Listen to Your Body for Fewer Injuries and Greater Progress
You should always be making progress in your workouts, yet one of the biggest things that derails people is suffering some form of injury or pain. Getting hurt seems to come along with working out. But does it have to? I don’t think so.
For most of us, exercise is not like playing football where outside forces, another player, or the ground can inflict a big impact on your body and cause something to break. In a scenario like that, sometimes no amount of training can stop injury from occurring.
So why do injuries occur so often? And what can be done about it?
Your Body Sends You Signals
You’ve likely heard this many times before. There’s a good chance you’ve even said it yourself. “I knew I shouldn't have done that.” I don’t think it’s just a case of hindsight being 20/20, because the knowing often comes ahead of time. So, how is it that you know?
A good friend of mine was at a gymnastics class a while back. Everyone was doing was a 360-jump drill into a punch front roll. It’s not a difficult move, and was serving as a warm-up for the more advanced drills to come later.
As my friend started doing repetitions of the drill, it wasn’t feeling good to him. But he decided he was going to give his all on his next attempt. He did - and on the landing his knee tore out completely.
His body was sending him signals. He didn’t listen, and he paid a big price for it.
You Need to Pay Attention
Not so long ago I was filming a video showing many variations of the holding at arms' length exercise, which was popular with the old-time strongmen as a test of strength. I was using fairly heavy dumbbells, especially for some of the versions I was doing.
Since I was filming, I wasn’t paying attention to my body like I normally do. In truth, wanting to show all the variations in my video caused me to do too much weight and too much volume. I overused and injured the activated areas. My right shoulder couldn’t do certain movements for several months afterward without pain. Eventually, I rehabbed it and my shoulder is as good as new, but that set me back in my training for a while.
Normally, I listen to my body quite well. And I want give you insight on how you can do it, too.
Listening to Your Body Is a Skill
Listening to your body is a skill, and as such, it needs to be practiced and trained. Most advanced trainees can listen to their bodies to some degree, just from having trained for so long. But when you become conscious of the process behind listening, it works that much better. Training in an intuitive manner is the reason behind people being able to create great results from their workouts.
Reading this article won’t give you the skill, but putting it into practice will start to. So, let’s do an experiment together:
Go ahead and do an exercise right now. Just a rep or two of something like a bodyweight squat or push up. How does it feel? Seriously, think about it for a moment. What words would you use to describe it?
Fast, smooth, fluid, easy, good?
Slow, shaky, hard, painful, sore, rocky?
The first group of words (and any others that might be similar) indicates something that is working well for your body at this time. The second grouping tells you that your body doesn’t like the movement so well at this time.
It’s important to note that this is just an indicator for right now. Tomorrow things could be completely different.
Go ahead and try a different movement right now and compare how your first exercise felt to this one. Does one feel better than the other? In what way?
The more you pay attention to these signals the easier they become to read.
Do What Your Body Wants to Do
The first words describe a movement that you body “wants” to do at this time. Along with that “want” there is likely a far lower chance of injury than if the movement felt hard and rough. Not only that, but when something feels good and right, it means that you’ll also be able to make progress more easily.
Let me give you an example. One goal I’m currently pursuing is a one-arm chin up. This move takes tremendous strength. Training for it causes many people inflammation and injury in the elbow because of the stress put on that area. So everyday, when I’m doing my workout, I grab my bar and do a regular pull up to feel out the movement.
In a single rep I can tell whether my body is giving me a green or red light on this exercise. It either feels smooth or not. Sometimes it feels so awesome and easy I know I can easily set a personal record. Other times it’s good, but not great, and I may just do some reps to put in the work. Sometimes it feels slow and difficult, so I skip the pull ups completely that day.
Be Careful With New or Limit Movements
Listening to your body does become harder when you’re working closer to your max. Lift a heavy weight in the deadlift, and it will definitely move slower than a light weight. But ask yourself, does it feel “slow” or “fast” compared to previous experiences? Likewise, when you try something new, it may be awkward, but still feel “good” to do. You have to sense different aspects of each movement to really tune in to your body.
Everyone has had the experience of new big personal record that somehow came easily. This might have been a case where you were listening to yourself intuitively. We’ve also all set personal records where it took everything in us to get them. But there’s a problem with that. When you push your limits, you’re actually shutting down the signals from your body. If you shut down those signals and keep going, then that’s when injuries can and will occur.
There is a whole lot more to this subject than what has been covered here, but by starting to pay more attention to your body and its signals in the way described, you can make better progress and suffer fewer training injuries.
How do you know when your body feels good? What signals does it send you? Conversely, how do you know when it’s not a day to go hard? Post your thoughts to the comments below.