Being Unstoppable Means Stopping to Listen

There’s a variety of fitness-minded people who are so passionate about their goals, their activity of choice, that they won’t let anything stand in their way. They are single-minded about gaining the muscle, losing the weight, looking good in a swim suit, setting a new personal record.

Other members of this fitness-minded group just don’t like to admit the truth. They keep on trucking along with their chosen activity even when their body says “no.” They keep on going, even when their body says “hell no.”

Being unstoppable is a top-notch quality. If you push yourself to reach a goal and believe you’ll reach a goal, you are much more likely to be successful. Having passion about fitness will most likely provide you with a healthy, long life… unless you get injured or bump into overtraining – then your path isn’t quite so linear.

I’m one of those unstoppable people. I love weight lifting and hate slowing down. But lately I’ve had an unexplainable, off-and-on fatigue that can last all day, and certain muscles feel very tired. There’s also a touch of – ahem- irritability on those days (who me?).

I had a variety of tests done awhile back and know that I am ridiculously healthy. So I took a deep breath and started looking hard at my workouts.

Reasons to Evaluate… or STOP

There are signals that should stop you, or at least make you pause so you can evaluate. The consequences of ignoring symptoms of workouts gone bad are worse than bad workouts, including having to stop what you love and putting aside pursuing your goals indefinitely. Being unstoppable means recognizing when it’s time to slow down. Always be on the lookout for the following signals.

Pain

It’s a fact: Many unstoppable fitness-minded people continue to exercise despite having pain. Shoulder pain is a common example. You try to work through it – it’ll get better, right? So you do some stretches, maybe lighten up the weights a little. You do anything but actually visit a doctor and get an x-ray.

Unfortunately, continuing chest presses, shoulder presses, pushups, or any other exercise that hurts is simply setting yourself up for failure. If you have pain during an exercise, STOP. Your body is telling you something important – joints are not aligned properly, muscles are not firing correctly, inflammation is happening – and it’s not going to be fixed by continuing. If you have ongoing (or acute) shoulder, knee, or ankle pain, visit to your doctor before the pain becomes surgery down the road. Also check out the things you can do to be proactive about preventing shoulder pain.

Overtraining

If you lift heavy all the time, you can experience symptoms of overtraining. You can also overdo it if you lift too frequently or have overly long workout sessions (90 minutes plus).

If you have any of these symptoms, you may be overtraining:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Irritability, depression, lack of enthusiasm
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle soreness or joint pain
  • Injuries
  • Frequent colds, infections, etc.

There are other symptoms of overtraining that apply to specific sports, but the list above could result from any overtraining in any activity.

Plateau

I’m adding this category as an afterthought but it’s an excellent reason to lighten up, take a week off, or change things up. If you’re not seeing progress within six to eight weeks, you need to reevaluate.  Progress can be measured by getting stronger, getting bigger, having more stability, etc.

What’s the Solution?

I may be unstoppable, but I can slow down. Weight lifting should ideally be done using periodization, or a cycling schedule. This means the intensities should be varied week to week, not lifting heavy all the time (as I’ve been known to do).  Instead of lifting at 85% intensity week after week, I’m going to lift at 65% intensity some weeks. This will give my body a chance to recover while also promoting more growth by letting it adapt to different intensities (thereby avoiding a plateau). Focusing on balance and stability can also give your body a chance to recover. And of course, if I feel especially tired, I can always skip a workout or two. It won’t stop the world.

Also, simply the way you arrange your workout week can provide adequate rest.

Remember the price of ignoring symptoms: Not being able to do what you love and not meeting your goals. It’s not just your performance or your goals that could suffer… you could be out of commission for weeks or months due to an injury.

Simply paying attention to unusual symptoms can save you a world of trouble. Listen to your body. And respect it.

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Comments

  1. Sable@SquatLikeALady says:

    Great post!!! I think one of the other techniques that can be under-utilized is just plain taking time off. It sucks and feels like you’re not doing anything but being a lump on a log…BUT a week or two off from lifting entirely always helps you come back stronger!!

