I find myself saying it all the time when people ask me on tips for running and working out, especially to those who are just starting. “Above all, listen to your body” I say. But this really doesn’t just apply to those who are just starting out. It is relevant for every single person out there training… from the most experienced, for someone training for their first 5km. There is definitely a balance to learn between listening your body and backing down too easy. There is being uncomfortable because something is hard, or new, or above what your normal effort is and there is also pain that we should pay attention to. There is also being tired because you’ve been pushing yourself hard, or ran farther than you normally do, and then there is being fatigued beyond just something simple. So, what does it really mean then to listen to your body? And how can we start to differentiate between the signs to listen to and the things to push through?
Tune in to how you feel when you start attempting something physical challenging. you should feel a certain level of discomfort that comes with pushing yourself hard. Discomfort and soreness are expectable and go along with pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Your muscle and lungs might feel angry, but all long as you are not in pain, it is normal given the effort you are giving out. However, pain is much different. If you feel any sensation of acute pain, sharp pain or a painful sensation that you haven’t felt before while working out, you need to stop. This is your body telling you there is something wrong.
2. Judge your soreness
If you start your workout or run and you still feel sore from the last time you exercise, it doesn’t mean you have to stop. Soreness doesn’t necessarily mean back off. This is commonly mistaken as listening your body… “I am still sore from yesterday, I should probably take a rest day today”. While yes, if you are excessively sore that it is affecting your gait, take the day off, but if you’re just feeling a bit of muscle fatigue and soreness, give er! Working out will actually probably help your recovery because it increases blood flow to your muscles. It might not be a bad idea in this situations to lengthen your warm up so your joints are well lubricated before working out, then try your planned workout. If you feel like your weights are too heavy, or your running too fast, or you just feel like the intensity is too much, back of a little. Just don’t be afraid to try! It is all about finding that balance between quitting too soon or pushing too hard.
3. Consider other factors
Be mindful of how what is going on in your life could affect your body and energy levels. Sometimes you just don’t get enough sleep. Or you wake up for a workout feeling heavy and sluggish (or hungover) because you overdid it eating and/or drinking the day before. Consider your energy level and what might be affecting it. Have you taken on a bigger project at work? Have the kids been sick? Is there something stressful happening in your personal life? Have you just increased your weekly mileage? There are countless factors that can affect your performance when it comes to getting your workout in. If it’s a one-off occurrence, then follow the tips from point two… increase your warm up, start your workout as planned and then make changes based on how you are feeling. If, however, insomnia or poor sleep is the norm for you, or you’ve been consistently feeling weak, in a bad mood, or unmotivated, these may be signs of overtraining. If you are overtrained, you can forget about any improvements in your strength or endurance until you take your foot off the gas and let your body fully rest and recover. Overtraining is an under talked about issue that can affect anyone. Learn to pick up on the symptoms and scale back your effort level. The sooner you back down, the easier it will be for you to recover. Don’t just ignore it or it will get worse.
4. What time of day is it?
Don’t dismiss the effect of the time of day on your workout. We are all different and different times of the day work better for different people. The time of day when you can get your workout in might be different from someone else. Maybe you’re a morning person but you start work so early you can only work out at lunch or in the evening. Or you force yourself to get your exercise done early even though its feels so awful to pull yourself out of bed before you have to. Sometimes you have to suck up the time available to exercise and do the best you can to make the workout productive. But if you can find different times available to work out, or you can experiment with your workout schedule, it doesn’t hurt to see if your body just feels stronger at different times of the day!
Listening to your body is something to something you must learn to do and it comes with practice. Once we know our bodies well and can pick up of things that are out of the ordinary we can start to listen. We are really good and knowing when our bodies are sore or tired, but we aren’t very good at listening when the message is coming in loud and clear to just take a step back for a bit. The good news is that as you become consistent with your workout schedule and you’re making progress in your goals, you’ll notice you are picking up on cues your body is sending you that you may not have noticed before being active. Don’t make the mistake of trying to work through any kind of pain you know (or suspect) deep down isn’t quite right. No goal that you’re working towards will benefit from you pushing yourself through pain and developing an injury. A few days rest in the short term will not set you back nearly as long as recovery from injury will.