In the last post I shared some transcribed parts of Rich Roll’s podcast that covered one coach’s way of establishing healthy and injury-free athletes.

There was one point in that discussion that may have drifted by too fast – it is so subtle but so profound that I feel I should bring it front and center right now.

Your joints do not develop as fast as your fitness does.

This means that your metabolic system and big muscle groups can become stronger at a much faster rate while the smaller tissues and motor system that keeps your joints safe cannot keep up. The older we get, the more gap there may be between the rate at which we can work harder, and the rate at which our joints can get ready to support that harder work.

Fitness = your body’s ability to accomplish work.

But that definition does not include the cost you pay to get that work done. You may be fit and can ‘get it done’ but you may pay for it by having parts of the body shut down permanently many years before they would have if you had trained with a different approach. (It is astonishing to see so many scars on the hips and knees of the men in the locker room at my fitness club).

Health = your body’s ability to last a long time.

You can be fit and still be quite unhealthy, or you can be healthy and fit.

This is the reason why restraint is needed – not out of fear of hard work, but out of respect for the need joints have for careful, progressive conditioning. This progression slows you down in the beginning of a new training season so that even harder work can be done later, and done for many more years. Progression protects your health by protecting your joints.

My Backstory

Looking back now on my teenage swimming years, I feel that the downfall of my shoulder tendons was from technique flaws (I was mostly left in ignorance by my coach on how to perform the strokes) and grossly insufficient general conditioning before I got into hard specialized workouts. My joints could not handle it. I felt ambitious in my mind and I felt energetic in my body so I didn’t understand why anything else could stand in the way of my progress.

But this is how the story played out:

  • My ambition developed faster than my fitness.
  • My fitness developed faster than my joints.
  • My joints finally protested and shut me down.

And all these years since I still have to be so careful of falling into this same destructive pattern.

In 2001, when I discovered TI, with decent swimming fitness on board, I took many months at lower intensity swimming to reshape my stroke. I had no external pressures on me (no race dates looming) so I could take the time to develop with respect to keeping my joints healthy. I experienced marvelous results and shoulder soreness was virtually eliminated when I maintained my new technique.

In 2010, I started encountering ‘barefoot’ runners for the first time and they planted the seed that I could experience running in a better way. Around 2012, with very little running fitness on board, I took a couple years, again with no external pressures, to very carefully reshape my running stride. I experienced a great reduction in stress on my body from this new style. My joints no longer ached after runs.

This last November, with very good running fitness on board, doing half-marathon distance training, I made another small modification in my running stride, from more fore-foot strike to more of a mid-foot strike. It relieved some soreness in certain muscles but created new problems in others. My knees protested a bit. The problem is that I tried to insert this modification without lowering the intensity of my training. It was not appropriate to immediately go out on runs that were up to the ability of my fitness when my joints were now trying to deal with a significant shift in how they were being loaded. In December I started getting pains in tissues around the knee that would hurt enough to shut me down after 30 minutes of running.

After the New Year a sinus illness and those leg pains knocked me down for a few weeks. That was a blessing in disguise for I needed to back off training at the capacity of my fitness so I could get the protesting tissues to quiet down and reconditioned slowly to handle a new way of working. At this moment, I seem to have worked through those new problems and am gradually getting back to half-marathon training distances again.

Beware Of Disunity

But, that addiction to Flow State at certain higher workloads appropriate to my fitness is often trying to pull me farther than the weakest member of my team is ready to go. This is the danger: disunity within my own being.

My being is not merely my mind. It is not merely my strength. It is not merely my body. It is all of these and more. All of them must be ready to work together at the same intensity if it is going to work out over a long span of time.

I believe the whole body, all parts of me, want to perform at their highest potential – I was made for this – but I have to respect that facts of physiology in how I go about working toward that potential. I need to keep improving my understanding of how this being works, on how to condition all of it properly. I need to continually practice listening and responding wisely to my body. There is no lazy bone in me – just protests from parts that are not being given proper attention, or worse, feeling some abuse.

The whole body, all members of the performance team – the mind, the metabolic, the muscular, the motor must be developed. The weakest member of this team is what determines the appropriate intensity of your training. You must train according to the current capabilities of that weakest member until it is brought up to strength proportional to the other members. Then they can all work harder together.

Priority Of Joint Maintenance

They say that for aging, even when staying hear the peak of your potential at each age, there is a gradual loss of performance. The problem is that few can stay even close to their genuine age-group potential because injuries to joints shut down their ability to do any work at all. And when someone older gets knocked down by a joint injury it is even harder to get back up to the previous performance level because those joints heal so slowly and the fitness loss is so great during that time. This can be discouraging for an older athlete. This can be literally deadly for a frail, older being.

It is becoming clear from my studies on physiology and aging that joint maintenance is one of the highest priorities – for young and for old because you take your damaged joints with you through life. In fact there is a whole set of these body-maintenance priorities that all rank about the same because the neglect of any one of them and it can bring the whole being down quickly. But since joint protection has been one of the weaker pieces on my team, one which I have been slowest to respect, it is the one I need to work on the most these days.

How about you?

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