How would you like to learn the absolute best, most powerful super-duper awesomely radical amazing trick to increase performance and guarantee no chance of burn-out, overtraining, or plateauing? Well guess what, this secret is accessible to anyone and everyone and it’s even free. That’s right, it’s free! No pills, needles, gimmicks or any other whooty patooty niacin-overdosed, caffeine-hyped product that a shitty salesman fitness expert tries to sell. This wonderful little secret is the most powerful training tool that there is, but the problem is that 99% of people don’t use it, and the ones that do might not even be using it to its full potential.
So what exactly kind of voodoo whoo-ha am I talking about? Well, I am talking about the all too important tool that lives inside of us and is simply called listening to your body. Surprise! But seriously, it really works. The actual term used for this is called interoception. It’s somewhat related to a much more widely used term, proprioception, that is often more easily recognized. Proprioception is most simply put as ones awareness of body parts and their position in space. It’s what our brains use to know where things like our arms and legs are at all times so that they can be positioned in the right places at the right time… well most of the time, I’ll be one to admit that I’ve fell flat on a face more than a few times from misjudging a step or something. But luckily I just get up and say “damn you proprioceptive system, you got me good there” and go along my merry long way.
So what exactly is interoception and how can it help performance? Interoception is ones sense of what’s going on inside their body. It is the ability to know that your body temperature is rising, or that you are dehydrated, or sensing that your heart is beating. These are all very important things of course, but when it comes to athletic performance or weight-loss, interoception can also be used to put your body in the ultimate position for success. This can be done by actually listening to that thing inside our noggins that’s actually the only thing on the planet that truly has the capability to ignore itself.
The best way to utilize this tool of “interoception” is to listen to your body. By listening to your body, this means that you take rest when your body tells you it needs rest and you go hard when your body tells you it can. All too often people will hit a sport or activity with a 110% all the time and ignore the signs in their body that are telling them to take a chill pill for the day. How many times have we all said, “oh ya, I feel like crap but once I get warmed up and moving today I’ll be good” or “I feel like I got hit by a milk-truck this morning, but my off-day isn’t till Monday”? But guess what, if you truly feel like a bag of dog turds that got put in a mailbox then the best thing for you athletic performance and mental sanity is to truly just keep everything on the backburners for the day or even take the day off. This also goes for the other side of the spectrum as well. I can’t count the number of times people will hold back from going for a PR or doing an interval at full speed just because they weren’t supposed to. I’m not saying that it’s smart to belligerently disobey a coach or anything, but if you are truly feeling like your body is telling you to go full-throttle and drop the hammer then by all-means the best thing for you to do is to hit it hard, run like you stole an eagles egg and mama big bird is after you, or lift something heavier than you ever had before and push your car home you monster.
This even works for nutrition as well. Most of the time our bodies will tell us in the form of a food craving if we are missing something from our diets. For example, cravings for burned foods could mean that you are deficient in carbon and need to eat more fruit. Or cravings for acidic foods could mean that you are deficient in magnesium and need to increase your magnesium intake. Or one of the most popular is the craving for red meat or dirt or ice, these all show a sign of an iron deficiency. The same goes for macronutrients as well. If you are training hard and your energy sucks and the only thing you can think of is carbs then maybe, just maybe you should actually increase your carbohydrates, it will be the best thing you could ever do for your health and performance. I will add one disclaimer to the food cravings though, if the food cravings are coming from a pregnant female then they may just be something else, you can choose to ignore them or if you would like to live to see the day of the birth of your child (all future baby daddies) then definitely listen to the cravings.
Listening to our bodies if often overlooked without giving any thought to it. Pushing through training sessions or skipping certain foods just because we need to stay to the plan is great for will-power in the short run but will do damage in the long run. I like to think of it as running a car without checking under the hood and giving it what it needs every now and then. Can the car run without coolant or oil for a little bit, sure but is it doing more damage than good, yes. If it missing something, than give it what it needs. Listening to our bodies is truly the best way to know if you are recovering from your training or knowing if that diet you are trying is working.