How To Listen To Your Body When Strength Training

Think about how you feel after working out for several weeks. You feel great. Your performance is steadily improving with strength training sessions, and you get in cardio work a few times per week. You’re having fun and things are moving in the right direction.

Things at work can get chaotic. Your boss makes you work longer hours and gives you a deadline. You start to sleep less. You go about your business with your workouts as usual. You’ve gained momentum and you don’t want your progress to stop. Instead, you want to continue racking up wins at the gym and setting personal records.

Then, you notice a few things. Weights that you can lift for 10-12 repetitions are difficult to lift for eight. A mild ache begins in the knee and lasts for several days.

The majority of people will respond to this example in one way or another.

1) They are determined to make progress and will not accept the current circumstances. They listen to their bodies and push through as hard as they can. They push for the weight that feels heavier than normal and ignores any pains that may arise.

2) They quit when they feel discouraged by any adversity. They become overwhelmed by any little ache and stop all activity for fear of being hurt. They feel defeated if they don’t make progress (e.g. they can’t improve their performance or regress a little) and they give up.

Both responses are not ideal and will not lead to long-term happiness or progress. The first response ignores the impact of increasing stress levels and accumulating loss of sleep on performance and encourages people to try to get by.

The second is less effective. Panic is not the right response to an ache or pain. It’s unlikely that anyone will ever experience any type of discomfort from their physical activity. If you have a medical condition, stopping all physical activity is not an option.

What is the appropriate response to this scenario?

Pay attention to your body and take into consideration other factors (e.g.: stress, sleep, nutrition, etc.) This can impact your performance.

However, this does not mean you should be over vigilant about every detail. This is counterproductive and unnecessary. If you notice a change in your mood or performance, it is normal.

Referring to the previous example, what should you do if you find it difficult to lift weights for eight reps when you used to be able, and you feel a slight ache in your knees, after having less sleep and high-stress weeks?

Consider how you will be able to do the warm-ups.

You may notice that your weights feel heavier after the first few warm-up sets. Let’s take, for example, the warm-up sets for squats usually go something like this to prepare you to start your first work set with 125 lbs.

  • Warm-up set 1: Empty barbell x 5 reps
  • Warm-up set 2: 65 pounds x 5 reps
  • Warm-up set 3: 85 pounds x 5 reps
  • Warm-up set 4: 105 pounds x 5 reps
    • Work set 1: 125 pounds x 5 reps

This week, however, because of factors such as accumulation of stress and sleep losses, the third warm-up set with 85 lb feels more difficult than usual. You also notice an increase in difficulty with the warmup set with 105 lb. Instead of feeling fast and happy, warm-up sets might feel slower or heavier. They might feel “not great”.

Instead of doubling down on effort and adding weight to the bar, and letting emotions influence your workout choices, you could accept the situation and make the weights a little lighter. This could mean that you can lift up to 115 pounds for work sets instead of 125.

In this scenario, it’s possible that 115×5 might feel as difficult as 125×5 in your previous workout. That’s fine. You’ll still get a training effect even though you are using less weight. But, the most important thing is that you will learn how to listen and respond to your body without allowing emotions to affect your response. It’s a good idea to practice this because you won’t get the workout you wanted.

Listen to your body, be objective and then respond with a pragmatic attitude. You can use warm-up sets to help you choose the right weights for the day.

This post was written by Darryl Johnson, Co-Owner of Apex performance. At Apex performance we are a community of highly trained experts looking to provide performance enhancement and a permanent lifestyle change for our clients in a fun and interactive environment. Members can take advantage of a best personal trainer in Tampa, one-on-one training, small group classes, and specialized courses for a wide variety of athletics, sports training, and body goals!