Respect Your Body’s Signs: Lifting Heavy and Listening Closely

Here’s a great lesson to learn: you need to respect your body in order to grow it.

MMA, CrossFit, strongman, powerlifting, football, hockey, baseball – everyone is bigger, stronger, and jacked up higher than ever before. Amateur to pro-athlete, people are maxing out every advantage of which they think or hear. The Internet and reality TV have opened the fitness and strength and conditioning door to fact, fiction, and the sometimes insane. Yet no matter how much protein, supplements, or other substances you take, you need to respect the natural growth and evolution of your body, or you can sputter out like a blown NASCAR engine with injury, or worse.

To put things in perspective, I have been an amateur powerlifter for over 15 years, training three to four days a week, two to three hours per day, 50 weeks per year. After nine years of hard work, l became a member of the Canadian National Masters Powerlifting Team and have been a member for three out of the last six years. In 2010, I finished sixth at the World Championships in the Czech Republic. In 2005, and again in 2009, l placed in the top ten.

In 2011, I decided to step outside traditional powerlifting and venture into the world of CrossFit. That same year on Live With Regis and Kelly I officially broke the Guinness World Record for the most amount of weight squat lifted drug-free in one hour, lifting 127,245 pounds.

I guess I should mention I am 22 years older than the former record holder; I am 54.

So, it goes without saying, I am no stranger to the gym and yet I recently learned a lesson about listening to my body that drove home the fact I need to respect it in order to grow it.

About two months ago I was in the gym on my “speed” day. The main focus of the day was completing 10 sets of 10 conventional deadlifts, allowing each set to take only 15 seconds and resting for two minutes between sets. The plan was to lift progressively heavier each round. At the time I weighed about 170 pounds.

I was off and away, 10 reps in 15 seconds at 135, 225, 245, 265, 285, and 305. Then, 3 sets of 10 at 315 pounds. It took only 21 minutes and 50 seconds. Cool!

Muscle-wise, while the last two sets were challenging, I got the weight done in my planned time. Unfortunately, I didn’t consider the cumulative effect of blood pressure and breathing under a progressively heavier load. The result was my 10th set of 10 reps at 315 in 15 seconds was immediately followed by six to ten seconds of blurred vision!

Painful, no! Scary, yes!

The experience was somewhat humbling, but more a time to respect what happened. To step back and ask questions, test, and learn how to safely and intelligently get over this hurdle.

Over the next month, I had and passed, an EKG, echocardiogram, stress test, and blood work, all with flying colors. However, that didn’t negate the new respect I had gained for the cumulative effects of blood pressure, lactic acid build up, and breathing under progressive loading in intense interval training.

Since that episode, things are back on track, this time with a newly revised focus.

The moral of the story is no matter your age, weight, or fitness level, you must respect and consider your body’s natural growth and limiting factors in your training regimen, especially if you are involved in high intensity or high weight training.

Elements you must consider as part of your training are:

  • Blood pressure
  • Circulatory system performance
  • Neurological system performance
  • Muscle growth
  • Tendons
  • Current fitness level
  • Body temperature
  • Air temperature
  • Humidity

Some signs to watch for:

  • Difficulty catching your breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A speeding heart rate that won’t drop during your interval breaks
  • Excessively high body temperature – very red face that won’t go away
  • Blurred vision
  • Head or neck ache that comes on during your high-intensity training
  • Signs of heat exhaustion

At the end of the day, our bodies are incredibly adaptive systems. Endurance, high load, speed – we can train our bodies to do some amazing things, but remember, its all about personal goals and achievements. In exercise and training, you decide when, where, what and how long!

Be sensible and safe, and get strong in a measured and calculated manner!

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