Juggling a demanding job, family responsibilities, and still want to improve your physical fitness and capabilities? It’s easy to overlook what your body is trying to tell you. You simply have to get things done and not a lot of extra time to do them.
This isn’t just another “listen to your body” spiel about the need for “self-care.”
There’s nothing wrong with that, but improving physical resilience and capacity is higher on the agenda, for everything you need to do at home, on the job, and your weekend adventures.
Getting the Wrong Message: 2 Traps
Even when you’re doing your best to listen to what your body is telling you, it’s easy to get confused by mixed signals.
The most common trap is to assume a workout has to hurt to be effective. That traditional mindset of “no pain, no gain” has been so deeply ingrained in fitness culture that it’s often taken as a given.
While this mantra may seem motivating, it can often lead us down the wrong path. Those who survive it might be doing okay, but that road is littered with people that have burned out and given up.
At the other extreme is not wanting to tolerate any kind of pain.
Unfortunately, that’s just as bad, because we need some discomfort to grow. You don’t become more resilient by avoiding hard and uncomfortable work.
We need to find the balanced middle. It can be difficult for sure, but it’s well worth the effort.
How I Learned My Lesson (By Failing To Listen To My Body Correctly)
It can be tough to listen to your body, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned exercise veteran.
As a beginner you may not be aware, and as someone more experienced you may miss something and only discover your error in hindsight. I’ve been around the block with various training programs, dedicating “seasons” to different activities. Keeps me engaged and always learning.
But here’s where I tripped up — literally.
During a hike, I sprained my ankle. The classic instance of not getting hurt on the challenging ascent, but on the way down. A simple misstep and I rolled over my foot.
After about a week I was walking normally again and I refrained from running for a week after that. But then I had a training session that I’d normally breeze through but failed the planned protocol.
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So I adjusted the session, changed up exercises and did less. You could say that I was listening to my body correctly there and I thought I was!
But I had continued on to my next plan of a very intensive running “peaking” program. It was on my docket before I had that ankle sprain and I was too enamored of a nice new plan, and ignored a crucial signal – my recent ankle sprain.
Adding to that I didn’t consider how my body would react to this new, intense workload of sprints and intervals along with my usual schedule of martial arts training, mobility/locomotion training, and lifting weights.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I started experiencing knee pain after a sprint session. A new sensation for me, as my knees are usually rock solid. I made a minor adjustment and pressed on, thinking I was fine.
Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.
Long story short, my knee issue escalated, forcing me to scrap my training plan.
But remember this is just one end of the spectrum. It’d be all too easy, and all too wrong, to simply say that you should always err on the side of doing less.
If there’s still a reluctance to fully engage in workouts, with minimal effort driven by fear of injury or pain, after a few weeks of this half-hearted approach, no progress is evident, leading to disinterest and eventually quitting.
The Stakes of Learning to Interpret Your Body’s Signals
Whether you’re overdoing it or barely scratching the surface, both extremes can result in the same outcome: a standstill in progress.
But if you’re observant and collect data on how you’re feeling, you’ll catch these missteps sooner rather than later.
No one’s perfect, but a good framework can save you a lot of grief. That’s what we’ll be going over in this article, our method to help you learn how to consider all the signals and listen to your body in a way that will keep you steadily towards your goals.
Ignoring your body’s signals can result in:
- Burnout: Mental and physical exhaustion that makes it difficult to maintain any exercise routine.
- Injury: Pushing too hard can lead to acute or chronic injuries.
- Stagnation: Instead of progressing, you may find your performance plateauing or even regressing.
Properly listening to your body leads to:
- Sustainability: By listening to your body, you can maintain a long-term exercise routine without the risks of burnout or injury.
- Personalization: Tailor your training to how you’re feeling on any given day, making your regimen more effective.
- Progress: Contrary to the “no pain, no gain” philosophy, attain sustainable progress with the appropriate amount of work and effort.
The Autoregulation Alternative
Thankfully there’s a systematic and highly learnable way to mitigate these risks for a more responsive and adaptive approach to training.
Autoregulation is the practice of adjusting your workouts based on not just how you feel, but on how you are actually performing on that day. This approach is not only sustainable but also highly effective for long-term growth. It serves your own personalized way to best guide you in your training.
The Former Traditional Gym-goer
Here’s a great example of using autoregulation correctly from one of our clients, Ben.
