People say it all the time—“listen to your body”. When it comes to exercise, being in tune with your body and listening to the signals it sends out is a vital component of health and wellness. In a culture that praises and even encourages “grinding” and “hustling”, it can be rather difficult to know exactly when it is time to give yourself a much-needed break. 

So, how do you strike the right balance between challenging yourself while still listening to your body and not pushing too hard? Well, that’s exactly what we’re here to discuss today. 

Understanding Your Limits 

In order to work with your body instead of against it, you’re going to have to be brutally honest with yourself when it comes to your personal fitness limits. Remember that signals of fatigue or pain have absolutely nothing to do with your “worth” as a fit person. This is especially important if you have recently resumed exercise after a long break. Remember that your muscles are probably very tight so they need to be warmed up and get used to the notion of regular exercise once again. 

The same concept applies if you’re new to working out. Starting slow with your exercise will not only prevent you from overdoing it, but it will also help you assess your current fitness level. Remember – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

Tip: We love adjustable bar and plate packages that allow you to start small and work your way up as your fitness level increases.  

Muscle Soreness Or Straight Up Pain? 

One of the key things you need to figure out early in the game (and before you accidentally injure yourself) is the difference between muscle soreness and straight-up pain. Muscle soreness is something that you may experience in the first few weeks of embarking on a new fitness routine and can affect anyone, regardless of fitness level. For example, 

On the other hand, pain that can be pinpointed to a joint, bone, or tendon could be an injury and is a sign to take it easy.

Symptoms of Muscle Soreness

  • General ache;
  • Usually occurs 1-2 days after exercise;
  • 3-4 days of discomfort;
  • Only hurts when you move; and
  • Dull, heavy, stiff or tight sensations. 

Symptoms of Pain

  • Pinpointed pain;
  • Lasts more than a week or longer;
  • Hurts when you are still, and even more when you are mobile; and 
  • Sharp pain, burning, stinging, tingling or stabbing sensations. 

Physical Signs You Should Never Ignore

Now, let’s talk about some physical signs that you should never ignore. Here are some aches, pains and symptoms that are a direct message from your body to stop. 

Pain With Swelling

If you are experiencing pain that is paired with swelling, it’s time to stop exercising immediately. Swelling is the body’s way of sending inflammatory factors to an affected area. When there is injury, the body can’t necessarily differentiate which specific structure to heal, so it sends a lot of blood and other substances to the area or joint, creating a diffuse swelling. If this is something you are experiencing, ice the painful area and keep moving the extremity gently. Consider over-the-counter medicines to treat the pain and inflammation or book an appointment with your GP. 

Sharp Pains

Sharp or stabbing pains during exercise is a red flag that something is up. The sharp pain usually means there is something not functioning properly in your body. Some causes of sharp pain include bone on bone contact, torn muscles or impingement of a tendon. Never ignore sharp or stabbing pains and be sure to consult a doctor immediately.

Note: Many people experience “stitches” during exercise. Although stitches are uncomfortable, they are generally harmless and should disappear 45 seconds to two minutes after stopping activity.

Your Emotions Matter 

If you’re having to drag yourself to the gym and are feeling stressed, sad or even anxious over-exercise, it may be a sign from your body that it needs rest and rejuvenation. Burnout is often caused by two things — overtraining and under-recovery. Aside from wreaking havoc on your physical well being, this combination can also have a grave effect on your overall mood and emotions. 

Here are some signs of burnout to look for:

  • Dreading exercise;
  • Feeling overly anxious about working out;
  • Chronic muscle and joint pain;
  • Fatigue;
  • Low motivation; and 
  • Reduced performance and productivity. 

The Difference Between Burnout and Laziness

You may be wondering – how can I tell the difference between burnout and laziness since they both share similar signs and symptoms? 

The main difference between burnout and laziness is that you didn’t use to feel this way. Laziness, on the other hand, is a much more habitual trait. If you experience a loss of motivation, passion, and/or depersonalisation when you used to feel exactly the opposite of these, then you may be experiencing burnout, not laziness. Burnout happens as a result of too much – too much work, too much intensity and too much stress. 

How To Gently Push Your Limits

If you’re on a mission to gently push your body’s limits without the risk of injury or illness, here are some helpful tips that may be able to get you started.

Your Diet Matters

In order to push yourself to the next level, you are going to have to adequately fuel your body. This means eating lots of unrefined carbohydrates (brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, wholemeal bread), lean proteins (chicken breast, fish) and healthy fats (avocadoes, fatty fish, nuts and seeds) to maintain a healthy and well-nourished body. You can’t run on an empty tank, so avoid restrictive diets or fad diets that rely on huge, unhealthy calorie deficits. 

Tip: Studies suggest that eating or drinking carbohydrates before exercise can improve workout performance and may allow you to work out for a longer time. For a supercharged workout, consider snacking on a Banana, Date Bar or Low Fat Cereal 30 minutes before exercise. 

Start With Small Increments

Rome wasn’t built in a day, so be sure to challenge yourself in small increments if you’re looking to push yourself further doing your workouts. If you can only run 1 mile currently, aim to increase that to 1.5 miles instead of trying to push yourself to run 5 miles immediately. Build your stamina up slowly by breaking your goals down into smaller chunks.

Overcome Negative Thinking 

A lot of the time, the mind is your biggest obstacle when it comes to building up your physical fitness levels. Despite living in an increasingly health-conscious society, there are many marketing ploys in the fitness industry that make us feel like we’re not good enough. With the dozens of ads and diets that bombard us daily, it can be easy to forget that it is totally OK to take small steps and that every effort counts in our journey to being well.

The best thing about exercise and health is the sense of achievement you will feel after completing a target. You don’t have to push yourself to the extreme – if you can find it in you to keep going, that will be more than enough. 

Failure Is Normal 

Failure is completely normal and nothing to be discouraged by. If you miss a workout, don’t perform as well as you wanted or simply don’t have the time or motivation to hit the gym this week, don’t beat yourself up about it. Pushing your limits doesn’t necessarily mean you should push through every single workout. In fact, an occasional failed workout is a completely normal part of training! There should be a healthy balance between testing your limits and listening to your body.

At the end of the day, it is important to understand the difference between pushing your mental limitations and training too hard. Rest is as important as training, and pushing your limits doesn’t mean digging yourself into a hole.

What are some of your tips when it comes to listening to your body or pushing your physical limits? Be sure to let us know.