This is one of those phrases you hear a hundred times but don’t understand until, one day, you finally learn to listen. This is a picture of myself that I’m not proud of. I’m sharing it because I’m learning, all the time, how to be a better athlete and how to tend to my body. I’m sharing it so it may serve as a learning opportunity. My body isn’t just some body in a text book, a diagram of muscle and bone structure. My body is a specific form with its own history of injury, growth, strength and weakness. My body is a combination of what I was given, through luck, life and genetics and what I put into it both, good and bad. Some things I can’t change, no matter how hard I try.
My spine will always curve 13 degrees toward the front and left side of my body. I will probably need to take asthma medication for the rest of my life. These things I live with. They are there no matter what. But my body is also the result of three years of Crossfit training and clean eating. I won’t say that I’m always happy with it. I get frustrated when my back can’t bear a load that I think it should. But I’ve found a balance, between what I’ve been given and the work I want to put in.
My body speaks to me in a hundred ways. It tells me when I need more water, less stress, more sleep, to deload or try for a heavy single. It also tells me when something isn’t working well, usually in a very quiet voice, a whisper. In this picture I didn’t listen to that whisper. I made the mistake, as many of people do, of equating intensity with injury.
My hands are torn from the Open, which is okay. The Open is a place to go hard. But the truth is that was a week ago and my hands aren’t healed in the picture because I didn’t let them. I tried to lift and do pull-ups and kept reopening the scars. My body was saying ‘take this week to go for some longer runs, do yoga, go for a hike’. I didn’t listen. And because I didn’t I trained poorly, at low intensity for a week, ruining the amazing Crossfit formula.
I have an ice bag on my shin because I bit it doing 30 inch box jumps. My quads were locked up by I tried the jump anyway, failed and smashed into the box. I remember the moment at the bottom thinking, my legs are dead, and then making the decision to jump anyway. I destroyed my shins and had four more jumps to complete my workout. My legs were throbbing and the pain was so bad I thought I might throw up. Instead, I finished those reps, putting more stress on the damaged tissue, swelling the bruises into baseball sized welts. I have scars now, on both legs from that day. I made the mistake of feeling like I was in a competition when it was just a Sunday afternoon and that mistake caused me to be less competitive for a month.
The injury kept me from training for a ½ marathon because any impact on my shins was painful and it made me pick my way, gingerly, through workouts for the next four weeks. Was it worth it? NO. Should I have listened when my legs said they were done? YES. Should I have stopped after I hurt myself. YES. Not only did I ignore my body when it was whispering I also didn’t listen when it was screaming.
It takes humility to step back and say you are done for the day. Listening to your body doesn’t make you a quitter, it doesn’t make you weak. It makes you an athlete. It makes you someone who understand when it’s time to go hard and when it’s time to train. Training is gradual, it takes commitment and forethought. It takes planning, meal prep, scheduling and it takes the grace to back off.
Another way I’ve failed to listen to my body is when it needs a rest day. Muscles need time to grow. This is another phrase we hear a hundred times but don’t listen to. Rest days are necessary to achieving your training goals, whether they are to lose weight, be competitive, or run a race. I confess to feeling guilty on rest days, like I was slacking. Even though your body is being quiet on rest days it is doing hard work. Its not as easy to see that work, it’s not a huge deadlift bar resting on the floor, or a sweat angel, or a yellow ribbon on Wodify but your body is repairing, building, getting prepped so that when you come to the gym you can work with intensity.
There are so many skills to learn in Crossfit but one of the most overlooked ones is listening to the body. Making good choices in your training will make you stronger. That’s a fact. Sometimes those choices seem like the easier ones, taking a rest day, putting down the bar, choosing to scale to ring dips instead of pull ups so your torn hands can heal. But the truth is those are tough decisions. Those are the choices that will elevate your game and improve your body. I don’t think anyone would wish for a fit looking body that hurt constantly and was unable to move. Crossfit is functional fitness remember? Functional means that you are able to do motions comfortably, not just Crossfit but life, walking, cooking, living happily in your body.
I invite all of you to listen to your body this week. Maybe it means doing a long, low intensity row instead of a WOD. Maybe it means putting down a weight in a workout when something doesn’t seem right. Or asking a coach for a movement that feels more comfortable on a bad joint. We can see when you’re moving poorly but no one knows your body better than you do. It’s always better to listen to a whisper then to a scream. Screams mean injuries, they mean days, maybe weeks out of the gym. If you’ve ever been injured you understand what a blessing good health is and maybe, like me, you regret not listening to your body sooner. Whispers keep you on track, they keep you healthy and efficient. Don’t be ashamed of them. Your body knows more than you think it does.
Do you have a story about a time when you didn’t listen to your body when it was whispering? Share it in the comments on Facebook or find me in the gym. I’d love to hear how you’ve learned to listen.
When Megan isn’t at the gym she deep in a book for her Masters in Creative Writing. Most of her afternoons at Swamp Rabbit Crossfit are filled with Fundamentals sessions, coaching classes and training for the unknowable. She has a Crossfit Level 1 Certificate and loves supporting, cheering on and helping people achieve their wellness goals. She is available for personal training and describes her coaching style as making Crossfit fun and accessible to everyone.