He wrote in to tell us that though it took him some to let go of the traditional gym mindset – “I’m working through it for the second time and getting so much more than the first go around because I finally get the mindset behind it” – through his practice of working through sessions and the method behind him, he learned to listen to his body in a while that served his progress.
This is pretty common, someone with more experience in working out and exercise has different hangups than someone who is just starting out. Both positive and negative. Preconceived notions are hard to get rid of but once you do, you’re opening yourself up to a new world of possibilities.
The Two Pillars of Progress: Self-Knowledge and Data Collection
I like to say that “everything is psychology and physics!”
In this case, psychology as in understanding and being honest about your personal temperament. Are you a Type A “go-getter” who has a tendency to push yourself too hard? Or do you swing more to the couch potato “ugh do I have to exercise again?!”
Neither one is inherently good or bad, it’s all about whether you know your tendencies, and recognize when they are being detrimental to your growth and progress. Honest introspection is an absolutely essential part of improving yourself, both in fitness and the totality of your well-being.
This goes beyond just about taking a break when you’re not up to par. It’s about dedicating focused time and attention to gather honest and accurate data on how you’re reacting to your exercise regimen—and, indeed, to all other aspects of your life.
More Awareness and a Triumphant Return From Injuries
Our client, Mindy, came to us because she wasn’t happy with her strength and longstanding aches and pains. She remarked that her Elements “practice is mostly fun even when challenging, and the reflection period at the end of each session has enabled me to grow in my awareness of my body”.
The encouragement and consistent practice of self-reflection in her training brought her not just a lessening of her aches, but also a better understanding of her body. This learning about her body and how it best responds, made all the difference between stopping her program and her motivation to keep going with steady progress.
Otto, had a series of physical issues (bilateral hip replacements, knee injury, disc problems), but found his way past them.
He credits his consistent training and learning to listen to his body as major factors in his return to his wide variety of physical activities.
Three Direct Steps For Personalizing Your Training
1. The Right Start
You don’t have to have a “perfect” plan to start. But it is smart to begin with a good outline that takes into account your needs, with appropriate personalized goals and an overall structure that best fits you.
It isn’t that it will be the ultimate magic plan that never needs to change, frankly that doesn’t exist so please don’t get stuck looking for it. Instead it’s a plan/program that assumes that you will need to adjust and change!
Our article on How to Create A Plan, gives you a lot more specifics but the gist is that you have more control over your training than you might think. By following the guidelines we talk about here, you not only improve your athletic performance but also gain insights into what your body needs in the given moment.
2. Ongoing Evaluation and Adjustment
A fundamental understanding of what specifically holds you back gives you so much more control over your training and how to adjust as needed.
We like to view this from a standpoint of full body movement patterns, where you can choose a few and delve into how you are performing and feeling about it. This is both a baseline to see where you are at when you are starting, and also gives you a reference point for all the training sessions from then on.
Our Self Assessment article goes more into specifics about these practical assessments that you can perform to evaluate your energy levels, flexibility, and strength. They’re designed to help you learn to identify your limitations and adapt your training regimen accordingly.
3. Post-Session Reflection
And perhaps most important of all of this is ongoing self-reflection. It is absolutely essential to make this a consistent part of your training. It’s just as much as skill as any physical exercise, and the more you do it the better you’ll be able to accurately listen to your body.
Ultimately, the key to uncovering your individual patterns lies in diligently collecting and evaluating data on your energy levels, motivation, and performance. It’s not merely about listening to your body and mind but about quantifying those signals into actionable insights. If you find yourself consistently drained, the data might indicate a need to reduce your workload; conversely, if you’re well-rested yet stagnant, the numbers could suggest ramping up the volume or intensity.
Whether you opt for a digital app or stick to a traditional notebook, tracking your training is non-negotiable. And we’re not just talking about logging sets, reps, and weights. What’s even more crucial is capturing your personal assessments and evaluations after each session, providing a comprehensive view of your physical and emotional state.
For even more details go to our Self-Reflection article and see how you can start on that right away. You’ll be glad you did.
By adopting these principles you can enjoy a more balanced, effective, and sustainable approach to physical training. It’s not just about avoiding the pitfalls; it’s about creating a path for consistent growth and well-being.
Methodical, Introspective Training
Our Elements program is a systematic curriculum that teaches you how to listen to your body and reap the benefits of consistent progress in mobility and body control.