How many times have you looked in the mirror after eating a big burger and chocolate cake and thought, that’s it, I’ve wasted all my hard work in the gym?
How many times have you pushed yourself to train, even though you’re knackered and need a rest, in fear of losing all your gains?
How many times have you looked at your body and thought it looks worse than the day before, blaming the fact you ate too much or too little or you haven’t worked out in few days?
I for sure can hold my hands up to all of these, on countless occasions.
It’s funny right, because we all know phrases like Rome wasn’t built in a day or one good meal won’t make you skinny, just like one bad meal won’t make you fat. Despite understanding these, when it comes to fitness, it’s so easy to ignore all logic, dissecting any small change to your normal routine and picking up on/ totally inventing negative side effects that a change in behaviour must result in.
I used to be super bad for these kinds of thoughts, particularly when it came to food. If I indulged one evening, I would wake up certain I had gained 10lbs, totally wasted my gym sessions for the whole week and needed to eat next to nothing the next day to compensate. I’m sure I knew it was only water weight, if it wasn’t just my mind tricking me into thinking I looked fatter because that’s what you would expect after eating pizza and cake - it’s quite likely I looked absolutely no different whatsoever. But it’s such an easy thing to think right?
Recently, I have got a lot better with this and quite often wake up the morning after a night out, check myself out in the mirror and acknowledge how normal my body looks - well aware it hasn’t changed. However what I’m currently finding harder to convince myself of, is gym related changes.
Take the past few weeks for example. I have severely injured my hips, struggling to walk at times, and definitely struggling to train any lower body at all. Despite knowing I should take at least a week off to fully recover, I just can’t bring myself to do it. Instead I push through each session, pretending to myself it’s ok because I spent 20-30 min stretching and foam rolling first and then only trained upper body with minimal leg work. Except now, because my lower body isn’t engaging properly when I exercise, other areas are compensating for this and my back is totally messed up, leaving me in constant discomfort (and pretty poor from countless physio sessions and massages).
So why am I putting myself through this? I tell myself, and others, it’s because I love training – but what’s to love about being in pain with every movement you make? I also say it’s because I would go mad if I was just sitting down all day at work and then went home without being at all active. But surely it’s even more mad to go and do something that’s leaving you in agony and could cause long term damage?
I think the real answer can be summed up quite nicely by a conversation I had today in the gym when chatting to a friend. Me: ‘I’ve not been able to squat in almost 2 weeks because of my hips. I can tell I’m loosing my quad muscles.’ My mate’s reply, smiling: ‘Ye right Sam, it’s all in your head!’
I kind of laughed at the comment at the time, but thinking about it, he’s totally right. You don’t work endlessly for months to build up your muscles and strength, all for it to disappear in a couple of weeks or even days. Sure the pump goes, but that’s all it is, a pump. It’s not muscle mass, it’s not power, its not all your hard work (or if it is, it’s super minimal amounts that you can get back pretty quickly).
Fundamentally, health and fitness is a long-term goal that works based on consistency over an extended period of time. As much as we would love it to be possible, we all know and accept that you can’t have the body you’ve always wanted just from a few days of hitting the gym and eating well. So why is it so much harder to believe that it works the other way too? (Ie. you won’t lose everything you’ve worked for if you have a week off.) It sounds so obvious right, but almost all my mates I chat to in the gym tell me about the latest injury they are nursing and how much pain they are in, yet I still see them there, grinding away, day in day out. For some reason, this information just doesn’t compute in our brains…
So I’d love to say that I am going to take my own advice and take more than 2 days in a row off the gym, giving myself time to recover, so that I can squat again, and even just roll over in bed without wanted to scream in pain. But, assuming I am still able to get up in the morning, drive my car and walk around, I know that would be a lie. I guess all I can hope for is that all the massages and stretches are paying off, and slowly but surely, my body will make it back to some sort of functioning capacity. Because my biggest fear currently is being forced to take a long time off, which really would have both a mental and physical effect on me – and ultimately – I’d only have myself to blame…