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Stop Forcing It

Stop Forcing It by @stronginsideout

As I explore deeper into what this Health Movement means and the scope of it in our all-or-nothing society, I uncover more and more evidence of our need for balance.

Last week, I was sent this article from The New York Times about a little-known condition called “rhabdomyolysis,” not-so-affectionately referred to as “rhabdo” by experts. Basically, it flares up after intense workouts like spinning, CrossFit or running, causing overworked muscles to start actually dying and leaking their contents into the bloodstream. Ouch. Gross. And many boos.

You know what’s really f**ked up about it? Rhabdo experts say that this outcome is preventable if sufferers just start slowly. For instance, if they were to do 20 minutes on the stationary bike, ramping up slowly to their first spin class instead of FORCING change by going all in at Soul Cycle their very first time. Or if they were to start walking, then add short jogging intervals, increasing them gradually until they’re comfortable running the whole time instead of FORCING change by signing up for a 10k and not training at all.

Now, before you go running to your doctor asking if you have rhabdo, let me ensure you that it’s super rare. But the condition reflects an unhealthy pattern that many of us go-getters think is normal when we start or restart exercising.

I hope to shatter this all-or-nothing ideal today by sharing the truth: forcing too much too fast is detrimental, shame-provoking and completely unnecessary. It might be hard to hear (especially because it has become so normal), but I hope you hear me and I hope it serves you.

The Force It Paradigm

Many of us have an idea in our heads of what we’re “supposed to do” and it’s often way more intense than our bodies are ready for. It’s usually the “perfect” version of whatever we’re starting or restarting (a marathon runner, a CrossFit competitor, a spinning queen, etc.). We force our bodies to comply by going as hard as this ideal we have in our head, and we end up either: out for a week because of overtraining, injured, or just plain HATING IT THE WHOLE TIME – none of which are great if the goal is to create a lifelong habit of consistent movement.

Forcing it is not the way to build a healthy habit of movement; it’s just the opposite.

More often than not, it leads to negative physical and mental consequences that deter us from exercise. If it’s too hard, we often go to that “we suck” place which makes us want to throw in the towel. Because: All or Nothing.

Why Can’t We Stop?

We hear it all the time: slow and steady wins the race. So why is this so hard for us to implement? Why are we so resistant to starting at a level that feels only slightly uncomfortable for us (instead of downright harmful) if we know that’s what it will take to get better safely?

Starting slowly is extremely hard for those of us who struggle with perfectionism. We see this ideal image and think that if we’re not that, then we’re nothing at all. So naturally, we try to start with the workouts that they do because we want to be at that level. We just think that we’ll catch up… and we will. Just not like this.

The Truth

Those people that we’re comparing ourselves to didn’t start at the level they’re at now. They started from the beginning just like you have to, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

All-or-nothing thinking leads us to believe that our current state will last forever unless an extreme measure is taken, and so we try to force ourselves into things we’re just not ready for to FORCE change. The part of our mind that sees only in black and white makes us impatient and blind to any progress we make slowly; we want it all now and this part of our mind makes us believe that we can have it.

It’s with great Love that I say: you can’t have it this way.

None of us can. Not even the ones who are naturally good at it; they have to ramp up, too. They have to learn proper form. They have to condition their muscles and breathing. There are so many steps between here and there that NEED to be taken; none of us can just jump all the way across that expanse.

Sure, there are a few “lucky ones” who don’t ramp up and never get injured, but believe me when I say they are very few.

Do you really want to subject yourself to the risk of injury or burn out just to satisfy the part of you that doesn’t think you’re enough?

When you find yourself struggling with the urge to force change, remember that your beginning is not your forever. Just because you’re here right now doesn’t mean anything about you being “weak” or “not _____ enough.” It just means you’re at the start. It just means that you’re strong enough to honor what your body needs to get where you want to go.

I used to hear this kind of advice from seasoned trainers and health gurus and just let it go in one ear and out the other. Now – many burn-outs and injuries later – I finally understand the importance of ramping up. I hope you read this and are able to take in the weight of it, or rather: let go of the need to be something you’re not yet, but may very well be with time.

Fluidity Over Forcing

If you’re not going to force, you might be wondering what your other options are. Let me introduce you to Fluidity.

Fluidity is the magical place where change comes more easily, stress melts away and our desperation for change transmutes into a trust that it’s already coming.

Everything you’ve ever wanted from movement comes from this place and comes without suffering. Maybe you’ve had glimpses of it before, but haven’t been able to hold onto it. Don’t worry, I’m here to teach you how to rediscover it and stay in it.

Your direct route to Fluidity is this: your focus.

Fluidity is found when we shift our focus while we move, allowing the discomfort to be present, refusing to run from it, and honoring our body’s need to ramp up and take breaks. When we redirect focus to the present, to acceptance and to thoughts that serve us instead of drain us, we find fluidity.

Can you refocus from what you aren’t able to do yet to what you’re doing right now, and do it to the best of your ability? Can you do that while being aware of self-judgment and redirect it to acceptance that where you are is where you need to be right now?

When you become aware of yourself trying to escape discomfort through distraction, can you shift focus to how the movement makes you feel: the release, the empowerment, the achievement?

When you find yourself pushing your body beyond your physical limitations, can you instead honor your body when she/he calls for you to slow down or take breaks instead, allowing yourself to feel powerful in that decision? That takes f**king guts to say “I’m owning this break!”

Many of our default thinking patterns magnetize us toward hopelessness, defeatism and struggle. It takes effort and willingness to tear your gaze from those familiar dark places, and consciously put it on what builds you up instead of breaking you down.

If you’re struggling with what exactly to focus on, dedicate your next movement session to one of these areas of focus:

  • An empowering mantra that helps you stay in the experience.
  • What you’re getting out of this discomfort – why are you doing this?
  • Listening to your body by stopping or slowing down when you feel called to take a break.
  • Being here and doing this is your choice. You can always stop if it’s too much.
  • Do what feels good even if it’s not the workout you had planned.
  • In this moment, what do you need? TAKE IT.

Since you’re coming back from a place of forcing, you might go about this shift in the way you’re accustomed to: by forcing it. Acknowledge that urge, then decide to allow this shift to be gentle and loving. It won’t happen all at once. You’re probably not going to land in endless fluidity overnight, but you’ll get there. Just like we start or restart our movement program slowly, we ease into fluidity slowly.

So many of us have felt that exercise has to be pushing and forcing; we don’t feel like we’ve done enough if we don’t feel like we have struggled through it. Creating positive change doesn’t have to feel like torture: that’s the forcing way. Sure, getting a bit uncomfortable is what it takes to create change, but it doesn’t have to be an all-out struggle in the process.

No more punishing our bodies or beating them into submission. [tweet it] We treat our bodies as we wish to be treated: with Love, gentleness and acceptance.

There’s a whole world open for you here, and it doesn’t require you to be anything you’re not already. Come join us. The Health Movement is waiting for you.

Here’s to the end of forcing and the beginning of fluid, ease-y, balanced change.



pic by Dmitri Popov

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