If You Like Being in Pain, Don’t Do This

When I was 14 I was on a language exchange programme to France; I went there for half the summer, he came here for half the summer.

The host family’s father, Bertrand, came to Canada on a business trip in mid August, and took a couple of days out to come visit us. During his visit, he told us a story that has really stuck with me.

Whenever he travels to an English speaking country, the first day his English seems okay. The second day, it seems to regress, to get significantly worse, and the third day it begins to improve again.

We theorized that this is because on the first day, he’s very cautious. He stays well inside the easy, tried and true. On the second day he gets more adventurous, and thus makes a lot more mistakes. On the third day, he’s remembering, or relearning, and his English gets better again.

In other words, his English isn’t worse on day 2, it only seems that way because he’s simply trying more, and making more mistakes.

I find this has an interesting analogy to working out, to getting back into shape.

I’ve been exercising a lot, lately. A minimum of once daily, often twice, sometimes even three times a day.

When I started out, I was just taking a moderately brisk walk, as much to regain the habit of exercise as to regain fitness.

Over time I added in regular yoga, and even light resistance training. Summer rolled around and I began kayaking and biking. Eventually I even began running and even playing tennis.

The thing I noticed is, every time I added in something “new,” I suffered in some way. Usually delayed onset muscle soreness, often fatigue, sometimes joint stiffness and arthritis, but always something.

Whenever this happens, I think back to that long ago summer and dinner with Bertrand, and talking about how stretching your abilities gives you the impression that you’ve regressed.

But here’s the thing.

You haven’t regressed.

We have these amazingly adaptive bodies, that get stronger when stressed. That is the entire point of exercise, to stress your body past its normal limits. Doing so causes the body to heal past its normal limits and thus become stronger, pushing the limit.

And that’s what I’ve been doing, pushing my body past its present limits, to try to get back to the great shape I was in before COVID. I’m not there yet, but every week I can feel myself getting a little closer.

Unfortunately, early in the process, I got a little too adventurous, and I wrenched something in my mid back. Just inside the tip of my right shoulder blade, not quite at the spine.

Whether you’re trying to get back in shape after some long layoff, whether you’re trying to get in shape having never really exercised, or whether you’re just getting up in years, remember this:

Be cautious.

As wonderful and adaptive as our bodies are, you can still do yourself an injury if you get too far outside your abilities. This is particularly so if you’re older, because injuries accumulate, and our ability to recover declines with age.

So get out there and exercise. Get out there and ramp up your exercise. Get in shape, get in better shape.

But do it cautiously.