Yes, you should listen to your body…except when it’s a big fat liar

I can’t count how many times I’ve said or heard the phrase, “You should really listen to your body.”  When I say it, I’m usually talking to a personal training client in an attempt to help them avoid an injury.  As in, “If any kind of sharp, terrible pain rips through any part of your body at any time during your workout, that’s a very good sign you should stop what you’re doing.”

Here’s the thing about exercise, though.  It offers a wide variety of comforts and discomforts, ranging from that gleeful and rare runner’s high to the awful pain of pulled muscles, ripped tendons or broken bones.  There are so many shades of gray when it comes to the human body during exercise, that it’s sometimes hard to translate the signals our bodies send us.

Let’s look at exercise in general.  If you’re an experienced exerciser, you know what it feels like when you, say, start a cardio workout.  You know that your heart rate will increase, you’ll get a little breathless and you’ll start sweating.  You may even feel some burning in your legs as your body warms up, but you’re cool with that.  It’s something you’ve experienced before.  But what if it’s been months, years or forever since you’ve gotten your heart rate even close to where it should be when you exercise?  All of those feelings – The increased heart rate, the breathlessness, the burning in your legs and lungs may be accompanied by giant red flags shouting ABORT ABORT ABORT…and call 911!  I think you’re having a heart attack!

There’s a period of time when you first start exercising when everything sort of feels like pain and you may think it’s bad pain because, well, pain is bad, right?  But it may not be the ‘bad’ pain – The sharp, terrible ripping, tearing or breaking that indicates something has come loose in your body and it needs to be put back immediately.  No, this is what we call ‘good’ pain – The normal discomfort you go through when you move your body in a new way.  So, how do you know the difference?

The truth is, if exercise is new to your body, you may not know up from down for a week or two as your body adapts to what you’re doing.  Obviously, if you feel any of the sharp, terrible pain I’ve mentioned, then you know things are bad.  If there’s blood or fluid gushing out of your body, that’s also bad.  If you have an intermittent pain in one of your joints that’s more of a nagging, tugging sort of pain, that’s a little different.  It may just go away as your body gets used to the activity you’re doing and, if it doesn’t, that’s a sign you should probably stop that activity and try something else, eventually making a trip to the doctor’s office if it doesn’t get better.

What about you?  Have you ever misinterpreted your body’s signals and kept going when you should’ve stopped – or stopped when you should’ve kept going?  How easy, or hard, is it to really ‘listen’ to your body?  Leave a comment and share your thoughts.


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