There seems to be a theme in fitness these days regarding intensity. Check out any number of YouTube videos or social media updates and they all seem to be tagged with descriptions of beast mode, strong is the new sexy or something similar.
Add to this the popularity of obstacle course racing where the greater the chance of serious injury the more people talk about it. Now no one seems to bat an eye to hear you’ve done a 10 km race. Unless it involved electrocution, possible hypothermia and challenged you completely in all areas physically.
And for the right person at the right stage of their training this can be a great thing. But there are a lot of conditions attached there. This is not something for the person just getting started in fitness or is not already training regularly with a high level of intensity.
So while you want to push the intensity and challenge yourself make sure you aren’t overdoing it from the get-go or getting strong-armed into signing up for an event you aren’t physically ready for. When you consider the injury rate at a Tough Mudder can be 20% you can quickly appreciate how many people are in over their heads when they step up to the start line. 15,000 at the start line and as many as 3000 injured is not a good statistic. Unless you are a physiotherapist than you may be glad to hear the phone ringing off the hook Monday after an event.
So what are you to do? Play it safe and never enter these events? Or can you be a little smarter with your training and still push yourself, get great results and do some fun races?
Absolutely you can. And the key is listening to your body.
I know this expression can sound trite and over-simplified but here are a few tips to ensure you are on the right track.
1. Ease into your workouts
When you are doing multiple sets think of slowly building up. For example, if I was doing 4 sets of something I might think of giving 70%, 80%, 90% on the first three sets. Then depending on how things are going I can decide how much to push on the last effort.
2. Use a heart rate monitor
If you aren’t measuring what you’re doing you have no way of knowing if you’re improving. Using a heart rate monitor helps you know the highs, lows and average heart rates achieved. You will also know know how long your session lasted, have a clock for rest breaks and get an estimate of calories burned.
3. Pay attention to how a movement feels
Imagine taking a transatlantic flight then stepping under a bar to do some overhead squats. How would that feel? Probably not very good. But after a bit of a stretch and warm-up and a few lighter sets you’ll start to feel things loosen up.
In the same way that movements can start to feel better with more mobility and warm up we also want to pay attention to when our form changes for the worse. If you feel pressure at certain parts of the body we should know to not power through but adapt our training to this feedback. This might mean adjusting the range of motion, the tempo, the load or the reps. Sometimes making these adjustments makes minimal to no difference and we have to call it a day. Better to forgo a step forward with our training at the risk of taking two steps back with an injury.
4. Pay attention to your breathing
One of the easiest things you can do is to be aware of your breathing. And don’t think this is only a quantitative thing in terms of how many breaths you take in a certain period of time but only the quality of your breathing.
Do you breath through nose our mouth? Is your breathing balanced with equal time spent on inhalation as exhalation? Do you breath with your chest (thoracic) or you abdominals (diaphragmatic)? Is the expansion when you inhale three dimensional or anterior? And is the breathing relaxed or laboured?
Since #4 is the easiest to do and you have everything you need to practice already start to track your breathing when you train. It’s easiest to do flat on your back a little harder from a seated or kneeling position and most difficult from a standing position. Perform your workouts with more attention given to your breathing. When you notice your breathing changes to being more laboured, unbalanced and through the chest this is a good time to switch exercises or grab a water break. As your fitness improves you’ll notice you can go longer or more intensely and eventually build up to beast mode.