4am on a cold day of February in 2011, there I was restless, tossing, and turning in my bed unable to sleep – this particular moment seared into my memory because both of my quads cramped and I was in what felt like the worst pain I’ve experienced in my whole life.
I went to bed at 9pm and so I could wake up at 6am to make it to the gym to train before I had to go to my lectures for the day. I would go to bed and lay there unable to fall asleep.
But this wasn’t something that happened once in a while, this was something that was my life for about 3 months. EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT.
I trained 2hrs a minimum of 5 days per week before my 8:30am classes, one hour of hypertrophy based resistance training and one hour of steady state cardio…all in a fasted state.
I was a full-time student in college, and I worked a part-time job after I was done school and on the weekends. In addition to my own workouts I had several hours of sport based activity courses in program that I would participate in.
On top of this overload of activity, I thought it was wise to adhere to a Paleo-esque low carb diet.
I was the leanest I’ve ever been in my adult life. I was tired, I was angry, I was hungry, I was always sore, and my legs would regularly collapse while walking up or down stairs. My recovery was poor but the idea of resting or taking a break seemed petty.
It was brutal.
And I was willingly pushing through this thinking that if I didn’t do what it takes to get lean that I was somehow weak or incapable or unworthy.
I was running on E.
Eventually my body decided for me, that I couldn’t keep up. I got the point where I couldn’t override the system anymore. I became riddled with injuries, my strength was depleted, and the only thing I was physically able to do was hatha yoga (which became a very important part of my life.)
I had beaten my body into a state of no longer being able to function properly. And it had finally had enough. It tooks me months to recover and get back to being in good health and having bountiful energy. I was eventually able to get back to training but not to the extent that I was before.
But all of this could have been prevented had I simply listened to my body.
My story is not unique – I see a lot of people doing what I did. People will relentlessly do every thing possible for the sake of achievement despite causing more harm than good.
Just because we can do everything possible, doesn’t mean that we should.
There needs to be congruence between our input and our output. If we’re going to be putting a lot out then we need to be putting enough in. And the good news is that our bodies have a way of communicating with us to let us know if that symmetry isn’t there.
We just need to LISTEN.
Our body communicates with us through several avenues:
- Our energy and mood: Energy and mood play a significant role in telling us if we are applying too much physical or mental stress to ourselves. Ideally we should feel energized and have a general sense of well-being and overall satisfaction. Constantly feeling lethargic, depressed, sad, dissatisfied are indicators of imbalance somewhere in our behaviours. Too much output and not enough input, or even the opposite.
- Our appetite: Our appetite is another indicator if we are currently under too much stress physically or mentally. If you are under stress it’s not uncommon to experience little to no hunger or have a voracious appetite beyond anything you could fathom. This can also be accompanied with severe cravings for food that are very carbohydrate and/or fat dense.
- Our recovery: Recovery gets impeded when there isn’t congruence between our input and our output. Poor recovery is often experienced as constantly being sore despite consistent training, experience repeated nagging injuries, and general achiness.
STRATEGIES FOR BALANCE
If you are listening to your body and you are finding that you need more balance in your life there are some strategies you can implement in regards to your training, nutrition, rest and recovery patterns so that you don’t burn out:
- TRAINING: Adhere to training protocols that are based on progressive overload but are moderate. Your training program needs to be tailored towards your lifestyle and not the other way around. If you work 40+ hours per week it’s unwise to follow a program that has you doing 2 hours of exercise for 6 days of the week. It would be better to adhere to protocols that incorporate resistance training 3-4 days per week, with moderate to light activity such as yoga, brisk walking, or leisure sports for an additional 2-3 days per week.
- NUTRITION: In terms of preventing dietary distress, you’ll want to be moderate. Extremes in nutrition can lead to issues that transcend for beyond simply being “hangry.” Dietary moderation means incorporating all macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) and variety of food groups. It also means avoiding significant caloric deficits and learning to listen to the body’s signals for hunger and satiety to determine when to start and stop eating. Eating in a moderate manner with minimal restraing is the key to preventing uncontrollable cravings and the development of disordered eating patterns or food obsession that can attribute to stress and anxiety.
- REST & RECOVERY: Rest and recovery isn’t something that just happens, we have to be prpactive in making sure that we are well-rested on a day to day basis other wise we will burn out. Recovering from the stress of exercise is important, but it is also important to recover from the stress in our day to day lives we can accumulate from finances, jobs, education, relationships, etc. This is where it can be helpful to implement strategies such as meditation, journaling, practicing gratitude, expressing ourselves through creative outlets (dance, writing, music, etc.), doing yoga, progressive relaxation, spending time with friends and family, or anything that helps to get us destress. In addition to destressing, we also need to make sure that we are practicing good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene consists of having a regular bedtime and waking time in addition to creating a regular routine before bedtime that is free of stimulation (especially from electronics) that will make it easier for us to fall asleep. It’s also important to make sure that our beds are in quiet, cool, dark spaces to prevent overheating so we can sleep soundly.
Our bodies communicate with us every single day to tell us what we should and shouldn’t do. It’s up to us to be attentive and react accordingly. If you’re exhausted is it really wise to go and train as hard as possible that day? Or would it be more reasonable to do a quick yoga flow for half an hour? If you’re hungry enough to eat an entire cow, is it wise to restrict your caloric intake even farther? Probably not.
Sustainability comes from moderation and balance. Balance is achieved by maintaining a healthy midzone between doing too much and doing too little. Making sure that we are matching our input to our output is the key to being consistent to achieve the results and behaviour changes we want.
Have you ever suffered from burn out? Are you going to implement some of the strategies here?
Are you implementing strategies I didn’t discuss?
I want to hear from you. 🙂