Building the Resilient Athlete: Identifying the Signals Your Body Sends
Updated: Feb 2
Stress is stress. It doesn’t matter if you are moving, training for a big race, getting married or starting a new job. Your body can’t differentiate the different types of stress we are exposed to as humans and as athletes.
As athletes we have been taught our entire lives to grit our teeth and push our body to the limit to reach our goals. I am a huge advocate for hard work and perseverance, but that is not the same as pushing ourselves beyond our limits and into the danger zone. Especially, since many athletes don’t even recognize when they are in the danger zone.
Athletes are taught that more is better, we can rest when we die, never quit, and never give up. This culture of just do it in combination with waking up with tightness, soreness or pain, every single day can make it difficult to notice the subtle cues your body is sending you.
I believe some athletes ignore the cues they are getting because they are afraid to stop or change what has worked for them in the past, even if it is no longer working for them now. I see this a lot in female athletes when they reach their training plateau in middle school or high school. I also believe that some athletes are so used to feeling a particular way that they don’t see the distress signs from their body as distress- because distress is normal for them.
I was recently on a call, with several my colleagues, from different disciplines. We were discussing how to help our athletes understand that sometimes the best answer is to stop and rest. As I was listening, I heard many examples of athletes that do what they have always done because that is what they are used to. I heard equally as many reports of athletes that don’t know if something is wrong because they have always been in pain.
It might be common for athletes to be in pain, but it is not “normal" to be in pain. Pain is a warning sign from our body to slow down and back off. Unfortunately, by the time we are in pain it might be too late because we have already missed so many other warning signs our body has given us along the way. Warning signs can include but are not limited to fatigue, respiratory illness, increased resting HR, increased level of perceived exertion, loss of concentration, restlessness, difficulty sleeping and change in appetite.
I have found that tracking Heart Rate Variability (HRV) can be a way for athletes to start tracking and learning the various warning signs their body gives them. The nervous system plays a key role in regulating our entire system. It is impacted by our thoughts, emotions, physical training, what we eat and how much we sleep. When it is in balance, we can perform at higher levels, recover better, and stay out of trouble. When it is imbalanced injury and illness show up. HRV is the window into an athlete’s nervous system and can provide us with useful data and information to reach our goals faster, fitter, healthier and happier. It is non-invasive and easy to track. If you or your athletes are having a difficult time identifying warning signals your body is sending, then I would start tracking your HRV.
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