Our reality is based solely on how we interpret our external and internal environment. We have very little control over what happens around us but we have complete control on how we think, feel and act on these experiences.
I believe that if we can expand our interpretation of pain, we could also change how we react to it and use it to help us excel in any sport.
Pain has a bad reputation. In the dictionary the definition of pain is a physical suffering or agony due to an injury or illness. It’s a distressing sensation in the body. It’s a mental or emotional suffering, even a torment.
No one wishes this kind of pain for herself or others. But let’s step out of our comfort zone for a few minutes and explore the idea that pain can sometimes be a good thing.
I would like to add to your dictionary a fourth definition of pain: Pain is a healthy response experienced when pushing the body and mind to new levels of physical fitness and mental stamina.
To help solidify this new definition, I invite you to try an experiment on learning what healthy pain feels like. I guarantee that you will not be hurt and can stop at any point in the experiment without injury.
The experiment is simple. Stand against the wall. Walk your feet forward, away from the wall about one foot. With your head, shoulders and low back touching the wall, slide down the wall until your knees are bent at a right angle in a type of squat. Now sit and wait for the pain to come. Try to stay in this wall sit position for at least one minute.
Within a few seconds you will feel discomfort in your legs. The muscles are isometrically contracting and fatiguing, telling your body to stop because pain usually means injury. But there is no reason to stop. Even though it hurts, you will not injure yourself. Once you can discover what healthy pain feels like and can feel confident it will not injure you, you can train your mind to allow your body to continue training, pushing into a new pain threshold.
If you knew that the longer you stayed sitting against the wall, the stronger your legs will be, would that entice you to sit for longer?
Consider the long-term results of having strong muscles to carry you towards your next finish line. Think of how much benefit strong legs can be in your everyday life. Are those results enough to endure a bit of good pain?
Once you learn how to accept good pain and tell your brain that you are safe and not in any danger, you will have mastered the art of mind over muscles. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean you will be able to sit against the wall indefinitely because eventually the muscles will give up but until that point, it’s only your mind controlling when you stop.
Are you wondering why this is so important? In sport, it is everything. As an athlete, your mental strength is just as important as your physical strength. It is vital in helping us overcome physical barriers to getting stronger.
Before you decide to explore your pain threshold, I would like to add some fine print before I get numerous emails of pulled groins, hamstrings and other muscles.
Learning the difference between good and bad pain should be done with care. Only allow yourself to tolerate a little bit of pain at a time and only for a short period of time during each training session. If you push yourself too hard too soon or too often without the proper progression, you will tear the muscles and will need to take too much time off from training to recover, delaying your progression to a faster, stronger you.
Practising the art of pushing yourself beyond the pain barrier is only recommended for experienced athletes who have been training in their sport for at least two years and have developed a strong fitness base.
Kristina Bangma is a coach, personal trainer and writer with a love of riding and racing. Email questions to Kristina@kitsenergy.com.