If you’re even a beginning gym goer, you’ve likely heard the expression, “listen to your body?” I myself have used this expression many times, but I’m not sure people always understand what I mean. In this article I’ll try to make this concept more clear.
Our bodies aren’t invincible machines that are meant to take pounding after pounding, day by day. That’s not how training works. Put simply, when we train we are breaking down our body. This means whenever we leave the gym and we worked our butts off, our bodies are compromised and we are weaker than when we arrived. The beauty about our bodies is that they’re the ultimate adaptation structures. Any stress we put on our bodies, it’s going to want to bounce back stronger to handle the stress in the future. In order to do this though, it needs rest. This is why going hard every day isn’t a good idea. All long term training programs should be a mix of intensities throughout the training cycle. This means we shouldn’t leave feeling totally exhausted everyday. So when our bodies are literally unable to work after a week of training (I’m not talking normal soreness) then you are likely working a bit to intensely. Not only is this not sustainable for most people, it also isn’t safe.
Unfortunately there was a time in the fitness industry where we did tell people they just had to work their butts off everyday. No pain, no gain right? Wrong! If there is pain then your body is trying to tell you something. You’re working out to improve your health right? So if you end up having to have two knee surgeries because you pushed through the pain trying to run marathons every year, that’s not getting healthier. I’m not saying you shouldn’t run a marathon every year. I’m saying that running a marathon without proper preparation or trying to run through pain in order to run a marathon isn’t very smart and likely means that your body isn’t ready for that event.
So what does this have to do with listening to your body? Well, if we’re training, the idea is that we want to push our bodies just enough to elicit a response from the recovery period following. If we push too much we can get injured. Generally though, before overtraining injuries occur, we start to feel chronic aches and pains around joints or muscles. A good example is when a runner complains of plantar fasciitis but continues to run on it instead of trying to take care of the issue. If you start to have issues like this then it’s best to rest! Even if you’re scheduled to have chest and arms day and everything’s planned out, if you wake up in shoulder pain, you better figure out something else to do because your body is telling you it’s not a good idea to do shoulders that day. There is a difference of course between normal soreness, and strong pain signals that we need to learn to identify. Wouldn’t you rather run a marathon without pain?
Proper recovery and varied intensities during training cycles will help keep your body ready to train long term, however, there are those times where some pain may kick in. When this happens remember to take that signal as a warning and take some extra rest. If it persists then you likely need to see a medical professional. Never try to push through pain during workouts (remember normal muscle soreness is not what I’m addressing here). If you listen to your body, you’ll be far better off in the long run!