When You Can’t Trust Your Feelings

There are times when you cannot trust your feelings.

Your nervous system has relegated a number of muscle-firing sequences to your subconscious. While the purpose is to allow for higher-level thought to occupy the conscious mind, it backfires in every movement pattern that has become dysfunctional. This mechanism also compensates whenever an activity forces a greater range of motion or load than the neuromuscular system can currently bare. Over time, these compensations become habits. Habitual movement feels normal, even if the movement is actually abnormal and dysfunctional.

In these times when you cannot trust feelings of proper movement, you must rely on external cues (visual cues from a mirror or outside observer, or touch receptor cues from correctly placed props or movement re-trainers).

A Lesson Learned

I have said it before and I will say it again: It is not a workout, it is practice.

All movement is skilled, meaning that we acquired our ability to control what our bodies do. So every time you exercise, you have the opportunity to get better at that movement. Be aware of your body’s tendencies, and evaluate your performance.

Stability, strength, balance, speed, power, breathing, and endurance can all be focused on during your self-evaluation; your goal is to improve one or more. And whenever you improve, your body has learned a lesson in movement. If every picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a lesson worth?

Get Better Before You Get Hurt

Why wait for an injury to occur when you can improve the situation before it becomes a problem?

Many injuries are caused by repetitive strain (overuse) or poor technique (misuse). Repetitive strain is often indicated by feelings of prolonged fatigue, or a gradual loss of range of motion. Misuse is only obvious when a movement causes pain. IF A MOVEMENT CAUSES YOU PAIN, STOP IMMEDIATELY! When it does not cause pain, poor technique is much harder to detect. A few good indicators are the inability to breath during a movement or a noticeable difference when performed on one side of the body versus the other.

If any of these warning signs are present during your training, consider an alteration of your training until they are not present. Repetitive strain can be overcome easily with more rest, massage, stretching, and/or activation of opposing muscle groups. Misuse requires a shift in focus toward timing and coordination; this is most often accomplished by decreasing the difficulty until neuromuscular control and efficient movement are achieved, and then slowly progressing the difficulty back to previous levels.

Habits Die Hard

Our habits spill over into other parts of our lives.

This can work against us. Having your legs crossed when you sit for long periods of time will work its way into a hip rotation when you move. Rounding your back to look at your computer monitor will make it harder to keep a straight back throughout the day.

But it can also work for us. Good eating decisions while training will lead to better decisions when you aren’t. Being active early in the day will keep your metabolism up for a number of hours afterwards.

So empower years of change by practicing the habits you want to keep, and double up on your improvement by using your motivation to guard against slipping back into habits that contradict what you are working toward.

The Weakest Link

Your body has several chains of muscles, tendons, and joints that enable you to move. And just like any other chain, the weakest link is where your movement chains will break.

The conventional wisdom is to isolate that weak link with exercises that force it to get stronger. Unfortunately, this is not usually the best practice. Isolation should only be used in the case of atrophy or poor neuromuscular control. Once that control has been reestablished, the real work begins.

What most individuals actually need is to restore the timing and balance of the entire chain. This cannot be done with isolation exercises. Instead, multi-joint movements need to be employed and worked on with a focus of the proper engagement of the weaker links. Many exercises will need to be done at a high volume and lower intensities, and some will need to be regressed to allow for the weaker links to take part. You are trying to get better, and often need to take a step back before you can move forward.