Sunday, November 21, 2010

Listening to Your Body

What is the difference between being sore and being injured? How do you know when to push through pain and when to stop? What is pain compared to discomfort? The answers to these kinds of questions come in time, once you start to reconnect with your body through movement. Sometimes it is hard to tell when a certain movement is causing damage or doing good, for the novice boot camper as well as the experienced athlete. In fact, often the novice can have a better gauge for when to stop than the competitively programmed athlete. On the other hand, for someone with experience, pushing past your threshold during training can become second nature whereas for someone who is just getting back into exercise it may difficult to recognize the difference between muscle fatigue and damage.

This is where "listening to your body" comes in. The ability to tell the difference between true pain and "discomfort" or "soreness" is very important to your success. It's a fine balance: we don't want you to hurt yourself, but in order to give your body enough stimulus to change for the better, you will need to approach the workouts with a certain degree of intensity. Intensity cannot be measured in absolute terms. It is something subjective and relative to the individual. Thus we can see that learning how to listen to your body is also a process of being honest with yourself.
Whether you are just beginning to get back into shape or you are a weathered fitness veteran, one thing applies to everyone: If it doesn’t feel hard, it’s not hard enough. Now, your 80 year old grandma’s ‘hard’ is most likely going to be quite different from your 20 year old brother’s ‘hard’, but one thing that you learn as you set out on your movement journey is how to modify any and every workout and exercise. For example, if a workout has a total of 50 push-ups involved, some people might have to do them from their knees or with an assistance band, while others might need to strap on a 20-pound weight vest to make it more challenging. To each his or her own. Just because Joey is slamming the workout with a weight vest on the entire time, doesn’t discredit Tom’s slower, modified movements. The important thing is that each person is working at an intensity that is fitting to where they themselves are in their quest for optimum fitness.
A lot of people ask us the ‘heart rate’ question, “What should my heart rate be during exercise?” Our answer is always this: (unless you have some sort of heart condition which needs close monitoring) If you use a heart rate monitor, stop. For the love of all things sacred, don’t base how you FEEL during a workout on some digital reading on your wrist (or on the godforsaken screen of the machine you are riding). Exercise and movement is something that should be and ultimately is intuitive. All of these fancy doo-hickeys like heart rate monitors and the corresponding charts that tell you what “Zone” you should be in based on your age, are taking us further away from being connected with our bodies. So, forget about your heart rate and ask yourself how you feel while you are training. Take your heart rate to all different levels during your workout; push yourself to YOUR threshold (not the person’s next to you in class) and then back off and rest. Then do it again. Get to know your own body at all different levels of intensity. It will take some time, but it makes training a lot more fun when you aren’t dependent on some technological gismo to tell you how hard to work.

We have trained hundreds of people from 9 years old to 90, overweight and underweight, with various illnesses and without, and the same rule applies to all of them, if it doesn’t feel challenging, you need to make it harder. We do ourselves absolutely zero favors when we go easy on ourselves, whether it is in learning a language, practicing a skill for sport or art, or in physical training. Simply going through the motions will not heed progress.

In anything.

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