More specifically, how do you know when your body is not operating at its full potential?
The average athlete (and fellow human beings of all types who do not consider themselves athletes) usually uses pain, swelling, loss of range of motion, decreased strength, or numbness and tingling.
Here’s the conversation with yourself,
“Self, when I run lately, my knee hurts. I wonder what’s wrong with my knee?”
And there it is. The problem of only being concerned with symptoms rather than problems. In fact, there are so many problems with this line of thinking that it is the reason why heart disease, cancer and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability in this country. And everyone continues to proceed as normal.
Because we only care about “after the fact”.
First. Pain and other symptoms of injury are “after the fact” indicators.
Sure, swelling indicates tissue overuse or strain from poor mechanics, but swelling is still an after-the-fact sign. The damage has already occurred. In this case, it’s helpful to have a diagnostic image (MRI of your knee before you went running) before the fact, but not after.
Imagine waiting for your car engine to blow up before getting it checked or if our military soldiers had to wait for their weapons to jam in the middle of a firefight before performing some maintenance.
Yet, generally speaking this is how modern sports medicine operates. We wait until something is broken, sometimes completely damaged, before we expect a physician to fix it. This paradigm keeps orthopedic surgeons very busy.
Now you can certainly anticipate what a doctor would think when you walk into the office with a hole in your kneecap from years of poor movement and tight tissues right? This is where it gets really dumb: That bone in your knee was designed to last 110 years, and you managed to wear it down in 20?
Don’t ever let anyone trick you into thinking your body is not capable of performance.
Your spine is no different. Your spine is designed to last 80 to 110 years with NO DEGENERATION, NO DISC DISEASE or TEARS. Like the power button on your mobile device that’s designed to last for tens of thousands of on-and-off cycles, your body is set up for millions upon millions of movement cycles. Say
WOW! Millions of movement cycles with no break down!!!
But every time you squat, bend over or walk in a compromised position, you burn through those cycles at an accelerated rate. Every time you carry your head forward – you are using up more cycles than necessary. So when you finally achieve a hole in your kneecap, a herniated disc, facet arthrosis or torn tendons, it’s highly likely that you’ve gone through millions of poor movement cycles.
To be blunt: YOUR TISSUES AND JOINTS DIDN’T JUST WEAR OUT; your body put up with your crappy positions and movements for millions of cycles and then decided that enough is enough. You’re spent.
Of course we are all different and some of us are genetically equipped with a few more cycles than others. Everyone trains differently. Everyone works differently. But if you learn how to move the way your body was designed to move, you will put less stress on your system, thereby increasing your potential for a higher quality of life.
Second. Humans are hardwired for survival.
Your central nervous system is the master controller of all flow of sensory and mechanical information for your entire body. It is no accident that the pain and movement pathways in the brain stem (the nerves that wire you for pain and movement) are one and the same. If you bang your finger- do you sit still? Absolutely not.
The reason you instinctively shake your hand back and forth and jump around is because the pain signal or volume goes up along with the movement signal or volume. Additionally, as we move more, the movement signal can drown out the pain signal. Pretty cool huh? It’s why movement is so important for those who hurt. And also why not moving when you hurt yourself is not the best advice.
No wonder your shoulder starts to throb when you lay down at night to go to bed. Your brain is no longer being fed movement signals and so the volume of pain is so loud that you hear it.
This whole system is bitter sweet. Imagine now exercising intensely. You’re at mile 10, or your lifting 425 lbs on a deadlift. When you start to lose position and compromise your tissues – like rounding out your back during the deadlift or letting your feet rotate outwards on your run – you may not feel the damage being done, but it’s there. And when the adrenaline finally wears off, you start to feel it.
It’s also important to note that high levels of stress or “focus” can drown out pain. So when you’re really into that candy crush game with your head forward and crushing your chest that you’re barely able to breathe – you don’t realize the damage you’re causing. When you’re sitting at a computer- getting it done – you’re also damaging your spine tissues. And when you finally get away from it all, you start to feel it.
And it sucks.
Third. Stop focusing on quantity, Start focusing on quality.
In my opinion, the most ignored yet obvious problem with our current thinking on health is that it continues to be based on a model that prioritizes task completion above everything else. How many reps did you do? How much weight did you lift? How many miles did you run? How long did you walk? How many TPS reports did you knock out this morning at work?
We sort of create this “done” or “not done” checklist for ourselves and falsely assume that if we did our deeds for the day we’re good.
• I worked out this morning. Check.
• I did therapy today. Check.
• I saw my chiropractor. Check.
• I went for a walk. Check.
I deadlifted 500 pounds… but I herniated a disc. I finished that marathon… but now I’ve got a hole in my knee.
Now apply this thought process to other aspects of your life:
“Hey, I made you breakfast! But I burned down the house.”
My point here is that simply “getting things done” for the sake of checking it off your list does not work. You can go the gym for 20 years and still be unfit. You need to take an “active” role in your daily activities and really assess to what extent you’re participating in them.
How did you workout today?
How did you walk today?
How did you lift today?
How did you sit at your desk today?
What I’m saying is that we all too often go about our business for decades, spending our genetic inheritance of power cycles, getting it all done, until one day it’s game over. You can lift weight like a dummy and sit in a chair horribly slouched or staring at your phone making fun of Miley Cyrus all day – until one day you can’t.
So how do you know if you have a body that sucks?
You need a set of indicators – body sensors or gauges – observable, measurable, repeatable tools that let you predict potential problems before they manifest. And over the course of the rest of your life you will continue to monitor these sensors and body gauges to keep yourself in check.
It’s called training. And not the kind of training you do for a marathon or CrossFit games.
Daily training for life can look like this:
- Get your chiropractic adjustments, not because you hurt, but because you want to see where your spine restrictions are daily if not weekly.
- Stretch this morning, not because you are tight, but because you want to identify tight muscles that you are unaware of daily if not weekly.
- Lift weights or do body based workouts, not because you want to get stronger, but to identify unstable joints or body mechanics (and then teach yourself how to correct them) daily if not weekly.
- Foam roll tonight, not because you have pain, but because you know that your body has hot spots and you need to seek and destroy them daily if not weekly.
- Go for a run, not because you know you have to work out, but because you want to assess endurance and circulation.
It’s called Life training. Because whether you like it or not, you are currently participating in the sport of life. And if you’re on my team, I expect you to be practicing and performing every single day. Every day you should be optimizing your body in how you eat, how you move and how you think to perform better. Every
Training allows for us to determine where we suck. It gives us feedback and becomes a self-management tool for the things that we need to work on before they turn into catastrophes. Don’t get benched. Start paying attention to yourself. Become aware of the tiny movements that you’re doing wrong and correct them.
Learn how to correct malposition’s and train on them daily; not just when you have a symptom.
Be strong. Be mindful. Be Healthy. Be all of these things- every day.