Pushing your Physical Limits

Posted on 28. Sep, 2010 by in Blog, Fitness, Motivation

How hard should you push when training? How much can the human body take before it gives out? Are you pushing too hard? Not pushing hard enough?

I am old school when it comes to training. Not all of the education in the world means a whole lot when dealing with the human spirit. As a fitness coach I can monitor heart rate, and breaths per minute and measure someone’s estimated anaerobic threshold, and all of the other “physiological markers” and it really doesn’t tell me much in the grand scheme of things. The majority of people out there will quit mentally way before their body gets to a point of any real danger. I have taken people to their own personal limits, only to discover that there are entire new boundaries that can be and need to be pushed through with a little more work and a lot more mental training. In fact, I have not trained many people that have come close to the real physical breaking point. Some people have suffered muscle cramps, asthma attacks, dizziness, etc…but in the end, all of these people were fine physically and in almost every case, it was other factors that caused these scenarios and not the actual training that was taking place. This is not to say that these people were not trying, or consciously gave up. Rather, these people have yet to learn how to push through the barriers that have caused them to stop. It’s a tricky problem for most. Each time you push through a new barrier, you become more resistant to “quitting” the next time out, while training at that same level.

Lactic Acid is not fun. If you have ever suffered the burn of your lactic acid system when it is going full force, then you know what I am talking about here. Lactic acid running through the fatiguing muscles of the untrained or unconditioned is usually the first thing that causes someone to “quit.” “Quitting” can be defined in many ways. Sometimes it is a flat out refusal to do anymore. Other times it is a slow down in tempo, partial reps, or extended rest periods that go way beyond what the training program is asking. Either way, it is a form of quitting. Everyone has quit at some time during his or her training “careers.” I have, and most of the people I train have. It doesn’t make anyone a quitter however. All that this means is that you have reached a point where you are too uncomfortable to go on at the current intensity. Each time out, if you push yourself a little further than the last time, you will improve and reach a new quitting threshold. Although this manifests itself physically through pain and discomfort, I will still argue that it is more mental than anything else.

It all comes down to dealing with pain. There is a difference between ‘pain threshold’ and ‘pain tolerance.’ Pain threshold is the instance that something you are doing signals that it is “painful.” Many people, beginners mostly, will quit when their body signals a type of pain. Pain tolerance is subjective and learned. It is where a person learns to tolerate pain to a certain degree and manages this pain based on their own experiences, definition of what this pain means. As you become more trained, usually your pain tolerance will go up…meaning you will be able to handle more “pain” as you train through difficult barriers.

So how hard should you push? This cannot be answered in an article, or even in a discussion. It is my experience that most people will learn to push through discomfort and “pain” as they become more trained. Knowing the difference between a real injury or physical problem and something that is just very uncomfortable is the key. Once you learn that breaking down an uncomfortable barrier is not going to result in injury, long tern damage or even death, usually you will succeed in improving and pushing your limits yet a little further.

Things to think about:

  • You WILL be uncomfortable during your training routines. This is normal and good. Learn to push through those uncomfortable times. It is the only way you will get better and improve
  • Get a training partner or hire a trainer/coach to work with you. You will be able to push through so many more physical and mental barriers when you have someone there pushing you along. It is much more difficult to quit when someone is by your side, helping and pushing you through.
  • Even the best trained people out there experience pain, discomfort and the urge to quit. The difference between these people and beginners is that the trained have learned that pushing through these times is necessary for real progress and more so, they figured out that they are not going to die from it. Rather, they know they will be better than ever once they get through.

One Response to “Pushing your Physical Limits”

  1. Chris

    28. Apr, 2008

    You are absolutely right. Pain creates quitters. But like you say, each time that you push a little farther, or lift a little more or try a little harder, you move your pain threshold back a little.

    What is amazing is that during a time of crisis, people do incredible things and then wonder how it happened. Everyone has it in them to do remarkable things, if they will just apply themselves and then let it happen.

    I think that your three closing points are worth noting. I always make better gains when I’m training with someone as opposed to training alone.

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