4 Times When ‘Listening to Your Body’ Pays Off – And Not Just in the Gym

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Drill sergeant and recruiter candidates do warm-up exercises on Fort Carson, Colo.
Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey and Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Clark, 4th Infantry Division and Joint Task Force Carson, perform exercises with drill sergeant and recruiter candidates on Fort Carson, Colo., April 21, 2015. (Staff Sgt. Rob Oson/U.S. Army photo)

Many sayings in the fitness world can have multiple meanings. From debunked quotes such as, "No pain, no gain," and, "If you aren't puking, you aren't trying," to useful sayings like, "Train like your buddy's life depends on it," there is no shortage of helpful and not-so-helpful sayings.

Here is a question about a saying that is fairly common and has multiple meanings, rooted in introspection.

Stew, when people say, "Listen to your body," what are they referring to? Originally, I thought it was just in fitness, meaning to know your limits, but I also hear it in meditation walk-throughs. What is your take on this saying and is it really that useful? Thanks, Sebastien.

Great question, Sebastien. I, too, have used this saying as recently as this morning when I planned on doing a run, but did some biking and swimming instead because of lower-back pain after a long travel day. This saying is about doing a self-assessment of how you feel before, during and after any activity.

The ability to listen to your mind and body can be useful in helping you get done more efficiently, without pain or injury, and even see better results.

Here is how "listening to your body" can be useful.

Dieting/Snacking Urge

Ask yourself as you open the refrigerator door looking for a snack: "Am I hungry or just mindlessly snacking?" With some introspection, you may determine you are just thirsty, and a glass of water may be all you need between dinner and bedtime.

Before a Workout

You may or may not feel energized for a workout. Having low energy may require you eating foods such as fruit or drinking juice to add carbs to your system. Any aches or pains may need special attention during the warm-up to determine whether it is stiffness or the start of an injury.

Your warm-up time may need to be extended, or a section of the workout may need to be skipped and replaced, depending on how the area (joint, muscle, tendon/ligament, bone) is feeling.

As mentioned above, the morning jog warm-up was not helping my lower back, so biking and swimming replaced running. Following the non-impact cardio option, then stretching and foam rolling, helped alleviate that discomfort.

During Lifting

A favorite workout for strength training is the 5x5. Five sets of five repetitions are done with about 75%-80% of your one-rep max (1RM). After a warm-up, you may feel ready to begin this workout but notice that the fourth repetition is a little harder than it should be, and you decide to stop and avoid the fifth repetition.

However, on the following sets, you hit all five reps solidly and even push for a sixth on one of the sets. Or you find that five reps is too easy, and you go 5-10 pounds heavier with the ensuing sets. That is a great example of listening to your body and making changes to improve your performance and prevent a potential injury.

Way More than Fitness

Our subconscious picks up more than we can take in, so being in tune with the body and having the ability to self-assess the rush of adrenaline and other emotional cues can help us avoid potentially dangerous situations. Having a keen sense of internal awareness can take our external awareness to new levels, which can be useful in military patrolling and walking down the street at night. See how this ability is important when using the Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA) Loop.

The primary focus on "listening to the body (and mind)" is taking how your body is reacting to the stress of an environment and addressing the root cause of it and creating a useful action. On the flip side, when your body and mind are relaxed and in the moment, a self-assessment can also help you appreciate why you are feeling this way much more deeply.

Perhaps it is time with family and friends or after a long work schedule with a gratifying accomplishment. Listening to the body can help you appreciate life to a greater level as well. Enjoy and take a moment to look around and within throughout the day.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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