When I speak with new clients, one of the first things I ask is what they’d get out of a gym membership if they had a magic wand to wave over their first six months here. The answers are pretty much what you’d expect because you’ve all been there, but there’s one answer I hear occasionally that I’d like to talk about today:
“I don’t want to get hurt.”
Of course when we think about it, none of us do, but this is an interesting response because it situates keeping ourselves nice and frosty as a primary goal and usually presumes some degree of hard work along the way.
I actually love this dialogue because it tells me right away that I’m working with someone who’ll be open to our gradual approach and hands-on coaching. But we make one small change before we get any further; instead of “don’t…get hurt,” we reframe the goal in positive language–“stay healthy,” or “get and stay pain-free.”
Towards that end, I’ve put together a short list of the things that YOU can do to stay healthy in here. Some are fairly self-evident, some are smaller considerations, and some are behavioral. As always, your additions and thoughts are welcome:
1. Have a re-entry plan. If you’ve been away from the gym for some time, the best thing you can do before re-entry is to speak with your trainer and arrive at a plan of action. Important questions to ask: How many sets should I do for strength, and what’s a good top percentage or effort level? Should I do this conditioner as it’s written, or should I skip some sets or movements? Should I add extra work between sets to reacclimate to the pace of class? Make sure you’re ready to get back after it because in many ways, re-entry is fraught with more danger than your initial few months because you are all good little Spinderellas and have learned how to push it.
2. Have a cruise control setting. Let’s stick with music of the last century and say that every day is a winding road. You will have mornings where it seems like the day has crawled out of a Stephen King novel to meet you; those are not the days to put the pedal to the floor. Taking it easy on yourself to get a good workout isn’t a half-measure; to the contrary, it may be the very thing that allows you to train harder later in the week instead of busting yourself into oblivion. Simple things like not doing any plus reps on strength work, cutting a prep set or two out, taking conditioning at a moderate pace, or spending extra time with the foam roller can all pay huge dividends.
3. Have and use your alternate movements. One of my biggest pet peeves as a trainer is seeing people discard a prescribed course of box squats or swiss bar benches far too soon in favor of a return to the standard bars in step with the rest of the class. Alternate movements are AWESOME for working around or remedying deficiencies, but only if you stick with them for the long haul. One month on the box won’t fix your squat; three or four and we’re beginning to cook with gas. Insofar as these movements usually reduce range of motion, they also tend to do a great job of mitigating injury risk while shoring up weak points. Get after it!
4. Stick to a particular class time if possible. This one is a pretty specific consideration: after a month or so of consistent attendance, you know how you feel doing this work at a particular time of day and you can easily spot outlying sensations or tightnesses. If your hips are usually loose by evening class but you’ve spent that afternoon in a car on your way back from a morning meeting, you’ll recognize that tightness on your first set of squats as unfamiliar and you’ll have a good 25-30 minutes to lower the weight a bit and do extra work to get those hips opened up.
5. Have your recovery thing. For some it’s yoga, for some massage. For some it may simply be sleeping an extra hour the day after you worked out. Aerobic work is an incredibly useful and underrated recovery tool–hiking, jogging, biking. But pick something. ONE thing to start, and be consistent. You will feel better almost immediately, and your workouts will improve accordingly.
6. Depersonalize. This stuff is super important because it makes you happy and it makes you feel better, but if your performance in class or on particular movements has become a referendum on self-worth in any way, take it down a notch. This is movement: some days are better, some days are worse, and every day we look at what we do in here with a clinical eye. If you are hearing “you’re doing it wrong and need to explain yourself” when a trainer says “shove your knees out,” then something is amiss and we need to talk because that’s going to impede further dialogue.
7. Have your person. Is there someone in class to whom you can say, hey I’m having an off-day? That’s awesome. Do that. Say that. It doesn’t have to be a trainer, though it could be. This may seem like a small point but in my opinion it’s anything but: being able to verbalize difficulty does a great job keeping the brakes on in appropriate instances, and sometimes leads to surprisingly great workouts.
This is just a start. The main thing here is to look at staying healthy and pain-free as a laudable, viable, active pursuit.