Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pushing beyond tired and recharging afterward

I've had a string of good workout days, despite some chronic pain in my trapezious. Monday I swam at midday and did 700 yards of mostly freestyle with a little backstroke. Later in the afternoon I lifted weights with a gross poundage of 4,115 (all sets and reps combined). Both these results represent about 65% of what I have been able to do in the past, so Monday wasn't a banner day by any means. But I'm coming off a 2-week vacation period where I ate too much and did too little exercise. So I was happy with what I did.

Tuesday I swam again and did 850 yards. Again, better, but not really close to my best. But then I went to softball practice and kicked butt. The temperature was in the upper 80s with high humidity and I hit well and in the outfield I fielded just about every ball that came my way. Late in the 2-hour practice when everyone else seemed to be getting lazy, I decided that I would not do that. I was tired and hot, but I wanted to catch more fly balls. It was surprisingly fun to run as fast as I could to the location where the ball was heading and grab it with my glove. I even chased after balls I knew I couldn't get to in time, but I acted like it was a real game and my quickness mattered. I don't think anyone else noticed what I was doing, but I impressed myself with the knowledge that even though I was tired, I still had a lot of physical energy within me.

Today I woke up a bit sore from all that running around, sore from throwing fielded softballs to the cutoff man, and sore in the abdominal region from the swimming I did over the last two days. But I still felt the glow of knowing I had an inner power that doesn't need to quit even when my brain thinks my body is tired. So much athleticism is psychological. There are scientific studies that have shown that the human body can do much more exercise than the brain thinks is possible. We quit before we have to. This protects us from injury, but it can also keep us from improving our physical condition. I think I'm in a bit of a rut because I haven't exceeded any "personal bests" recently. This morning I told myself it was time to get out of the rut; I promised myself that I would expend 100% effort during my swim practice today. I rarely ever tell my coach that I can't do something that he asked for. But I can cheat a little and do just the bare minimum to get by without having him chew me out. I was determined not to cheat today. I would do all swim exercises at 100% effort.

And of course, I did it. He started me off with 200 yards of freestyle to warm up. Then I did 6 x 50s of freestyle with special attention to my stroke lengths. For the first 50 yards, Coach Josh counted 48 strokes. That's terrible! I was better before vacation. So we worked to get me down to a respectable 34 strokes per 50 yards. This work was tiring for two reasons. First, I was out of shape from vacation. Second, stretching the arms, pushing water with each hand past the waist during the pull, and rolling the body from left to right with each stroke--all these burn through a lot of energy. So when Josh then said "let's do five 100s, with every fourth lap at peak speed" I blinked hard and tried not to panic. I honestly didn't think I could do 5 of those sets. After the second set I pushed myself to do a third, all the way thinking about the good feelings I had last night playing softball in an exhausted state. "I can keep going, even if I don't think I can." And so I did.

I was a little nauseous after getting out of the pool, which shows that I was indeed pushing my body to my limit. I was physically exhausted for the rest of the afternoon at work. This evening I ate dinner and took an hour-long nap. Then I got up and did some weight-lifting, watched TV, and then ate a second dinner. After all, over the last two days I burned 1,847 calories. I figured if felt hungry, my body would put the food to good use.

So I end this entry with three well-researched lessons:

  1. Fight back fatigue. This works better if you anticipate it before you become tired, so you finally do become tired you can remind yourself that in the past you have pushed beyond the fatigue without ill effects.
  2. Take a nap. I never feel normal after a strenuous workout until after I have rested. Upon waking from a nap, my feeling of fatigue is gone.
  3. Eat when you are hungry. You need to supply the raw materials your body uses to repair and build muscle, bone, and connective tissues. This is in addition to any fuel you eat following exercise to replenish glycogen stores. As I write this I am even more certain of its importance because I've had bothersome neck and back pain for the last few days (actually since mid July), and it is nearly gone at this point. I think the work I've done yesterday and today has strengthened and repaired those tissues. So that leads me to #4...
  4. Muscle or joint pain not related to a specific trauma is probably going to be helped by being physical. Be careful during an activity, but don't let the pain limit you. Like fatigue, a large component of pain is psychological and can be controlled by will power.
I am not afraid of working hard. Not tonight, anyway. I hope I remember this feeling for a long time to come.
Oh yeah.

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