By: Kathleen Trotter
Too many of us take our bodies for granted. We sit for hours, or train constantly (me!) without fully contemplating the stress our lifestyle places on our bodies.
Sure, some of us pretend to take care for ourselves — we stretch for five minutes after a run, or get up once every four hours from our computer to walk around — but most of us don’t really take recovery seriously.
The amount we ask of our bodies almost always exceeds the amount of time and energy we put into recovery.
It is no wonder that so many of us consistently feel slightly stiff, achy or tight. We all have used up our “body credit” and gone into “debt.”
“Body credit” is a concept I use to explain each individual’s unique ability to resist physical stress. In other words, the body’s physical resilience. Everyone’s “body credit” fluctuates. Age and genetics predispose people to a certain level of credit and help to determine how quickly one’s credit replenishes itself. That said, the good news is that everyone can accumulate more credit through recovery techniques such as sleeping, eating well, appropriate exercise and stretching.
When you push your body, and you don’t recover at an appropriate rate, you go into “body debt.” Debt causes you to grow increasingly stiff, sore, achy, tired, cranky and generally run down.
It is not just athletes and fitness enthusiasts who need to understand the concept of body “credit” and “debt.” Sedentary lifestyles use up as much or more “body credit” then active lifestyles.
Not only is being inactive bad for your long-term cardiovascular health, sitting is hard on your entire musculo-skeletal system. This is especially true if you are sitting with bad posture, which let’s face it, most of us are. Bad posture taxes our structural system and, therefore, uses more credit, causing muscles to get stiff and sore.
So, if you sit a lot, you need to work hard to replenish your body’s “bank”! Don’t just pay lip service to mitigating the negative effects of sitting. Set an alarm to go off once an hour — get up and walk around and stretch. Or, get a standing desk!
Recovery is not a one time “quick fix.” You can’t stretch for a week, or go to physio once and think you will have repaid your “body debt.” Repaying your debt will take hard, continuous effort, especially if you have been using up your body’s credit for years.
I know from personal experience that building back one’s “credit” is hard. Recovery is a LONG process.
Last year I injured my left calf. Training for an Ironman and a marathon caused me to go into severe body debt. I had consistently overtaxed my system without letting it recover. After my marathon I thought I could take a couple weeks off and magically I would be OK. That was like saying 10 dollars could pay off a million dollar debt. I put my body through hell for eight months. Ten days was not enough recovery.
If you have aches and pains, don’t feel discouraged if you don’t improve quickly. A sore shoulder or hip due to bad posture or a faulty gait can take years to materialize. Don’t be fooled, yes, there may have been a moment where you finally felt the pain, but your “body debt” has most likely been building for years.
So many of us continually drain our body’s resources without proportionally repaying our “debt.” Unfortunately, as we age, it get easier to go into debt and takes much more work to replenish the bank! If you sit a lot, you need to work hard to replenish your body’s “bank”! If you have been sitting with bad posture for years, a few haphazard neck stretches will not get rid of your neck pain.
In my opinion, recovery is the most undervalued training variable. Recovery can help you feel stronger, more agile and less achy. Take the time to figure out how to manage your body’s credit system. For example, if you have pain because of bad posture, you probably need an ergonomic assessment, a strict stretching program and regular massage, or self-massage with a foam roller.
Remember, the amount of time you need to put into your recovery has to be proportional to the amount of debt you are in.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal Trainer and pilates equipment specialist for over twelve years. Kathleen is the featured personal trainer in The Globe and Mail’s online ‘Fitness Basic’ series, writes two weekly pieces for the Globe, blogs regularly for The Huffington Post and Healthy Directions magazine and has contributed articles to magazines such as Canadian Running, Today’s Parent and Chatelaine. Kathleen recently completed her Masters at The University of Toronto. Kathleen is currently working to become a registered Holistic Nutritionist from The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.