Disaster struck at the gym this morning. We were doing the P90X fitness assessment to prepare for the Great P90X 2 Experiment (I know!! Squee!!!) that we start Wednesday. The test has you check your performance against the P90X standard in pull-ups, push-ups, in-and-outs (abs), vertical jump, biceps curl max, wall sit, flexibility and a high-intensity cardio interval to check how quickly your heart rate recovers, to see if you are fit enough to do the workout. Needless to say, the test to do the workout is a workout in and of itself. But us being us, we had to tack on a few things. We figured if we were testing stuff, might as well test everything! Plus, I cannot even tell you how much I love a workout that makes me take a test first.

The plank and balancing on one leg with our eyes closed were both hard and hilarious but the problem came when we decided to time ourselves sprinting one lap around our indoor track (1/10th of a mile). Still bent over sucking wind from my sprint, I didn’t see it all happen but just as Gym Buddy Krista crossed the finish line, her ankle rolled and she went down, smacking into a nearby wall. She is a trouper and didn’t shed a tear but as of this evening, she reports it’s so swollen she can’t flex her foot and can barely walk on it. The worst part? She is leaving to go on a cruise in two days.

As Daria got her an ice pack, I did the next most helpful thing and told her stories about other gym injuries I’ve seen (I know, I’m a regular Florence Nightingale) and we had a good giggle remembering how the last time we took this fitness assessment Gym Buddy Allison smacked into a wall doing the vertical leap and got a huge scrape and bruise down her shin that lasted for weeks. (We were laughing about that not because we’re sadists but because we had to spend 15 minutes talking her into doing the jump – all you do is take one step and then jump, touching the wall as high as you can and yet she was terrified she was going to smack into the wall like a muggle at Platform 9 3/4. “There’s no way you’re going to hit the wall! You can’t, you don’t even get a running start!” we assured her. She hit the wall. Really hard. I laughed so hard I was crying. Okay now we really sound like sadists. ANYHOW.)

“It’s like the P90X test is cursed for us,” I joked. But when I got home I wasn’t laughing anymore. What had seemed like coincidence at first glance, ended up looking anything but. We’re all perfectionists and so for a test we were pushing ourselves as hard as possible. Too hard? I don’t know. I don’t think fitness tests are inherently bad but I also don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the times when Gym Buddies get injured are when we are really pushing ourselves – tests, one-rep maxes, online challenges, and race training have all side-lined us over the years.

I’m sure some of this is just par for the course. I don’t know any regular exerciser who doesn’t have a story or two like this. And yet when I came across Gina Kolata’s article in The New York TimesPersonal Best: Workouts have their limits whether recognized or not” I saw a lot of myself in it. She writes:

“While public health officials bemoan the tendency of most people to do little exercise, if any, physiologists are fretting over the opposite trend: an increasing focus on extreme exercise among some recreational athletes. Weight lifting with no rest between sets and with no days off. Endurance training with no easy days or days off. Competitions that encourage excess. And there is no shortage of commercial fitness programs promising to push people beyond their limits.”

Um. I wouldn’t know anything about those … Oh wait, I wrote a book about pushing myself beyond my limits.

“People think a good workout is, ‘I am in a pile of sweat and puking,’ ” said William Kraemer, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. But if that happens, he said, “it means you went much too quickly, and your body just can’t meet its demands.”

In the past I have definitely been guilty of that mentality but over the past couple of years – really since Jelly Bean has been born – I’ve gotten a lot better. I don’t do double workouts anymore. I take a rest day every week. Workouts stay under an hour, generally. (This was a hard one with the Barre Experiment – those suckers are long workouts!) But the piece I haven’t mastered yet is of course the most critical: learning to listen to my body. Kolata says, “There are no hard and fast rules, because individual athletes vary so much. A training program that one person thrives on will break another, equally talented athlete.” The best cues to rely on then are the ones that only you can recognize.

And I’m still bad at that. After we finished the fitness test this morning, we still had some time left so Daria and I ran interval repeats. Even though I was already pretty spent and they did not sound fun at all.

This is what I need to learn:

  • I don’t have to push myself to the limit in every workout.
  • I can skip a workout and be fine.
  • Just because someone else can do something and be fine doesn’t necessarily mean I can.
  • I do not always have to be training for something.

Everything is not a competition.

Writing these all out helps but I’d love some more advice. Obviously there are times when it’s great to push yourself – the amazing results you get from Tabata training* come from the amazing effort you have to put into it – but there are times when rest is equally as important.

What’s your training schedule like? Anyone else feel like they need to constantly be setting goals and meeting them to feel like their workouts are worthwhile? How does your body tell you when it’s time to rest? Also, any prayers for a speedy recovery for Krista will be much appreciated!

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  1. Amazing article. Americans don’t rest and that causes so much problem when everything piles up. Stress on top of bad food. Crazy

  2. People have a hard time accepting quitting for the most part for they know the difference between quitting and pushing till you can’t go no further. Yes, quitting can become a habit but so can push till you’re ready to throw up or your legs fell like silly puddie

  3. Another problem is people don’t build a proper foundation of movement before they go pushing themselves past what their even capable of.

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