The Importance of Listening to your Body

One of the most important and rarely talked about abilities of a good athlete is to listen to their body. Ex-pro, Chris Opie, shares his expertise and experiences to maximise your training and reduce the risk of injury.

Often it can be assumed that as an athlete, all that matters is you just keep pushing, no matter how you feel. And whilst this could be true at times in competition, this is rarely the case in training. The truth is, the most important lesson to learn is when to push and when to ease off, based on how you are feeling and how your body is responding to training, and life in general.

Hurting and feeling tired are both completely normal sensations when cycling, especially if you’re riding more than normal. But the pain you are feeling should be helping to inform you of how things are going…

An intense, localised pain is generally a sign there is a problem, whereas a broader ache is most likely an indication of sustained intense training just above your body's comfort zone. This is a good pain and one that you can endure day after day. 

An intense localised pain however, should be addressed quickly and used as an indication that something isn’t quite right. Often these pains are an early indication of imbalances, overuse or potential injury. It will be an acute pain when on the bike, or a new pain you hadn’t previously felt off the bike. So listen carefully as you could prevent yourself from having a long recovery period or time off. It could also be helpful to seek advice if you notice recurring feelings like this.

The broader, less intense ache is also a warning, but can become one over a prolonged period of days and weeks. Use this as a gauge for how much training load you can place your body under. If it becomes an all consuming sensation that doesn’t go away after an easy day or two, it's time to consider taking a longer rest. 

On the whole it shouldn’t take more than 24-48 hours to recover from a training session or event. Though there will always be exceptions to this rule for events or sessions that exceed what your body considers to be normal.

I believe that it is perfectly acceptable when training hard to find it hard and a bit of a struggle for 5 out of every 7 rides. In order to improve physically you need to subdue your body to a certain amount of stress and fatigue, without this we wouldn’t be able to see the training adaptations we desire.

But for 2 of those 7 rides you should be feeling somewhere from ok to good. Throughout years of racing and training, I found this to be a useful guide when it came to understanding overload and recovery. Once the balance of this starts to tip either way, you will be either losing fitness as you’re not pushing hard enough, or you will be losing freshness through unnecessary training load.

Listening to your body takes on an increased level of importance when recovering from illness or injury. In either case, your priority is to avoid anything that will further set you back. In the early days of your rehabilitation and easing back into training, it is therefore important to have an increased awareness of how your body is handling your rebuild.

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