You might think from my previous How-To posts on How-To: Track Your Macros and How-To: Track Your Progress that I’m an advocate for relentless, unyielding pursuits of fitness goals, striving to be ever leaner/fitter/faster/stronger. I’M NOT. You simply CANNOT continue to push the body without expecting it to push back. Your body is smarter than your brain, and it is HIGHLY efficient. Ever wonder about weight loss and/or strength gain plateaus? You reduce your intake/increase your workouts and yet that one last pound gets harder and harder to lose or lift? Your body, marvelous machine, has reduced its metabolism and has gotten smarter and more efficient about fueling its required processes with LESS fuel, because you are supplying it with LESS fuel. Very smart (if only our cars operated on the same principle!). Similarly, your body has adapted to the stress of the workouts and doesn’t experience the same muscular hypertrophy and strength gains as it previously did under the same or lesser loads. VERY, very smart!
So, what do we do about this? Well, in a word – nothing! That’s right, there’s virtue in kicking back and relaxing! It’s time to talk about the value of knowing when to strive and knowing when to stop.
How-To: Take a Break
- One of the best insights I’ve gotten in the past year is the idea that my body is like the ocean. It is dynamic, ever-changing and never static. We get attached to ideas of an ideal level of leanness and/or bodyweight. But those measurements are taken at a single static point in time in the continuum of our day. Even a measurement of how much weight (mass) we can lift is very specific to a given point in time under a specific set of internal and external conditions (and you hope those conditions are optimized on the day of a major competition!). You can never again prepare for the exact same lift with the exact same meal and the exact same history of training and other competitive lifts behind you. That’s probably starting to get a bit “out there” in the metaphysical/esoteric or philosophical realm, but it IS true. And the point is that you can’t successfully fight the ebb and flow of your body any more than you can fight the ebb and flow of the tide based on the moon’s gravitational pull.
- So, what do we do with this information? Do we capitulate every time we feel a twinge or sense of fatigue when a workout is looming? “Oh well, can’t work out today. It’s an “ebb” kind of day.” No, but we stay watchful for warning signs of over-training and/or under-eating. Aches and pains that won’t go away? Chronic hunger, dreaming or obsessing about food or periodic binge eating episodes? The pendulum is being pushed too far in one direction and it’s going to swing back hard.
- Professional and high-level amateur athletes recognize these pitfalls (or at least surround themselves with professional coaches, trainers and therapists trained to recognize these pitfalls). That’s why they have an off-season. If you’ve just completed an intense strength-training program, it might be time to switch it up for some different formats of exercises or take some time off entirely. De-load week(s) is/are common after major strength training blocks. If you’ve just completed an eating regimen that took you below maintenance intake levels, it’s time to slowly work your way back up so that your metabolism can increase in increments along with your intake. After that, consider some time to explore eating intuitively. These types of major training cycles can and generally do happen seasonally (i.e. every 3 months or so).
- On a smaller scale, it’s important to incorporate regular rest and play intervals into our days and weeks. Jill Coleman over at JillFit.com regularly uses the term “preemptive cheat” to describe honouring a food craving as it is happening with a portion-appropriate serving of the food at that time vs. wrestling with cravings that are only likely to intensify over the course of the day and eventually culminate in a too-large serving of the “forbidden fruit” (or chocolate, as the case may be). The argument is that a few squares of dark chocolate now (or 1 cookie or 1 spoonful of almond butter or piece of cheese or whatever the case may be) is far better than an entire bar (box/jar/block) later if the food is deemed “off-limits” in the present.
- When it comes to training, it’s about knowing the difference between discomfort and PAIN. Acknowledging that it’s not safe/wise to push through for one more set (or one more rep) is much wiser than going for it and ending up with an injury that can put you out of commission for weeks (or months).
Have you every pushed yourself too hard/too fast/too far? How did you know? What were the results? What did you do? What did you learn? I’d love to hear about it! Send me an e-mail, put it in the comments, share it on social media!
*As always, I am NOT a nutritionist or a dietitian. I encourage you to consult with your trusted health professional on any dietary advice or strategies that are unique to YOU as an individual, especially if you are dealing with food allergies or intolerances.
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