Pain is weakness leaving the body. Push through the pain. Dig deeper. Shut up, legs!
As a cyclist, I’ve lived in the pain cave for so long that I’ve built a fire and furnished the dank space. For nearly as long as I can recall I’ve felt discomfort and pain in one leg. It moved around, migrating from the IT band to hips and finally settling on the hamstrings and calf. I couldn’t ride for long without it catching up to me, persisting like a squeaky chain. I was new to cycling and everyone told stories of suffering and pain. The pros talked about pushing through it and smashing your own expectations. Obsessed with the sport, I wanted to test my limits, to see what I was really made of. Figuring my pain was just a side effect of the brutal sport, I trudged through.
We live in a world of excess motivation. Coaches and trainers tell us to do more, to keep driving forward, even Facebook displays inspirational messages to silence the voice that’s telling us to quit. Losers sit on the couch, but winners are out there testing their mettle. But how do we know when enough is enough and when we’re actually injured? Many of the athletes I work with don’t understand the difference until they’ve pushed themselves to the brink of overtraining. Hell, I spent years on the bike pushing through and ignoring pain. It wasn’t until I studied mobility, stability and muscle imbalances that I realized I had throw myself into an endless pain cycle.
By late-summer, I knew I needed more than a week of rest. Riding wasn’t fun anymore and my racing season was over as quickly as it had begun. I sought a professional who assessed my movement patterns and performed Neurokinetic Therapy (NKT), a technique that reprograms the brain to correct faulty movement patterns. It’s been a slow process as we uncovered several muscle tears that were never given the proper time to heal.
Looking at my defined quads and calves, I see the way cycling has shaped me. I never did much strength or stability training because I was always on the bike and didn’t want to be sore from doing something else. Cycling sculpted a great physique, but left my foundation unstable, creating the perfect storm for muscle imbalances and injury. The body isn’t meant to move in one plane or to pedal incessantly for hours, especially when we tend to spend our off-the-bike time in the same bent over position in front of a computer, driving or sitting. We need to strive for balance as athletes and as humans. I found out the hard way and it’s not surprising that some of the fittest-looking athletes are highly dysfunctional. Sure I could hammer up a hill, but I consistently failed a basic stability test.
It was time to check out of the pain cave. I gradually added some easy miles back into my week to test the torn hamstring, received regular bodywork and did something I never thought I would do: swing a kettlebell. Many traditional gym exercises just reinforce movement in a single plane, but kettlebell exercises have you training multiple planes. Plus it strengthens the posterior chain, all the muscles that get weak as the result of slouching forward on a bike. After just two workouts my lower back pain was gone. The workout reinforces healthy, strong movement patterns which in turn “seal the leaks” and help eliminate the unnecessary movements that rob us of power. We drop top dollar for the stiffest carbon, so why not start by bomb-proofing our own bodies?
That’s an investment I’m willing to make.