Keep Moving Forward: Knowing When to Run, Walk, or Crawl

A quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. struck me as being relevant to how we should look at our training. Knowing how to modulate our intensity, care for ourselves, and keep making progress.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you cant walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I came across this quotation while in observance of Martin Luther King Day and it struck a chord with me. I decided to post it at work and speak about it in the classes I instruct. There’s a certain simplicity to the quotation and it very much has an application to our athletic lives. In simple terms, we must listen to our bodies and choose to ‘walk’ when we cannot ‘run,’ or sometimes run when we only feel like walking.

I’ve been teaching a lot of big groups these days and I’ve recognized something about human nature. We don’t always take the best care of ourselves. Some of the frequent participants in my classes are starting to feel the effects of overtraining. I’m all for hard training and I tend to be tough as a trainer and coach, but I also know when it’s time for a change up. If we’re listening, when it’s time for that change we can have a breakthrough. Whereas if we refuse to listen, a breakdown.

Like many things in our society, the pendulum in our physical lives swings between polar opposites. Many in our society live completely sedentary lives while others subject themselves to habitual overtraining. As a dead end response, we sometimes overcompensate one for the other. If we’ve been too lazy for too long we bite off more than we can chew and do too much exercise without proper preparation. Those of us who are heavy exercisers repeat the same patterns day after day until our bodies force us to a screeching halt and, ironically, a sedentary state. Both results come about from a lack of listening.

There are three areas we need to listen to in our lives – our hearts, our gut (intuition), and our bodies. The answer always lies here. Our intuitions tell us when we’re in the right location and situation, our hearts tell us when we’re with the right people, and our bodies tell us how we feel. How we really feel. It’s only when we know how we truly feel that we know whether to walk, run, fly, or crawl.

I had a conversation with a client the other day who asked my recommendation on how many days a week one should exercise. I told him seven. While this may seem like an extreme response, it is my fundamental belief that the human body is designed to move. It always has been. The notion of moving our bodies every day for much of the day wouldn’t have seemed all that extreme 100 or a 1,000 years ago. Movement is not extreme, but doing so without proper preparation and most importantly without listening, is problematic.

Yes, seven days of exercise or movement is indeed natural. However, seven days of ‘flying’ or intensive exercise is certainly excessive for most anyone. Moving every day is vital, but sometimes it needs to be a ‘crawl’ day. That is where many of us slip up. While high impact and high heart rate exercise is vital for challenging our bodies and creating optimum fitness, it also has a downside.

overtraining, training, martin luther king jr, knowing when to walkWe use a term where I coach called the ‘cliff,’ as in something you don’t want to run right over. Participants in our program train with bursts high into their anaerobic zone. (Upwards of 95% of their projected max heart rate.) By doing so, incredible efficiency is created in the body and one’s base level of fitness can make dramatic strides. The body consumes more calories at rest (excess post exercise oxygen consumption). However, training at such an intensity also has its pitfalls. Namely, the cliff. When you push to your max, a cliff looms around that corner and the trick is to see it coming versus driving right over it. Cyclists and runners call it bonking. You’re done, right where you are. We’ve all been there.

Hitting that wall is a function of overtraining, not fueling properly, and not listening to our bodies. It’s not just bonking in terms of energy that we need to concern ourselves with either. It’s the wear and tear on our bodies. Maintenance is key, which I have been constantly reminding my people. You cannot drive your car like a race car without the right tires, proper engine maintenance, and occasional tune-ups. Same thing with a human body. Arrogance is treating the body like a sedentary person does and expecting it to work well. Arrogance is also running that body into the ground day after day without proper nourishment, fuel, and care.

Wherever you are on your fitness and wellness journey, here are the keys to moving forward:

  • Variation – change it up. ‘Moving forward’ does not mean the same pounding day after day; it means growth through change and always finding a way.
  • Stretch – if you don’t have time to stretch, you don’t have time to exercise. Other maintenance is required as well such as sports massage, acupuncture, heat and ice, and maybe even…rest!
  • Natural Fuel – The body functions best in its natural state. Feed it raw and real foods to nourish, heal, and replenish it.
  • Listen – this is the king of all rules and the essence of MLK’s quote. The trick isn’t to push through pain, or arrogantly do the same thing every day, beyond our capacity. The trick is to recognize our capacity and to ebb and flow. To know when it’s time to switch from a walk to a run, or from running to yoga. The key is to keep moving. To succeed we always have to move forward but not always on the same path.

I used to work with a Ironman triathlete who paid thousands of dollars to a world class coach who told her one thing – “Slow down.” She was a classic overtrainer and by training in more pure aerobic zones she became a more efficient and effective athlete without as much wear and tear. It’s sometimes counterintuitive to slow down when we feel like we should speed up or to speed up when we feel like we’re in a funk, but that is where the breakthrough occurs. Listen and keep moving forward.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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