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Week 8: Should Exercise Be Your Sport?

Positioned in the wellness industry for over twenty years, we’ve unfortunately seen it happen time and time again: the stories of so many well-intentioned folks who get caught up in the “competition” of exercise.

To illustrate, let’s tell one story of a 40-something guy named “Bob.” Bob, who ran track in high school, but who hasn’t done much running since graduating, getting married, having two kids, and starting his career, begins a fitness program. His goal is to improve his health, to enhance how he performs in his “everyday” life (e.g., playing ball with his kids and doing yard work has been a painful challenge) and to lose those dreaded fat pounds that he’s put on slowly over the past several years.

For Bob, joining a gym is quite “gymtimidating” and is a huge obstacle, and the idea of achieving positive results seems like a pipe dream.

But eventually Bob gets the courage to commit to a 24-7 national franchise gym at a very low cost. Bob immediately begins to make positive changes to his nutrition habits and within two weeks is seeing small improvements in how he performs at the gym. Not too long after that, he begins to experience noticeable changes in his energy levels and is motivated to work out even harder and more often. In Bob’s mind, working out more often will result in even more positive changes.

After a few weeks, what started out as low-level walking on the treadmill to burn that unwanted body fat and improve aerobic capacity, has changed into light euphoric jogging…then running. Bob feels the adrenaline rush as he is now able to run a quick mile or two…almost as fast as he did in high school.

He gets energized; and a few weeks after that, it becomes a code of honor in Bob’s mind to run 4-5 times a week. He joins a running club, signs up for the local charity 10k, and decides to make finishing that 10k race his “ultimate goal.”

But after the 1st 10k, Bob thinks, “Wow! that was a blast, what a sense of accomplishment! Why not run another, and then another…gosh, I feel great!”

A few months after first stepping foot in the gym, Bob decides that his city’s annual Marathon is now his new ultimate goal. It’s in six months: plenty of time to prepare himself to run the 26.2-mile event. He downloads a “Training For Your First Marathon” app on his phone, and begins the 26-week training schedule. He’s got this.

Then, sometime during Week 1 of his training plan, Bob begins to notice a slightly aggravating hip pain that just won’t go away. How could this happen? He has been exercising and is in great shape, right?

Despite the pain, Bob keeps on running because he’s on a schedule…he has a goal. Running is his thing: his sport. After all, he ran track in high school. They called him “a jock.” Jocks don’t stop running because of a little hip pain.

Unfortunately, a training run in Week 3 ended abruptly when the hip pain turned into a hip “pop” that sent him to the ground, and the next day into the orthopedic surgeon’s office. Bob’s running schedule ended that day as did his fitness program. For the next several months, his only exercises were the treatment movements provided by his physical therapist.

So, the “pain” that drove Bob to the gym initially (i.e., having excess body fat along with the desire to move better and pain free in his everyday life) has now turned into the pain of a serious long-term physical injury…not to mention, a ton of costly doctor bills.

It’s an All-Too-Common Story

Like Bob, for many of us, exercise starts out as a catalyst to transforming ourselves. But by allowing our exercise to become our sport, we often exercise ourselves into an overuse injury.

The “Bob” story doesn’t just happen to runners; similar stories unfold at the gym every day. People join the gym to feel better and look better…but then get “hooked.” They see others, usually younger, participating in timed events like pull ups, sprints, hand stands, box jumps, Olympic lifts and more. Oh, those younger athletes look so great and what amazing feats they are accomplishing. The temptation is too much for some folks, and not long after, they dive into the sport of exercise: working out multiple times per week or even per day.

That euphoric feeling of competing against themselves and others in a group becomes an addiction.

They look and feel great until…oh no, a wrist injury from lifting that heavy bar…a knee injury from that high box jump…a shoulder injury from just one too many med ball throws.

Once again, the “sport of exercise” has reared its ugly head and bitten another everyday athlete in the rear (or some other body part).

Still other examples are when routine exercise programs morph into extreme mud runs, triathlons, and more. Pictures in the newspapers or on TV showing thousands of runners competing in the yearly Marathon look so enticing…how could competition like this be a bad thing? And seeing the ripped bodies of those athletes competing in the extreme events or timed group training events has to mean they’re beneficial, right?

The Ultimate (and Sad) Irony

The irony of these stories is that the initial drive for certain people to start exercise programs was the desire to transform their bodies, to avoid health issues (such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and more) and to reduce visits to the doctor’s office. And in some cases, viewing these “sports” from a far turns out to be the actual catalyst to finally get off the couch…after years of sedentary lives where there’s only been talk of making lifestyle changes.

But in the end, the drive to relive our youth, the desire to look like the current competitors, and the justification (in our own minds) that we each have the right to pick up where we left off in our prime, all too often leads to injury…injury that puts the breaks on the very exercise routine we began so we could look and feel younger! And sadly, we find ourselves making frequent, monetarily costly, and often emotional visits to the orthopedic office or physical therapy clinic.

Don’t Be Like Bob

Be smart and recognize that your anatomy and physiology were at their peak in your late teens and twenties. Also understand that maximizing your movement patterns, maintaining good health, and achieving a lean body are your ultimate goals. A strategic, safe and sustainable training program (as opposed to an extreme and/or high-volume exercise regimens) is how to achieve those goals.

Now…for those of you who do have the running bug…if a 5k, 10k, Half or Full Marathon is on your bucket list…or the group competition classes are what motivate you to exercise, we’re not saying that you have to give up on your dreams.

We’re simply saying that it’s important to “accept and adjust.” You need to accept the fact that after a certain age, your body has limitations. Do NOT ignore the warning signs (e.g., the slight pain in a joint after a lifting class, the ache in your hip after a run, etc.). And you must adjust… adjust your training schedule to include more “rest” days and adjust (increase) the time you devote to warm-up, mobility and stretching with every workout.

Remember, the objective is to feel better for the long-term and not be the athlete with the two knee braces, an ankle brace and a limp in your pimp😉 and try to remember, it is not accidental that most professional athletes’ careers come to an end in their mid-30’s. Their knowledge of the game has not diminished, simply their bodies willingness to cooperate under heavy loads, rapid changes of direction, and ability to jump and accelerate was no more.

Pep Talk

Think about an appropriate fitness program as a long-term investment in your quality of life — be cautious of the thrill of risky short-term, extreme sporting competitions.

Week 8 Quiz:

1) The drive to relive our youth and pick up where we left off in our prime: a) will get you in tip top shape b) is a must if you want to get lean c) often leads to injury d) both a & b

2) Maximizing your movement patterns, maintaining good health, and achieving a lean body are accomplished by: a) a strategic, safe, and sustainable training program b) implementing an extreme and/or high volume exercise regimen c) running 4-5 miles, 5-6 days per week d) none of the above

3) Sometimes the “pain” that drives a person to the gym initially (i.e., being overweight, wanting to move better), turns into the pain of a serious long-term physical injury. a) True b) False

4) Participating in the "sport of exercise" could lead to: a) wrist injury b) knee injury c) shoulder injury d) all of the above

Once you've taken the quiz, click here to see how you did.

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