Lots of nutritional/sports/life advice nowadays contains the phrase ‘listen to your body’. This line implies that this is a magical solution to all your problems. But what if you don’t know what that even means?
Does my body know best?
Wasn’t it a physical craving that lead me to eat shit food? Isn’t my body telling me to remain in my cocoon on the settee instead of going outside? Wouldn’t listening to your body make me really unhealthy?
These are the kind of thoughts that would initially come to mind when I heard the phrase ‘listen to your body’.
However, over time I’ve discovered that this means something completely different. In fact, in very unsexy terms, it means ‘monitor your body’s reaction to different stimuli to determine the most effective strategies to feel good’. That doesn’t sound as catchy though does it?
How to start listening to your body?
Do you remember when you discovered that you were allergic to something? Playing with a neighbour’s cat made you all itchy and your eyes swelled up? Listening to your body is intentionally repeating this process on a much milder scale.
It starts with simple things. You cut out gluten for a week – do you feel better or not? You spread your rest days throughout the week instead of taking them in a row – better or worse? And this continues as you test new things and work out the best way of life for you. I wrote about this here too.
Listening to your body – pain
On the days when you don’t feel like training what makes you decide whether to go or not?
Personally, I need to stop and ask myself one question. Am I physically tired or mentally tired? If it’s the former, I’ll stay, if it’s the latter it means I’m being lazy and should get my ass kicked.
Being mentally tired means that you’ve had a long day and your mind just wants to rest, but your body feels okay. Physically tired means that mentally I’m fine, I might even be eager to go, but my body is in the wrong kind of pain. The one that indicates I might get injured.
How to tell what ‘bad pain’ is?
Think of a taut piece of rope that is slowly breaking in the middle. Small strands of yarn snap on the sides as the core grows thinner. The tension drops before the rope breaks, but the broken strands are still sticking out on the sides.
If your muscles feel like that – don’t train. Any sharp or burning pain is a sign that something’s not quite right. That you’re about to get damaged.
On the other hand, the numb pain that comes with DOMS or that you feel during stretching is perfectly fine.
When I feel the first type – I don’t go to training. I used to ignore it, but after 6 years I got smarter. Over time you’ll learn to recognise exactly what is going on with your body.