Knowing and Listening to your Body

doctor with stethoscope

The human body can be considered a kinesthetic machine. Kinesthetic learning is a form of learning where the human body actually learns to perform a movement, or series of movements, through participating in a physical activity. Other forms of learning are achieved through visual and/or auditory means.

Through kinesthetic learning, the human body will begin to discover how it is designed to move and adapt to different circumstances, conditions, and environments as the demands placed on the body change. A child learning to walk is an example of kinesthetic learning. For example, as a child initially begins to take their first steps their balance, rhythm, and coordination are very unstable and irregular.

However, through repetition, the child's body begins to gain balance, synchronize the movements of the necessary muscles required to actually perform the function of walking, and, over time, begins to walk with less effort and greater rhythm.

As the owner of your body, you will perform the same learning process as you engage in a variety of physical activities. One of the best ways to promote efficient kinesthetic learning is to form a mind/body connection that focuses on listening to your body's natural signals.

Beginning at a young age, you have been learning what actions you can and cannot perform based on your body's main defense mechanism: pain. For example, when you touch a hot stove, your body tells you to take your hand away to avoid a serious burn. Along this same line of thinking, it is imperative that you listen to the signals that your body is sending to your mind during periods of physical activity, especially when weight training.

Listening to Your Muscles

The soft tissue of the human body is designed to perform movements in specific directions and within a certain range of motion. In addition, all soft tissue is designed to perform two types of movements: concentric (shortening of the muscle) and eccentric (lengthening of the muscle).

For example, when performing a standing straight bar biceps curl, the concentric portion of the exercise is performed when the bar is raised to the chest (biceps muscles are shortened), and the eccentric portion of the exercise to completed when lowering the bar back to the waist area (biceps muscles are lengthened).

In weight training, it is imperative that you learn to focus on the movements of each muscle. By doing so, you will be able to perform the various exercises with a greater emphasis on forcing the intended muscle to actually perform the work. This being said, individuals that are just beginning a weight training exercise routine may want to perform the following exercise to grasp the concept of listening to your muscles, and forcing the intended muscles to perform the work of the movement:

  1. Begin by lying on your back.

  2. Slowly push the heel of your foot against the floor and release.

  3. Notice how your calf muscle also flexes when you perform this movement.

  4. What muscles, and how many muscles, can you count that are engaged in this movement?

  5. Now sit up straight with your right arm and elbow against your side.

  6. Make a fist and begin curling your right arm toward your chest.

  7. Pay careful attention to how the muscles are engaged when performing this motion.

  8. Slowly keep flexing your right arm as if you were performing a biceps curl.

  9. Place your left hand over your right biceps muscle and feel how it contracts and extends as you perform the movement.

  10. When you remove your left hand from your right biceps, can you still feel the contraction and extension of your right biceps muscles?

  11. Now add a small amount of weight to your right hand and perform a few biceps curls.

  12. Pay close attention to the muscles in your right arm. Even with a small amount of weight, you should feel your forearm and biceps muscles contracting and extending as you perform the movement.

You can perform the same type of exercises as above with any muscle in your body (with slight variation in the movement of course). The objective of exercises of this type is to learn how each muscle in your body contracts and extends when performing movements that involve them. You can now apply this concept to the various movements that you perform during your weight training exercise routine. By doing so, you will be better able to isolate the muscles that are being exercised during each exercise type.

Principles in the Physics of Weight Training

The human body works in several ways when you lift weights. Of primary consideration are the concepts of friction and stress. Each time a joint performs a movement, the bones associated with the joint create a degree of friction between them. The force of the friction assists in the movement that is being performed and actually increases your effective strength to a level that is greater than you really possess.

When you hold any amount of weight in a stationary position, you are actually able to hold 20% more than your maximum lifting weight. The truly amazing part is how friction factors into lowering weight. A recent study revealed that the average person can actually lower 40% more weight than they can lift. You can learn to use the friction created within the joints, coupled with proper technique, to promote even greater weight training results.

When you perform a weight lifting exercise, stress is placed on the acting joint. This stress equates to an almost even distribution of the weight on the competing muscles. However, the entire weight is placed on the acting joint. For this reason, when lifting heavy weights, joint injury is far more common than muscle injury.

Learning to listen to your joints and soft tissue will assist you in determining whether you should continue with your current weight training routine or if you should back off on the intensity, reduce the amount of weight being used, or eliminate an exercise type from your routine. Excess tension and joint discomfort occur frequently in individuals that routinely weight train with heavy amounts of weight.

The Difference Between Pain and Muscle Soreness

muscle soreness

Muscle soreness is normal and should be expected when performing a weight training exercise routine. When you lift weights, you are actually creating tiny rips and tears in your muscle fibers that are then healed and reinforced by your body over time.

To many individuals, it sounds strange to accept the fact that they are actually damaging their muscle tissue when lifting heavy weights.

However, the human body repairs the muscle tissue that was damaged when lifting heavy weights by adding more muscle fibers to the muscle to prevent the tears from occurring again. Through this process, larger muscles of greater mass and strength are created.

