I had a loved one call me for help today. He hurt himself doing plyometric push-ups in his morning work out. He said that he had done something like 3 sets of 15 reps (of plyo pushups?!?!) and it wasn’t until the last few of the last set when he felt his neck go- “uh-oh”. It was the push-past that caused him injury…pushing past the appropriate level of challenge, load, energy requirement and so on. You get the idea right? We’ve ALL been there.
After we chatted a bit and I gave him a few suggestions to help himself reduce the discomfort, he asked me, “so what do I do tonight at kickboxing and hockey practice”? I literally began to laugh as we had just finished talking about resting before he asked me this question. My answer to his question is outlined below, although I didn’t answer it in as much detail. It inspired me to make a video about the topic of over-doing, of working ourselves to exhaustion chasing a past ideal of ourselves and to look at ‘who’ exactly is running this show. What part of us is awake in this behavior and what parts are we ignoring? It’s a relevant topic as I have these conversations with so many people, and so often. The false ideal that more is better is still ubiquitous in our North American culture. We ALL struggle with it on some level it seems. And so, I wanted to offer my support and experience on the matter. Enjoy the read below and of course, you can watch the video here if you like: https://www.facebook.com/lindsay.knazan/videos/10161426132600612/
I listened as my loved one asked me for things he could do to get out of pain as quickly as possible. He asked for stretches to do. It was clear that he wanted to be able to DO his way out of the pain. My suggestions of course, were more about his ‘being-ness’ versus what he was doing. This was hard for him to hear and I get it. I suggested that he play with small, slow movements, working on areas close to and around the neck to support unwinding it so it could feel safe again and begin to calm down. I suggested that he play with doing less and feeling more as a means for healing. Again, he wasn’t so keen to adopt that line of thinking. Everything in his over-stimulated system was screaming, “NO – I have to keep going!” Again, I get it; I’ve been there.
When we work within an appropriate ‘load-ability’ of our body, or just a little bit past this, we grow stronger. If we are constantly working well beyond our capacity for load; Whether that be in the number of reps, level of resistance or complexity of movement in physical exercise; or, alternatively, in the load of life (i.e.- mental and emotional stress, chaos, illness or trauma), we will consistently wire the patterning for compensations to occur in our bodies, brains and nervous systems. These compensations, although serving us in those moments and maybe for some time down the road, will likely come back to get us in the future via pain, injury, poor coping or recovery mechanisms.
Now I am not saying that working into challenge is bad, in fact, we must challenge ourselves beyond our current capacities if we expect to grow from our current state. I am also not saying that compensation is bad, however, if we have physical pain or mental overwhelm showing up consistently, or worse, we are always hurting or feeling bad, then this is problematic it seems to me. Clearly it is an indication that we aren’t aligned in some way with the life we are meant to be living. Pain (physical or emotional) is simply a sign that we need to do something different. It is an alarm system to let us know that something isn’t quite right, cueing us back IN to our bodies for awareness, check in, and adjustment, so we may realign with ourSelves. Ambition is appropriate and beautiful when it aligns with our current state of being.
Over time, living in a ‘more is better’ world, our nervous system will become constantly vigilant, as the load will continuously tax this system and take away the things that are needed physically and mentally to down regulate. Our body will become tense as a baseline, we won’t be able to unclench, and this wreaks serious havoc from the outside in. I believe this is why my loved one hurt his neck. His baseline was already stressed with his intensely demanding lifestyle, so no surprise that plyo-push ups put him over the edge into pain.
In my past experience living with a vigilant, activated nervous system, it caused a lot of ill effects that I couldn’t acknowledge were related at the time: digestion slowed down (or seemed to stop altogether, eek!), sleep became difficult, sweet/salty food cravings increased as my endocrine system adjusted hormones to try and counter the chronic stress response alive and kicking in me, wrinkles came quicker and my hair started to thin and fall out a lot (not too mention it didn’t grow at all!), and my organs were being squeezed and held so tight by my overall body tension that it was hard to even take a deep breath anymore! The result…I felt like shit most of the time, and then of course, one day I got really sick.
This is all to say, the power of the metaphorical unclench is not to be underestimated. If we don’t consciously practice this engagement with our relaxation response, i.e.- the rest, digest, relax and repose part of ourselves (body and brain), we are headed for a more and more rigid future in all matters of life. One has to think about that and decide who they want to BE, both now and in our golden years. Do you want to be someone who is youthful and supple in appearance, who has grace and strength alongside fitness both mental and physical, someone who can flex and flow with the changes of life and family without limitations? Or, do you want to be someone who gets more and more stuck with every year of hard earned living, someone who grows more rigid in thought, action and mobility every single day? I know you can picture both kinds of people in your mind right? Which person inspires you? What you practice is what becomes permanent, not what becomes perfect. If you practice well, you get well. If you practice in tension and force, you get rigidity and a hard-edged brittleness that builds over time.
And one last thing (while I am standing tall on my soapbox LOL)…Do you enjoy ‘it’ or does your ego enjoy you doing it? (By ‘it’ I mean the push-past workouts, your busy life, the constant striving.) Does it bring you true joy and nourishment to do it that way? If not, then you gotta ask, what the fuck are you doing it for? And if it is for your ego that’s totally cool, just know that your ego is insatiable and immortally unfulfilled, so you will never actually be able to work hard enough to satisfy it. Why not appeal to the True You, the one that actually KNOWS who you are and what you desire and truly need? If you listened to that part of you – how many reps would you do today? How hard would you push? What would be your sense of fulfillment then?
How you feel while you’re moving is a more important skill to hone than how you are doing the movement overall. Learning how to feel and then to actually respect those sensations is a skill that builds sustainable strength, and greater resilience overall. It can also in some cases lead to more intelligent movement patterns which allow for greater opportunities to move without pain or injury and allow you to BE and DO how you most desire.