Monday, May 21, 2012

No pain, no gain?

As a personal trainer for almost twenty years, I have gotten the chance to coach some amazing athletes.  A question that often comes up is "How hard should I be pushing?"  Most athletes have the mantra of "no pain, no gain" or "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger".  I, on the other hand, don't buy into this way of thinking.  I am a firm believer that if you are in true "pain", you should stop what you are doing.

Arrowhead 135.  This would be a great example of
both mental and possible physical pain
When meeting with athletes for the first few sessions, I will talk to them about the difference between discomfort and pain.  Everyone has a different line between the two and it's important to know what your line is.  For some, working out in high temperatures and humidity may seem "painful", for others, riding for 24 hours straight touches on pain.  Either way, finding that mind/body connection is one of the most important tools to have.  What is perceived and what is actually happening takes quite a bit of training to distinguish.  Also, accepting the fact that we are all organic and our body and mind change daily needs to be addressed.

A trick I was taught early on in my personal training is to take a resting pulse for three days straight, first thing in the morning, for an entire minute.  Average these out and any morning your resting pulse is ten beats higher than that number means a recovery day.  The three day reading should be repeated a few times throughout the season since it will most likely drop with higher fitness levels.  Your heart rate is the best tool to see if you are sick, over trained or in pain.  Of course if you are mentally stressed the number can also be affected, however, if you cannot calm your stress level down enough to lower the heart rate, you are damaging your body.

The other tool I use besides heart rate is breathing rate and depth.  Heart rate and breathing rate go hand in hand.  Some people just prefer paying closer attention to one versus the other.  When climbing a steep hill or sprinting, your breathing rate and heart rate will naturally increase into the anaerobic zone.  The trick is to get it down as quickly as possible to enter into a recovery.  Learning how to breath deeply (not just chest breathing) and evenly is very important in becoming a stronger endurance athlete.  It also "calms" the body by tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system--telling the body that everything is okay--no need to stress out.  By using these two techniques, you can quickly figure out if you are in actual pain instead of fatigue.

nearing the end of a 9 day tour--more disomfort was felt
on the trails than the hilly roads
There are times, for some more than others, that you just feel like pushing through the workout or race no matter what.  There are also times, like on a bike tour,  when you don't have much of an option but to push through.  I tell my clients that it's just important to know the consequences.  While you're in the heat of the moment, adrenaline is often times surging through the body to make you feel invincible.  While tuning the bodies signals out may make you feel stronger, the signals are there, none the less, for a reason.  You may not get injured the first or second time around, but one day it will happen.  The question I ask people is "What is the cost?" or "Is it really worth it?".

Once you've discovered the difference in discomfort versus pain and you're okay with working out in the state of discomfort once in awhile, it can be a great training tool--making the mind and body stronger.  Wind is usually the kicker for me.  I'm fine riding in extreme temperatures for long periods and enjoy going anaerobic (what I call "cleaning out the pipes").  What I tend to shy away from is riding into a headwind or cross wind.  Living in Southern Wisconsin I don't have much choice.  If I stayed off the bike on windy days, I would rarely ride.  I would in turn become "soft".  I've taught myself that I will survive the ride and I tell myself that I don't have to push hard or go fast--I just have to get out there.  This works about 90% of the time.  The other 10% I choose to hike or run.  After all, isn't moving the most important thing?  I have also sustained plenty of injuries over the years that have kept me off the bike.  Once again, I am forced to change my way of thinking and find something that I can do and know that in time, I'll be back on two wheels.  Injuries and illness are never easy to deal with.  I just encourage you to really tune into what your body is trying to tell you and respect it.

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