Obviously, everyone has different limits that affect our ability to exercise. Some exercisers have chronic physical conditions, for example, while others are still dealing with the fallout from previous injuries. Still other people are facing limits imposed by several years, if not decades, of living a sedentary lifestyle. And of course, almost everyone gets sick from time to time. For this reason, our success when it comes to training for life depends on knowing our limits – and when and how to push them.
What kinds of limits are there? The first kind is physical. We've already mentioned those – the chronic conditions, illnesses, or lifestyle choices that may limit what we can do with our exercise routine right now. As a runner, for example, I've had to learn what my body feels like when it's just tired from working out versus how it feels when I'm tired from an actual illness or because I've pushed my physical limits too far.
Of course, it's important to note that our physical limits can frequently be changed. Just because you can't run five miles today doesn't mean you'll never be able to do it. Sports medicine is becoming increasingly successful at helping people with old injuries get back in the game. And you don't have to stop exercising every time you catch a cold, though there are illnesses that will require you to slow down or stop your exercise routine temporarily.
In a way, it's good to think of our physical limits like brick walls; if we hit them we'll probably damage ourselves. Vigorous exercise when we're sick with a fever is a bad idea – so is getting off the couch and trying to run five miles if you've never run before. In both cases, you'll almost certainly do far more harm than good.
When I tell my indoor cycling clients to consult their physicians at the beginning of any fitness program – and about any questions they have about when it's safe to exercise when they're sick – I mean it.
The final thing to consider when we talk about physical limits is the difference between “good” and “bad” pain. Many of us are conditioned to think of all pain as bad, but the fact is that there is a huge difference between the healthy burn you may feel while pushing yourself in one of my classes and the kind of pain that comes from an injury. While many people experience pain – both good and bad – somewhat differently, a good rule of thumb is that if the pain you're feeling is sudden, stabbing, or starting to limit your range of movement, it's time to stop what you're doing and consult your health care professional.
Now that we've covered physical limits, let's talk about the other kind – the limits that are entirely in our heads. These are the limits we almost always need to push!
One person may believe he'll never make it through a full hour of indoor cycling; another may think she's too lazy to exercise. And pretty much all of us, even those of us who are committed to our health and fitness, have times when our minds want to do almost anything other than getting on that bike or putting on our running shoes.
When you find yourself thinking limiting thoughts, confront them and turn them into positives. Get to know your body so that you, too, will be able to tell the difference between being tired from the exercise you're doing and being tired because something is actually wrong with your body.
Trust me – no matter how daunting the idea of working with and through your limits may be, doing it isn't just great for your health and fitness, but your self-confidence as well!
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