  2. Great article I train a lot even do two a days a lot so I take week off when I train hard for two months straight or when my body needs it.
    Ndem recently posted..bigtymer32: @RUaFitAddict keep working hardMy Profile

  3. It amazes me how many bloggers complain about pain but run through it. I want to shout “STOP HURTING YOURSELF!”

    I ran through a lot of pains. It wasn’t until I injured my IT Band that I realized I was truly INJURED and had to stop. The pain was different. It wasn’t just an ache or “ouch that needs to be worked out with a warm up” — it was PAIN.
    Lisa recently posted..A Good StartMy Profile

  4. I hear you on this. Because I didn’t stop to listen to my body, I’m now on Week 8 out of 6-12 that I had to take off from running due to a stress fracture. I learned my lesson! I also learned to listen to my body when it’s trying to tell me something. I knew I was in pain but I kept pushing and did further damage. I’ve been using this time to be smart and work on other types of training, like weight lifting, which I love too. I’m also smarter about that now and take days off when I need.

  5. Awesome article! The last time I took a week off, I came back stronger and lifting heavier than ever. Whenever I’m feeling fatigued, I skip a few workouts and recover. Don’t force change. Coax it.

  6. I feel so guilty if I miss a workout. I feel like I’ve hit a plateu. I’m underweight and feeling skinnyfat and want to put on more lean muscle but am so afraid adding more carbs or fat will make me look even more skinnyfat. HELP!!! I get plenty of protein. My macros are 40/30/30 and I lift heavy 4 days and 1 day TRX

  7. SUCH great advice! Sharing this.
    Kerri O recently posted..It Begins…My Profile

  8. Hi there CrAzY gal!

    OK, OK…I am REALLY guilty of pushing myself through pain when I should be resting (a certain shoulder injury a few months back comes to mind). 🙂 It kept me from doing things like lat raises and shoulder presses for over a month. I went to the docs and she said “You need to give it a rest fitness freak.” OK, I added the “fitness freak” part, but the rest is a 100% true…I swear by my tattoo!

    Of course listening to the doctor and resting after ignoring everybody else is what ultimately led to my recovery. Now I’m back, pain free, and getting stronger than ever. Grrr!

    I agree with Brad 100% – some of the biggest gains come from periods of rest, rebuilding, and recovery.

    Working out is one of the best ways to be a friend to your body. The more you train, the more you’ll be able to listen to it and actually hear what your friend is saying.

    Hope you all are rockin it!

    – Lean Muscle Matt
    Matt recently posted..Best Supplements for Building MuscleMy Profile

  9. What a great reminder that slowing down, or taking a break is just as “good” for us as getting to the gym and working up a great sweat!
    amina recently posted..Freddy Got FingeredMy Profile

  10. So true! There are people who are chronically injured because they don’t know when to stop. In the case of runners there are people who are obsessed with weekly mileage, and I’ve been around the weightroom enough to see people obsessed with lifting as heavy as they can for as long as they can. You know the people that put their ENTIRE back into doing arm curls. I hope this post will help people realize that there’s NO shame in stopping, resting and healing. That’s how we get stronger! Great post!!!!!!
    Christian recently posted..My Tipping Point.My Profile

  11. Man o man…I really needed this article months ago. My shoulder doesn’t hurt THAT bad, just a little twinge. Well..I am just chock full of regret now.

    You are so right.
    ragemichelle recently posted..Vacation: Day WhateverMy Profile

    • @Sable– You know, I thought taking time off would be harder than just lifting lighter. But now I’m not sure… lifting lighter takes MUCH restraint and feels a little futile. But I’m getting there… it still felt challenging tonight but in in a different way.

      @Ndem– Great you take off a week after hard training. It doesn’t affect your strength or mass gains, only gives your muscles a chance to recover and you come back stronger.

      @Lisa– That’s a tough lesson girl. So many runners experience the IT band injury, shin splits, and other problems. Running is tough on your body – not listening has pretty serious consequences. Glad you’re back from that one.

      @Cherie– I’m SO sorry to hear about your stress fracture. That is indeed listed in my NASM book as one of the common injuries of overtraining. It’s probably so easy to think it’s just a pull or temporary thing. I’m thinking runners need more resources to tell them about warning signs.

      @Brad– Excellent advice. I like the coax it approach and it truly pays off. Kudos for being able to take time off! You look like a rock star!

      @Amy– I will email you girl. We’ve talked before… I’ll check in with you. There’s hope!

      @Kerri– Thanks chica!

      @Matt– Love your story and glad you FINALLY listened Lol! That is just so common though… What’s in our heads? 🙂 I know of people grimacing in pain as they’re exercising and that just ain’t right. Thanks for your great perspective.

