Several years ago, a number of my friends began to suffer major exercise-related injuries. They described their bodies (or parts thereof) as ruptured, torn, disintegrated, hyper-extended, inflamed, and dislocated. Many were slated for surgery. What was happening here?
This group was generally between 35 and 50 years old, but age was only partly to blame. Was it simply high-impact sports taking their toll? Not exactly. These injuries were showing up across a wide range of high-to-low impact sports. What then?
A number of these folks had been competitive athletes earlier in life, and continued to be disciplined, committed (and some very accomplished) athletes, even today.
After talking to them post-injury, I jotted a simple outline of how this group thinks about exercise:
- Results matter. I time my runs and track my wins and gains.
- I am competitive – even during a workout.
- I am tough. I ignore and work through pain. I can push, strain, and force my body to perform.
Unfortunately, all this discipline and dedication to exercising was actually destroying their health and not enhancing it. In the extreme cases, some of these folks not only required surgery, but also had to give up their favorite sports altogether.
There was no one sport or age threshold to blame, but the common denominator was an extreme attitude toward exercise. And since my own mindset was not too different, I was likely the next one heading for trouble.
Below are a few thoughts that have helped me find a healthier approach to exercise:
Listen to your body and respect what it tells you.
You own a dream race car. Do you drive it to its limit every day? If the warning indicators light up or the engine lurches and screams, do you keep redlining until it dies?
Some of us are so trained to force our bodies through pain and fatigue that we drive the greatest machines ever built (our own bodies) right to destruction Listen to your body and act appropriately.
Dial it back if you need to or amp it up when your body says, "Hey, let’s go!" When you’re really listening, you'll feel and know the difference. Use rest and recovery days not only to help avoid injury, but also to allow your body to rebuild stronger. What if your training plan doesn’t list a rest day but your body tells you it really needs one? The rest day is not a fail, but a 2 week sideline because you forced and blew it, is.
Consider your goals.
Recognizing my own fixation on faster runs and swims, I’ve tried to demote (if not entirely eliminate) my attachment to Personal Records (PRs) and promote some intuition instead. When I took a step back, I realized that a faster 10K run or 2-mile swim meant less to me than staying healthy, strong and mobile for as many years as possible.
But, I was not exercising that way. My friend and teacher Mike Taylor once told me, “You don’t have to push hard to do hard things. The key is to find a way to do those things through ease.”
Think on that one a bit.
Ease does not mean lazy and it does not mean you don’t have a goal. You can bench press, run fast, swim or slam a tennis ball with your face beet-red, muscles yoked, and every vein about to pop, or ....
When you think, breathe, listen in (then respond in kind), and move with your body, instead of pushing, straining and forcing the effort, you may find that:
- You steer clear of the operating room
- You feel better, move better, and have more fun with your workouts
- Those PRs may just improve along the way as well ... if you still care. Mine did.
Let me know how this works out for you. Be well!
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