When it comes to exercise, we invariably associate sheer effort with gains. Feeling too tired to push further? Cue the cliché, “no pain, no gain.” Already in the habit of exercise, to the point where you’re not feeling the same sort of challenge? You need to “break a sweat.”
Some effort will be necessary to realize physical improvement. And embracing the ethic of hard work is one of the great benefits of a commitment to fitness. It can carry over to other aspects of life.
However, physical activity isn’t like other endeavors. If you do overtime at work, maybe you lose sleep and feel stressed. You can change course and catch a breather before doing severe damage. But if you push too hard when you exercise, you can risk getting injured.
And when you get injured, you might lapse into a pattern of lowered activity. It’s possible to train with selective routines in a custom lightweight wheelchair, but you should never do so without an expert’s advice. Besides, people are often afraid of rehabbing too soon or putting too much strain on an injured area.
The risks of self-training
Most of these risks can be avoided with the guidance of a qualified personal trainer. They have the skills and experience to work you through exercises that are most appropriate to your fitness level. Their expertise helps them devise a program that challenges you without breaking your limits, and they can spot and correct errors in form.
But not everyone seeks to achieve better physical fitness with a trainer’s help. Cost is a non-negligible issue. Although a good trainer is definitely worth the investment, for some people, fitness isn’t a top priority.
If you’re barely making ends meet, or don’t have the time to maximize your gym membership, it’s often more tempting to simply jog around the neighborhood. Or just do bodyweight exercises at home.
The bottom line is that we all have a unique combination of physiology, baseline activity, fitness goals, and the resources to pursue them. When a professional voice is excluded from that equation due to logistics or matters of priority, you lose that valuable source of insight. And it can lead you to set unrealistic goals, push too hard, or put undue strain on specific muscles due to poor form.
Learning to listen
Thus, if you’re like many people who’d like to become more active physically but need to take a DIY approach, there’s another aspect you need to train. And that’s the skill of listening to your body.
There are many reasons why you might sometimes feel a lack of motivation to exercise. You might be genuinely tired, which should put you on alert to avoid over-training. Or you could also just be feeling rather lazy that day, in which case you do need to push yourself harder.
How can you tell the difference? The signs are there, but you need to know how to listen. If you’re feeling muscle aches that persist beyond 2-3 days, lost your appetite, or don’t feel rested after an evening’s sleep, watch out. You need to emphasize proper recovery before resuming your routine.
Another way to test your body signals is by going through the initial motions. Get dressed for a workout, and start doing a few stretches. If your mind was the obstacle, this should get you into the groove. If it’s physical fatigue, you’ll continue to feel the inertia.
Keeping a journal
The best way to hone your skill of listening to your body is through sheer practice. But in this effort, you can be aided by maintaining a fitness journal.
Becoming physically fit isn’t just about setting aside time each day to exercise. It’s a journey and, ideally, a lifelong commitment. You make the most of it by approaching the whole undertaking as a learning activity.
No one else can get to know your body as well as yourself. Study your response to training. Make notes after each session. Did a particular exercise seem easier than before? Or did a specific muscle start to hurt more than usual? Try to describe that pain, and you’ll become more alert to what’s dangerous versus the regular sort of ache.
You can also go further in your journal and log sleep hours and quality, for instance. Or add a video component so you can watch yourself on playback and spot any deterioration in form. Tracking meals and nutrition can also be a valuable complement to your training.
At a minimum, see to it that you maintain the habit of exercising and listening to your body. You can journey far on your own, but only as long as you keep things safe and well-paced.