Listen to your body
Yesterday, while driving to work, I noticed a runner limping in the rain. I could see the determination in his eyes. His face showed pain; his teeth were clenched and his brow was scrunched, yet, he persevered at a steady pace. He was running alone; nobody was chasing him nor was he in a race. Regardless of his injury, he pushed through clear discomfort to finish his run.
His ego had taken over; he was ignoring what his body was saying to him.
The human body is an extremely intelligent and complex system, designed with highly responsive defense mechanisms. Natural survival responses such as "fight or flight" and the sensation of pain are nature's way of protecting us from bodily harm. When exercising, if we choose to ignore these sensations or dull them with muscle relaxants and/or painkillers, we can do a lot of damage; essentially pushing ourselves beyond our limits which, over time, can cause serious and even lasting injury.
Drop the ego, drop the plan and "tap in".
Try this - "Tap-in" to body sensations
Sit cross-legged and place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Breathe deeply.
Now, check in with yourself. Do you feel any tightness, discomfort or pain? Do a complete scan; focus on the crown of your head, then to your throat, to your neck and shoulders, over your chest, to your hips, and finally your lower limbs, to the tips of your toes.
Scan for any resistance or tightness. Listen to what your body is telling you; you might be surprised to hear what it has to say. You can perform a variation of this total body scan at anytime; before, after and even during your workout. Check in with yourself.
A sharp pain is your body's "red flag" warning signal. It is important to recognize this feeling and adjust your workout accordingly. Ease off, modify, and try a different approach. (Ask a professional - feel free to ask gym staff for advice or for modifications, and they will be glad to help). "Working through the pain" will only result in greater problems later on.
Although trainers and instructors can offer you their opinions, they are not certified medical personnel; be sure to consult a doctor or medical professional if pain persists.
There is a big difference between discomfort from the good work you are doing as opposed to discomfort causing harm to the body. Exercise can be uncomfortable at times, but it important to recognize the difference between being uncomfortable from your muscles working (for example - the burning in your thighs from performing a series of squats) versus a throbbing sensation in your lower back (for example - from lifting weights that are too heavy for you - too fast, too soon). Training improperly will cause surrounding muscles and ligaments to overcompensate, which, over time, can result in further injury.
"How much longer?" "This is hard." "I wonder what's going to happen on the Bachelor tonight."
The mind is a powerful tool and can be very sneaky, trying to distract you during your workout. Harness its powers by concentrating your thoughts. Focus on your fitness goals; replace the words "I can't" with "I can." Push through mental resistance and reward yourself for doing so with a modified plan. For example, say to yourself - if I run for 3 more minutes, I can stop and take a water break, then get right back to it. Although your body may not be in any physical danger, your mind might be screaming at you to stop. When your mind starts wandering or screaming, just breathe and reassure yourself that you will be ok, and that these sensations are temporary. Just remember, the body is not at risk in this category. Choosing to quit is only holding you back from achieving your fitness goals.
Be kind to your body. Exercise smart.