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Listen To Your Body

muscle pain

As your body develops, it finds new ways to interpret the information that it is given. As a result, your body begins to feed your brain new information about how it is performing, what is wrong (if there is a problem) and how you can deal with the new information.

One of the first signals with which you become familiar is the sensation of pain. By not listening to the signal that your body is in pain, you may cause a serious injury that will lead to even more pain.

Almost everyone has accidentally touched something hot at some point in their lives (or even just yesterday). The message that your body sent was to take your hand away from the offending source of heat. In this way, you listened to your body and followed its directions to prevent a more serious injury. Exercise often works in a much more subtle way. You will still stop doing an activity that causes pain but your body will normally send many more directions about how any type of movement is going. Your job is to learn how to recognize these signals; how to listen to your body.

Recognizing Whether Your Muscles Are Sore or In Pain

If you exercised effectively, chances are that your muscles will be a little sore. Aerobic exercise, although focused mainly on your heart rate, still puts strain on your joints and muscles. When you pedal on a bike or jog, you are still developing muscle. This development occurs because tiny rips are made in the muscles that are then repaired with new tissue. This repair process causes muscles to be both bigger and stronger.

These tiny tears are the cause of your soreness (coupled with repetitive motion soreness in your joints). The soreness should be a warm and often tight feeling. When the soreness is stabbing or throbbing, it is pain. While sore muscles and joints are entirely normal (and often necessary) after an intense workout, pain is an indication that something is wrong. In addition, soreness usually sets in over a longer period of time than pain. Pain is sharp and sudden during a workout while soreness usually sets in that night or the following day.

If you ever experience pain while participating in aerobic exercise, listen to your body and stop doing the activity. You may have pushed yourself too hard in too short of a time or you may need to find a different approach to the activity to prevent further pain. The onset of pain will often be a signal that you need to start slowly before moving on in your program. Even though you may feel like it is a waste of time, spend the first few weeks of your routine starting with small sessions that let your body know what it coming. Short of yelling "Stop!!!", your body will let you know if you are not ready to move on.

Listening to the Specifics

Try this simple exercise to begin listening to smaller portions of your body while you exercise:

  1. Begin on a stationary bike (preferably recumbent but upright would also work).

  2. Slowly begin to pedal. Your heart rate should not increase very much.

  3. Watch the muscles in your thighs and calves as they flex and relax.

  4. Can you count the amount of muscles that are being employed?

  5. Place your right hand on your right leg and feel the muscles moving under your skin.

  6. See if you can find where they end and how they connect to each other.

  7. Take your right hand off your right leg and see if you can still "feel" the same motions.

  8. Begin to pedal a little faster.

  9. Place your right hand on your abdomen and see if your muscles are working there.

  10. biking
  11. Select a few other places on your body to see how your entire body is responding to activity.

  12. You may be surprised at how many muscles in your entire body are employed into an activity that logically only involves the legs.

  13. Continue into a normal workout while still focusing on individual muscles.

  14. Try to catch when each muscle begins to get tense or tired.

  15. While doing this, it can be surprising how quickly a 20 minute aerobic session can fly by.

By employing this same way of listening to each smaller portion of your body, you will be able to make your exercises much more effective. In addition, cramps that may occur will be much more noticeable and preventable by using this technique. If you listen closely to every portion of your body and take progression slowly, pain should almost never occur.

Knowing When To Take Some Time Off

Not only will your body actively feed you signals while you are exercising, it will let you know when you should rest for a little longer before continuing in your regular workout routine. Ignoring these signals is unwise and can cause further soreness and injuries. As a general rule, you should let your body rest for at least 24 hours between exercise sessions. In addition, you should take (at minimum) one day off every week to let your entire body recuperate.

Just like muscle development, the bulk of endurance development occurs while you are at rest. In fact, only 24% of endurance development occurs while you are busy exercising. The rest happens as your body adjusts to your routine and repairs muscles while you rest. If you are still sore when your next session comes up on the schedule, take another day off. Your body is signaling that it still needs a bit more time to adjust and repair your joints and muscles for the next session.

Are You Listening?

As part of your entire aerobic workout program, you should constantly be asking yourself questions about how you are adapting to a new body. These questions could involve how you view nutrition or how you respond to exercise. A few examples of questions that you should be asking yourself are:

  1. Do I know when I am hungry?

  2. Do I know when I am full?

  3. Do I fell thinner/fatter/the same?

  4. How is my body prepared for my next exercise session?

  5. How are my moods affecting my workouts?

  6. Am I happier/more depressed/about the same when I exercise?

  7. Do I feel like I am doing enough to succeed in my long term goals?

  8. How is my body changing?

  9. Can I feel my muscles growing or getting stronger?

  10. Can I think of any daily activities that have become easier since I began training?

relaxing outdoors

The above questions are just a few examples of how you can evaluate your workout program by listening to your body. As well as telling you that you should stop doing something, your body will tell you when you are doing just fine and should continue on the same route.

For most people, moderate exercise feels great because of the chemicals released by physical activity. Among these chemicals are:

  • Dopamine (mind numbing)

  • Endorphins (blocks pain receptors)

  • Serotonin (anti-depressant)

All of these chemicals combine to tell you that you are doing something right. If you listen to your body and accept these chemicals, you will continue on the right track towards physical fitness.