Listening to Your Body

January 22, 2018

Erick Mojica – B.S Kinesiology

Something that I take a tremendous amount of pride and effort in is my constant communication with my body. Regardless if you are a beginner or experienced lifter, your training provides an incredible stimulus when you exercise. But listening to your body is not limited to just training but also applies to your diet, sleep quality, and truly your everyday activity.

So how do our bodies communicate? It comes down to 2 simple things: your brain and the nervous system. Think of your brain like the hardware on a computer. It processes a tremendous amount of information and provides feedback for what is going on. It also holds a variety of programs that both send out and receive information via the neuropathways (the nerves).afferent vs efferent

A great example is what happens when you put your finger on a hot stove. When your finger touches the surface of the stove, it sends a signal to your brain that it is hot and harming your skin (afferent pathway). Immediately your brain processes what is happening and sends a signal to the muscles (efferent pathway) to take your finger off of the hot surface. Simple right?

While our body has an ideal structure, as we age we develop a variety of movement patterns that influence some abnormalities in our muscles, joints, bones, and so on. People who exercise frequently are typically able to listen to their bodies better simply because they are used to the feeling of forces and tension to certain parts of their body. If you lift weights frequently, in some way you understand basic principles like the difference between muscle soreness and pain. As a trainer I am for the most part against the phrase “No pain no gain.” Why? Because pain is the brain telling you that something in your body is being harmed. This doesn’t mean that you need to stop your set because your bicep “hurts” when doing a bicep curl, but if you can distinguish the difference between working the muscle and tearing it up the stress can provide a great deal of muscle strength and growth.

Pain is difficult to describe simply because every individual has their own degree of tolerance. Kobe Bryant’s longtime physical therapist Judy Seto was once interviewed with Sports Illustrated and talked about how the typical pain scale of 1-10 was irrelevant for him. A human being who tore his Achilles tendon and walked across the court to shoot his free throws perfectly proves her point simply because the average person experiencing such excruciating pain would describe it as a 10/10 pain and not be able to stand.Kobe Bryant Torn Achilles 

When we exercise the “pain” that we feel on our muscles and joints is vital to our learning of our body because we learn to distinguish when we are truly damaging it. On the contrary of frequent exercise we also get body dysfunctions from our daily activities, even without the stimulus of training. Sitting for long periods of time can be just as detrimental to the body as the stress of weightlifting. Let me explain.

sitting pain

If you sit at a desk and work on a computer all day, it is likely that you don’t sit up straight for your entire 9-5. Naturally our back and neck is rounded forward either because we are writing, typing, or simply just tired. In most cases with such daily activity it becomes a normal posture for the spine. With that one can experience neck, shoulder, upper and lower back pain, and the list can continue.

So now that we’ve laid out the physical activity aspect (or lack thereof), another important part is the quality of our sleep. Everyone knows what it’s like to be tired from a lack of sleep… EVERYONE. bartBut our approach to sleep is something that can be easily neglected. Sleep is as equally important to your training because it is what ultimately determines your recovery on a daily basis. Common sense right? Well the general thoughts behind a good night’s sleep should not be limited to just the amount of hours. From personal experience I have noticed the differences on my body when I go to sleep earlier, even if I end up sleeping less than the recommended 7-8 hours. Why is this? I think that it’s because I get into a deeper sleep to where I am in a REM stage for an efficient period of time. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is when our dreams are more vivid with a series ofREM-Sleep-cycle multiple happenings with brain activity. During this stage our brain consumes more oxygen and between non-REM cycles puts our muscles in an inhibitory state, meaning that the muscles relax with minimal tone. I would need actual brain activity readings to truly understand what my body is experiencing while I sleep, but I can tell with how rested my mind and body feels, a reward when I achieve my ideal quality of sleep. If it makes me feel better, then why not make it a healthy habit!

In other regards to sleep, our positioning plays a huge role on how we can recover from injuries and muscle dysfunctions. Do you ever wake up and have a sore neck or shoulder? While it may be difficult to know what position we’re in while we sleep, the best information that we can take is how we go to sleep and how we wake up. Whether you like to lay flat, on your side, stomach, fetal position, and whatever weird angles you enjoy I think that it can be beneficial to experiment to see how your body responds the next day. sleep positionsI have a history of lower back and hip pain and I have realized that when I lay on my right side I end up with more soreness. Even though it allows me to relax and fall asleep, I feel like the sinking within the mattress compresses the joints on my right side. That is so far my basis for the quality of my sleep because I listen to my body! Despite the limited scientific approach to my conclusion, I think that the subjective evidence is enough to figure out what helps my body recover overnight. So consider keeping some mental notes on how you are approaching your sleep on a daily basis. Along with some professional diagnosis of your injuries or nagging discomforts, you can improve the quality of your sleep to move and feel better for your everyday activities.

And last but not least, nutrition! I think that everyone has a basic understanding for what food items and supplements make us feel better or worse. Whether if it is food allergies, hydration, or digestive issues, I think that it is very important to both understand and have the discipline to put the right things into our body. I like to think of the body as a car. You most certainly need gas to keep the engine running (food), but you also need a variety of fluids and other maintenances to keep it in good condition. Your body’s energy relies on how well you maintain your car. For me I need to have a relatively high amount of calories and proper hydration in order to have a good lift. When I neglect eating the right foods and having a proper balance of water and sodium levels in my body, I have “bad workouts” to where my strength and endurance is not where I know it should be. If I eat greasy foods and a high amount of sugar, I know that my body is going to feel sluggish and it ruins my day. It is inevitable even as a trainer who takes a lot of pride in taking care of my body. If you have a habit of eating foods that make you feel bad then you aren’t listening to your body well enough!

When it comes to eating junk and fast food, I understand that there is a convenience and comfort factor. Whether if it is time management, financial limitations, or laziness, there are always ways to make better decisions. If you struggle to eat healthy, start off by finding foods that you can both enjoy and make you feel good. Whether if it’s making shakes, meal prepping, or healthy snacks, consider what your environment is like. Think about what you do before going to the grocery store. If you go hungry, there is often a psychological aspect that junk foods are more appealing when walking down the aisles. If you have a bag of chips or sweets in your pantry, think about where you place them. When we look for food our eyes tend to attract towards the first items that we see. Consider putting such items in the back and putting your granola bars and fruits in the more accessible regions of your kitchen. You don’t have to get into crash diets to change your eating habits because if you decide to all of a sudden throw away the bad foods that you like, eventually your will power will cave and will likely go back to your old eating ways.

Regardless of your approach to a healthier lifestyle, it starts with body communication. We make hundreds of subconscious decisions on a daily basis and it plays a huge role on how we feel. If you exercise frequently it is probably an easier task to make changes to your routines because you recognize the value of feeling better a bit differently. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, deciding to start working out is only a portion of the solution. As a Personal Trainer I strongly believe in exercise to improve your fitness but there is more to it. Eating better and improving your body’s recovery can alone make a huge difference. If you need help to get things started surround yourself with an environment that promotes a healthier lifestyle. Talk to friends, family, health professionals, but most importantly to yourself! If you are constantly feeling tired and lacking energy consider what your body is telling you because after all, it is saying HELP ME!!!

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