Listen to your body but don’t listen to your body. This is the paradox every one of us who strives to discover our potential as an athlete must live.
In the last month, despite the fact that I actually enjoy swimming the majority of the time, I had to spend a lot less time in the pool due to a sore shoulder, it was the kind of pain that was saying something is wrong here versus just “feeling it” due to the usual muscle aches or soreness from training fatigue. After making time for some physical therapy I have been back on track, fingers crossed for a little while longer! Being sidelined, even temporarily, from my normal training routine got me thinking about the fact that no matter what your sport or your goals, if you are trying to go faster, stronger, higher, or longer than your previous best, consider that you have to be smart enough to deal with the many parts of the athletic life that are paradoxical….
1. The Physical Paradox: You need to learn and know the difference between when to push through your training and when to back off if you may be edging dangerously close to injury or illness. You need to be open to pushing your limits so you’ll improve, but also how to pace your overall progression over the long-term to avoid over training or injury. There are times when you need every ounce of focus and mental detemination to overpower your body’s screams to slow down and stop like during full out interval training or a race, and other times when you can just let your body decide on and set the pace such as recovery workout or a long, easy distance training!
2. The Recovery Paradox: You need to know how to eat well enough so your muscles can recover and rebuild after training. If you are a cookie monster like me it takes the ongoing goal to practice awareness of the difference between my muscles’ need for increased calories and my body’s craving for unnecessary fat, sugar, and salt – everything in moderation is my motto! It is also being able to read your body well enough to know it is okay to push it close to its limits for training volume, but also being disciplined enough to throw an occasional training day out in order to avoid injury or sickness and recover properly!
3. The Mental Paradox: You need to know the difference between temporary (normal!) slumps in motivation and feelings of burnout. Sometimes you just need to kick yourself out the door and get going and other times you need to be aware that you need a serious break with activities that are restorative mentally and physically,things you find relaxing and fun! And ultimately perhaps the toughest point for some athletes – being aware enough to recognize when the competitive fire has burnt out and it is time to move on to something else in life and/or change direction in some way!
4. And of course I can add The Parenting Paradox: Listen to your kids but don’t listen to your kids: give them unconditional love, listen to their needs etc but don’t give into every demand and want for candy, toys, or every outburst for attention!
Of course, navigating all of the above apparent contradictions takes plenty of trial and error, patience, and self-awareness but the better you become at perfecting the balance, the more fun you’ll have discovering your potential while staying healthy!!