though you can barely use it. Having trouble walking after going for your first run in five years? Then it’s probably best to avoid exercises that incorporate or focus on your legs to a great degree the following day. So, no run for you!

Here are some questions you should ask yourself every day prior to deciding what you’re working out, or if you’re working out at all:

  • Am I sore? If so, where? Like I mentioned above, insure you don’t really hit that muscle group if you have muscle soreness.
  • Do I have any pain or stiffness after yesterday’s workout?
  • Pain is different from soreness. Soreness is just inflammation due to the ripping of your muscle tissue. Pain, on the other hand, is often due to some type of muscular or skeletal damage. Pain is like porn — You know it when you see it (or in this case, feel it). If you’re in pain, you should probably skip the workout that day, and see a doctor immediately to insure you’re not injured.
  • If you’re stiff anywhere, purchase a foam roller and learn how to use it. This can smooth out adhesions in your muscle tissue, and get blood flowing into that area again. You can learn how to use a foam roller on my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/fitnessretriever. Another great option to overcome stiffness is to incorporate yoga into your regular fitness routine.
  1. Listen to your mind.

Many people neglect to realize that our minds and our bodies are extremely interconnected. Believe it or not, our MINDS are the most powerful muscles in our body! In fact, in order to better understand the limits of our bodies, tuning into our minds and what we’re thinking is HUGE.

Ask yourself the following question on a daily basis prior to exercise:

  • How do I feel? Am I happy? Sad? Angry? Worried?

Your mood can help dictate not only HOW you exercise on any given day (i.e. lifting weights, running, etc.), but HOW HARD you should go at it.

If you’re pissed at the world, perhaps do an MMA style workout and burn yourself out, or lift some heavy ass weight that you normally wouldn’t. Get the anger off your chest! Working out releases dopamine in our brains, which will help improve mood and will help bring mental clarity to the situation if you’re hotheaded heading into your session.

On the other hand, if you’re worried and you need to think, perhaps go for a long, slow walk or run. Once you get into that ‘zone’ (you know it if you run semi-frequently), it’s almost like an active form of meditation. The missing puzzle pieces just seem to come together thanks to the dopamine your brain is releasing as you move.

If you use these three rules, you’ll know when to and when NOT to push yourself. Use them wisely! I wish you the best of luck on your journey.

- Coach Pete

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