Badges of Dishonour?

Phrase like “No Pain, No Gain” and “Go hard or go home” are extremely commonplace in the fitness world these days.  Pushing ourselves through pain barriers to see who can endure the most suffering is seen as a sort of badge of honour.  As I get older and am noticing that it is increasingly difficult to recover from injury, I find myself asking if we are taking this philosophy to an unhealthy extreme.

Crossfit is the training that I do, but unfortunately this do or die mentality is not exclusive to this particular sport.  I find increasingly, that people training with specific aesthetic or performance goals may be pushing the limits of what is sensible as well as the limits of their bodies.   This may be as a result of questionable coaching, an overly competitive atmosphere in the gym, or just sheer pigheadedness.  Whatever the reason, we need to learn to recognise and accept the point at which enough is enough.

Take ripped hands as a classic example.  Anyone who has tried to master pull-ups, toes to bar, or spent any amount of time working on Olympic Lifting can probably relate to this.  I for one remember all too vividly the first time my hands ripped.  It was in a workout with pull-ups (I had just learned how to string a few together) and strict press.  There was about 50 reps of each movement in the workout, and at about the halfway point I noticed the palm of my left hand was beginning to tear.  Now the sensible thing would have been to either stop the workout or modify the movement.  I did neither.  I soldiered on and completely ripped up the hand.  This was utterly stupid.  It wasn’t in competition, it was just a normal training day.  I was working out alone, so I can’t even blame the adrenaline of being up against my peers.  It was just sheer craziness.  I have to admit, when I realized my hand was shredded, I did feel a bit like “wow, I have arrived!”  However, the euphoria didn’t last long, as I struggled to wash my hair, and my training was severely hampered over the coming days.

You only need to take a brief look on social media to see countless pictures of skinned shins (box jumps) bruised collar bones (push presses) and whip marks (damn double unders)  These images are becoming so main stream that nobody bats an eyelash when we see people walking around with all these battle scars.  Accidents happen, of course, but surely we should try to mitigate them more than we celebrate them?  All the cuts, bumps and bruises are small injuries, which although seemingly insignificant, your body needs to expend energy to heal.

As athletes, we take risks every day in training.  We need to assess these risks and use judgement and experience to ascertain whether or not they are worth taking.  In these instances, I strongly urge you to ignore your ego!  Know what your body is able for and do exactly that.  My ego has often told me that I am well able to lift the prescribed weight in the workouts, or that I should be well able to keep up with the 17 year old training beside me.  I can do neither.  When I listen to my ego it results in a number of things happening;

  • My movement patterns turn to crap, as I struggle with weight that is just too heavy for me.
  • I risk injury for the same reason.
  • I don’t get the desired stimulus out of the workout.  If I have to spend minutes looking at the bar in between each rep, when everyone else is flying through it, I am not essentially doing the same workout as they are.
  • Most crucially, it devalues my training session.  I come away from it feeling like a failure.  I already know I am not at the level to attempt that weight yet, but having it confirmed in such a public way feels like a gut punch.

As we get more experienced with training, we get better at learning to scale appropriately.  But don’t be afraid to ask your coach for advice.  Even just ask him or her “how heavy is this supposed to feel?”  Taking the time to establish this, can save you a world of pain in the workout.

Another misconception that I see creeping in more and more, is the idea that you need to be on the flat of your back, struggling to breathe at the end of every workout.  If you don’t have to literally crawl out to your car, you simply didn’t work hard enough!  This is complete and utter nonsense.  While it’s perfectly fine to go all out once or twice a week, nobody needs to be hitting that level of intensity every day.  Doing so on a continuing basis will only serve to run you down.  It will make you dread your training (unless you’re a complete masochist) and will inevitably lead to injury and fatigue.

Unless you are operating at an elite level, you need to accept that there will always be people who are better than you at certain things.  Even within your chosen discipline, you will find you have strengths and weaknesses.  Elite athletes at the highest level, only remain at that level for a very short period of time.  The secret to being happy and successful with your training is to ignore everyone else.  It doesn’t matter what they are doing, concentrate on your own performance.  While it’s great to be motivated by other people (TPFA girls, you know who you are!) you need to play your own game.  Chasing after other people is never going to make you happy and will only make you risk pushing yourself to breaking point.

The long and the short of it is this, if you feel sore and broken all the time, you’re doing it wrong.  Most of us are not professional athletes.  We do this for fitness and for fun.  If we push ourselves to the limits continually and end up injured all the time, this is the complete opposite of the desired effect.  Your training should make you feel strong and accomplished, not weak and broken.

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