      @Amina– Hard to remember but I think we ALL need to be reminded 😉

      @Christian– Chronically injured is not a good thing. And you’re right, everyone from runners to lifters are overdoing it. It makes me cringe when I hear someone say they’re in pain while exercising. You simply cannot tell people to stop – they have to figure it out themselves.

      @Michelle– Aw, girlie girl, don’t regret. You learned. So many people do it. You just didn’t know. Hang in, you’re a fighter!

  12. I’m one those that really likes to push myself all the time too. But I have learned the importance of listening to my body and knowing when I really need to take it easy and let my body recover. Even though I do find it hard sometimes to go easier or rest altogether, I do notice how much stronger and better I feel after a day or two and how much harder I can push it in my next workout.

  13. Ha ha!! My duck is famous!
    ragemichelle recently posted..Vacation: Day WhateverMy Profile

    • @Jeannie– I am loving the testimonials to taking a break. If I ever feel I can’t slow down or miss a workout, I’m rereading yours and the others’ comments!
      @Michelle — Baby, you already are!

  14. Suzanne, thanks for this very valuable post. While we get so much encouragement to get up and go all of the time, it is smart to listen when your body says stop. I learned that lesson the hard way in my late 20’s and mid 30’s, suffering sprained ankles galore and burning out my knees. Now I try to honor the “stop” request and recognize it will let me come back stronger next time! 🙂
    Shira recently posted..Is vanity sizing hurting your health?My Profile

  15. “I may be unstoppable, but I can slow down.”

    LOVE that line. So much truth there. Great post, girl!
    Rach recently posted..You probably think we are crazy, but…My Profile

  16. Another great one Suzanne!

    For long time I lived by the creed; “There’s no such thing as over training, just under eating and under sleeping.” That value worked well for me as a young adult — even into my 40’s.

    But the body speaks with great clarity, and if you’re not listening, you won’t hear it. I listen more closely these days, and the feedback seems reasonable…. and the results of listening have been useful 🙂
    Emergefit recently posted..Day After Day, I Keep Waking Up….My Profile

  17. I’m happy to say that this is NOT a problem for me. Rather I’m more of a quitter… Yep – it’s true. The ONLY exception is my TRYING to wog. It’s uncomfortable – I don’t stay in the discomfort for any period of time, but I keep plugging along because in my mind, I SHOULD be able to jog for 10 minutes.
    Sigh –
    But other than that – I TOTALLY listen 🙂
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..Empty Nest Benefits | What to Do With the Room?My Profile

  18. Oh, the horror of having to slow down, especially when you injure yourself. My wife did the shoulder thing. For a year her shoulder hurt, but just kept on pushing. Then one day the pain was just too much. she went to an orthopedic specialist, and it was determined that she had a bone spur in her shoulder. They went in to do minor surgery. Once in, they found that the ligament connecting the bicep to the shoulder was detaching. That was last September. She’s just almost got full mobility, and has been cleared for “light” lifting. Bottom line, if you’re hurt, at least let it heal, if not seeking medical care ASAP.

  19. i’m in that boat. My head was so far down I could not see what was happening. Time to stop, listen, and learn. right?
    Great post!
    lindsay recently posted..A is for…..My Profile

  20. Great view points Suzanne!
    Sheri @ TheMotivationalGirl recently posted..Obsessive Compulsive BehaviorMy Profile

    • @Shira- It’s so interesting about sprained ankles. I’ve learned that once you sprain your ankle, the neuromuscular connection is impaired in a way that’s pretty significant until you can really strengthen it again. Glad you’re in a better place today and not spraining it any more.
      @Rach- Maybe a line that I even need to chant to myself once in awhile 🙂
      @Roy- I can imagine you do listen well nowadays. And unfortunately, if we don’t listen it MAKES us hear. And not in a good way.
      @Kris- You are not a quitter. Quit saying that :). You’ve become a very good listener too which will serve you SO well girl.
      @Todd- Dang Todd, I hate that your wife has had to suffer like that. And you say it well: the horror of having to slow down. But look at the alternative.
      @Lindsay- Aw Lindsay I have been so bad I’m out of the loop. I’m going back to your blog to see what’s up… I’m sure you’re on the mend!
      @Sheri- Thanks doll!

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