Your body is not broken, it’s confused

This is probably going to be the most interesting article you’ll ever read in your life, probably the most beneficial too. Not because I am gorgeous, incredibly handsome and good looking.. but more because of the dots I am about to connect which apply to EVERYTHING.

I have been grabbing as much knowledge from experienced trainers as possible and the common trait that keeps raising it’s ugly head is: at a certain point in their career, athletes end up in constant pain and broken, causing them to drift into inactivity and not pursuing things they would like to because they are purely sick of getting hurt. This is also applicable to people that are just into fitness, especially after years of being sedentary; enthusiasm only gets you so far. If you have no real body awareness, you are going to do things wrong, not intentionally, your body simply doesn’t know any better – and why would it?

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I am seeing this more and more with people that I meet. It doesn’t matter what it is they are doing, they aren’t really doing it. I catch my athletes doing it all the time:

You just did a set of squats there didn’t you… you didn’t squat!” What do you mean by that Tom? Well sexy reader, I mean this – there is a MASSIVE difference between “training” and “practicing”. You can just go through the motions of squatting and hit your weights just to get through that days program/rep scheme, OR you can fucking SQUAT. Use those numbers to practice feeling strong, know that you’re getting better and actually FEEL the adaptation in your body towards that technique. Rarely these days do I finish a full set of things or even stick to what I decided to do, I let my body dictate. If I am three sets into a 5×5 and feel that the weight is too heavy or too light for how I feel that day, I change the weight. It’s simple, that way you don’t either cut yourself short OR injure yourself. Numbers are irrelevant to actual practice.

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Back to the topic, what happens when you start to notice things not feeling right or picking up injuries and pains all the time? You’re starting to install habits. And the really sad truth is – some people have spent so much time in pain that they literally don’t know how to not be in pain. Every time you get hurt you associate that pain to the movement you think caused it and start to breed a fear: a ‘pain memory’ for want of a better phrase. If you don’t address that it stays there, and the longer you don’t retrain it, the stronger that fear becomes.

Imagine if I locked you in a room with no clock for a month and every now and again I came in, opened a bag of crisps and punched you in the stomach. It would be pretty traumatic. Long afterwards I can guarantee you that you would feel incredibly uncomfortable around anyone near you eating crisps and possibly even get a pain in your gut. I made you associate crisps to something bad in a specific area, I trained your body to make you feel uncomfortable around them and give you pain in an effort to protect you and tell you to run i.e. Crisps = Danger.

So where does that tie in to training? Well, imagine you hurt your back deadlifting multiple times. Your body is going to associate the pain to deadlifts, make you fear the exercise, BLAME the exercise and you’ll actively not do it. What if the deadlift wasn’t the problem? Or even your technique wasn’t the problem? What if your hip is just tight on one side and you don’t know? Blaming a symptom rather than a cause.

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Your body changes day to day, that’s why you can meet people that have ‘bouncing pains’ it’s not until you start to explore that you realise how much things are connected. Why do these pains bounce? Because you’re not listening, your body is trying to tell you something isn’t right. If all you do is rest and then go back to what you were doing in the first place, it’ll comes back – maybe somewhere else – because you didn’t listen the first time. This is where compensation starts to happen and THEN real injuries can actually happen.

Addressing your entire body is the key, also finding out what you react to best – and it will change as you get older. If you have a hamstring issue that you feel when bending over to touch your toes, then that can be used as a ‘Test’. Try a stretch and see if it changes the pain, try a deadlift and see if it changes the pain, try a core exercise and see if it changes again or even gets worse.

Below is an example of pain being taken away with 10 hamstring curls. No amount of stretching was going to work for Andrea, her hamstrings did not feel stable or strong, what helped was showing her how they work which in turn made her joints feel ‘safe’, taking away the pain.

Unfortunately, rewriting this habit of pain is quite challenging. Without consistent attention to breaking that feeling it will keep coming back. Starting every single day by getting rid of that pain and making your body more familiar with not being sore is the only way to rid yourself of something like that. The movement that is the issue will ultimately become the key to your recovery. You won’t have to do it forever, you don’t want to start to become reliant on it and start thinking you’re weak without it. Use it just long enough to break the habit. Your body can become confused sometimes and it is up to you to TEACH it, and no one else can do it but you. As a coach I can guide people, but at the end of the day my perception of pain could be completely different to theirs.

Get to know yourself better and there are no limits.