An analogy to how additional muscle tissue is created by the human body is observed when an individual cuts their skin. The scar that is produced from the cut is not old flesh, but instead, new skin that has been manufactured by your body to repair the cut and prevent further cuts from occurring in the same location. In theory, if you were to continue to cut your skin in the exact same spot and let it repair before cutting it again, it would eventually become too tough to cut.

The tiny tears that occur in your muscle tissue are responsible for soreness. It was previously believed that the muscle soreness was caused by an excessive buildup of lactic acid in the muscle tissue, though recent studies have shown that lactic acid has nothing to do with muscle soreness. Muscle soreness that occurs a day or two after an aggressive weight training routine is specifically caused by the damage to the muscle fibers themselves. In fact, biopsies performed on muscle tissue the day after an aggressive weight training routine display bleeding and the disruption of the z-band filaments that hold the muscle fibers together as they slide over one another as the cause of muscle soreness.

Scientists can evaluate the extent of the muscle damage by measuring the enzyme levels of CPK in the blood. The enzyme CPK is typically found in muscle tissue and is released into the bloodstream when the tissue is damaged. Hence, individuals that have the highest levels of CPK in their blood tend to have the highest level of muscle soreness. Correlating levels of the amount of CPK in the blood stream to muscle soreness, researchers have proven that individuals that continue to exercise even when their muscles are sore will most likely experience muscle soreness the next day.

This being said, immediate pain is not normal. Typically, muscles do not become sore for some period of time after a workout. If you are performing a weight training exercise incorrectly, pain, your body's natural defense signal, will occur. While muscle soreness occurs gradually and over time, pain is usually sharp and sudden. If you experience pain while lifting weights, stop immediately and perform another type of exercise or lower the amount of weight being lifted. If the pain is severe and persists, discontinue working out and determine if resting the muscles and joints is required, or if a trip to your medical professional is necessary.

Letting Your Body Call In Sick

The human body will not only let you know when it is time to stop performing an activity, but will also provide signals that you should rest for a while longer before resuming an activity as well. In general, the longer you regularly lift weights, the shorter your recovery period becomes. However, if your muscles are still sore from a previous workout, you should not work those specific muscles until the soreness subsides. Think of muscle soreness as your body's way of telling you that it is still busy repairing the tears from your previous workout.

Almost no lean muscle mass is gained when performing your weight lifting exercise routine. According to several clinical studies, approximately 95% of the gains in lean muscle mass occur during the periods when you are asleep. Sleep allows the body to rejuvenate, revitalize and replenish itself while not having to control all of the motions that we perform when conscious. Taking a day off from your regular weight lifting exercise routine, due to muscle soreness, is not only beneficial in that it allows your muscles the time needed to repair, but to promote greater increases in lean muscle mass as well.

Listening to Your Body's Dietary Signals

healthy food choices

Why do some individuals hate almonds while others love them? The answer may be quite simple. Food tastes and preferences develop due to addictions, lifestyle and attitude. In many instances, individuals may have had a bad experience with a particular food (i.e. you got sick after eating a specific food).

As a result, you may find that it is difficult to consume that food for a while, if ever again. A 2002 medical study that explored the connections between individual food tastes and psychological associations revealed that:

  • Sedentary individuals are more likely to enjoy sugary and fatty foods.

  • Illnesses such as food poisoning caused physiological aversion to the specific food in 65% of the cases studied.

  • Several foods that were avoided by individuals appeared to be genetically passed by their parents with food allergies.

In short, the medical study concluded that the typical individual's body will migrate toward foods that it considers safe, and protect itself from foods that it views as potentially harmful. However, through bad habits, an individual can train their body to crave food types that are harmful. The study also inconclusively determined that certain individuals crave specific food types.

An additional study in 2004 revealed that individuals will associate certain foods with the nutrients they contain. During the study, the subjects were asked to name a food that they were craving during a meal time. By taking fluid samples from the test subjects, the study concluded that 7 out of 10 subjects requested a food type that provided nutrients that their bodies were currently lacking.

Whether this specific study was conclusive or not, your body will send a signal to your brain when it is either hungry or full. In summary, when paying close attention to the signals that your body sends regarding food consumption, the importance of portion control, nutritional content, and a healthy mind that recognizes the signals cannot be overstated.

Know, Listen, Understand

listening to your body

Knowing, listening and understanding how your specific body functions, operates, and rejuvenates itself is vitally important and essential for longevity in health, fitness and mental well-being.

Knowing when to push yourself, ease up in intensity, modify your exercise routine, and eliminate exercises that over time will be more likely to cause injury are all important factors when living a lifestyle where physical activities and exercise are performed regularly.

For these reasons, learning to effectively listen to your body and understand what it is trying to tell you is a vital aspect of truly living a healthy and fit life over the long run. As you age, your body will change physically, mentally and nutritionally.

Through this inevitability, you will want to ensure that you listen to those changes and adjust certain aspects of your life to promote a lifestyle that is prosperous, healthy, fit and disease-free.