For as long as I can remember I was the weak, skinny kid. I could run fast and lift a decent amount of weight, but I was also the kid on my sprint team who was always getting injured and falling sick. I’ve had more muscle pulls than I can count and was on first name basis with every physiotherapist at our training centre.
I felt like I was taking 10 steps back for every 5 I took forward. Like I was continually hitting roadblocks to my progress.
I knew that I needed to do something to change this, and tried a bunch of different approaches (including making changes to my warm up, adding Tai Chi to my program, and fixing my posture) but nothing seemed to work.
Fast forward a few years and I was lucky enough to start a new job that brought me in contact with strength and conditioning experts who knew their shit (a rare commodity in the industry, unfortunately).
Slowly I started to learn about mistakes I’d made in the past with my training and how to build a better, safer approach to training and fitness.
So what did I do?
- I put strength training first
As fitness enthusiasts, we aspire to different goals – some of us want to run marathons, others want to play a sport, do ballet, or whatever else.
But we can’t do any of that if we don’t get strong first. What do I mean here by “strong”? I mean as strong as we need our bodies to be for our specific goals.
I, for example, took some time off sprinting and worked on getting my legs and core stronger so my joints (knee and spine in particular) could handle the intense load of sprinting.
Once I felt I was making progress and getting stronger, I gradually got back to the track and increased the intensity of my sprint sessions.
I’m now aiming to clock a new 100m timing 🙂
- I woke up sleepy muscles
Our sedentary lifestyles today cause certain muscles in our body to become weak and inactive. This in turn makes other muscles take more load as a compensation for this. A typical imbalance that occurs is our glutes (read : butt) tend to get weak when we sit a lot. And when we work out with glutes that fire only at 50% capacity, other muscles jump in to take whatever load is being put on our system. Our hamstrings and lower back are common culprits here.
Learning to get my ‘sleepy muscles’ stronger (glutes, abs, lats) went a long way in making me a stronger unit overall and fixing muscle imbalances in my body.
- I learnt to breathe!
Did you know that most of us have forgotten the right way to breathe? Yes, that means you.
We’ve fallen into the habit of “shallow breathing”. And that really, really sucks.
Learning to breathe with my diaphragm (i.e. the ‘right’ way to breathe) was a crucial step in my journey. It takes a little bit of practice, but you should learn it too. Check out this cool video by Arvind Ashok (Co-founder and Head Coach at The Quad).
Spoiler alert : his adorable Beagle makes a cameo appearance.
- I stopped telling myself I was weak
….and somewhere down the line my body started to believe this too.
I used to be highly critical of myself; was never satisfied with my performance and would get angry with myself for every injury or sickness. Which put more stress on my body, in an already stressed out state!
Slowly I changed my narrative – I learnt to not be so hard on myself, to celebrate small milestones and appreciate all that my body could do.
- I cleaned up my nutrition
I actually didn’t need any massive changes here. Veggies were a big part of our household diet (thank you Ma!) and while I liked chips and Coke as much as any other kid my age, being a serious athlete meant I never binged on junk. However, I did make a few changes to what I ate and they really paid off. I upped my protein intake (natural sources and whey protein) and started supplementing with Vitamin D (after a blood test showed I was deficient), fish oil and multivitamins.
- I learnt to listen to my body
Have you ever pushed through pain to finish your workout? Ignored a fever and squatted heavy? Did 120m sprint repeats on 5 hours of sleep? I’ve been guilty of all these things. And – big surprise – these decisions came back to haunt me. Muscle/joint pains, fever, etc. are signals your body is giving you that something in your system is out of order. Kind of like the “Check Engine” sign in your car that you also ignore (You do it. I do it. Let’s not pretend otherwise).
Quick tip – here’s a checklist to understand how hard you should be pushing when you workout:
How much have I slept the previous night? Was this disturbed or peaceful sleep?
Do I have any niggles? Neck or spine feel tight?
When was my last meal and what did I eat? What am I going to eat after this workout?
If you aren’t happy with 2 out of 3 of your responses, it’s probably a good idea to ditch your workout and sleep instead. Your body will thank you.
And where am I today? I rarely fall sick, or get aches and pains. And while I do have the odd training related injury, they never last long.