What does it mean to listen to your body?
After my hernia repair I had a lot of questions about what I could or couldn’t do. As a trainer who didn’t want to miss a lot of work, I wanted to know how soon I could get back to training people. When could I pick up a barbell? When was it safe to start stretching in different ways. At about the 8 week mark I was given a “go ahead” to do all the things, with the advice, “just listen to your body.” Within a few days I started having a lot of pain, so I called the doctor, he asked me what I was up to and I got put on a 10lbs restriction for 6 weeks. Apparently, I hadn’t listened all that well…or I just didn’t know what I was listening for.
We’ve heard it a lot…just listen to your body! This is really common advice to pregnant and postpartum women when it comes to exercise. But…what the heck does this even mean?
If I sit in a quiet place and ask my body what it needs…it usually just says…CAKE! So, I guess that’s not a reliable source of information.
What do trainers/doctors/other professionals really mean when they say “listen to your body?”
- Are you having pain? Women are notorious for ignoring pain. Research shows that women will often wait longer before going to the doctor, or even the ER when they are having pain. This might be because they downplay their symptoms…I mean, many women have birthed a child for godssake so that puts pain into perspective a bit. But it could also be because of certain biases from doctors. Studies also show that some doctors are less likely to take women’s concerns about their bodies seriously. So, if you are having pain, we want to know where, doing which movement, and how bad. We want to know all the things about your pain so we can troubleshoot the movement, find you a new movement, or maybe just make some changes to your posture or breath during that movement.
- Do you know what symptoms to watch out for? Women seem to accept that a lot of physical changes occur with motherhood. And, for realz, a human just came out of your body…there will be physical changes. But we seem to accept some of these as “just how it is now” when we might not have to. If you are experiencing incontinence, painful sex, pelvic pain, pressure in the pelvic or abdomen, there are probably a lot that can be done about those things and you don’t just have to live with it. So, if you feel those things, let’s talk about it! We tend to want to keep our privates private. But if we don’t speak up when we have these symptoms, they won’t go away, and might get worse.
- Do you push through because it felt ok at first? Sometimes when we are doing an exercise it feels great at first. But as we do more reps, or run more miles, we start experiencing pain or symptoms. Maybe we can do 5 perfect squats, but that 6th one makes us pee a bit. Maybe we can deadlift our bodyweight, but as soon as we add 2lbs over we get a twinge in our pelvis. It can be tempting to push through, because it felt great to start with goshdarnit! But it is important to stop, assess, and gather this new information about your body so you can try some different things. This doesn’t mean you’ll never go up in weight or reps in you lifts, but it means that your body isn’t ready for this intensity or volume right now.
- Do you feel like you are mentally and physically prepared to do this activity? Especially after sharing our body with another human for a good part of a year, many of us are ready to start feeling like ourselves again. We feel the urge to push ourselves to “get our body back.” But sometimes we are doing this when we are tired from midnight feedings, undernourished from not having the time to cook, or stressed out or depressed from big hormonal and life changes. Pregnancy and postpartum might be a time for grace, not gusto.
So, now you know what it means to listen to your body. If you want more guidance on listening to your body through pregnancy and postpartum, schedule a consultation with us! We’d be happy to show you the ropes!