When I’m healthy, I get hurt

When I’m healthy, I get hurt.

That’s just how it is, and it probably goes all the way back to my childhood. Having a young one at home who is as accident prone as I was (am) helps me to remember those childhood injuries all too clearly.

I’ve long used the phrase, “When I hurt, I’m not healthy . . . and when I’m healthy, I get hurt.” It’s a little bit of a joke, but each part helps explain the other. When you are in pain, you make many decisions that simply serve to remove you from that pain. You aren’t using your soundest judgement because you’ve got a constant alarm going off: the way you feel is not the way you want to feel. 

Modern society offers quick cover ups. Because of this, pain can no longer teach. Let’s try and remember our Aristotle: “We cannot learn without pain.”

When you do feel good, you are usually active enough (i.e. work/play/train/compete hard enough) to over-exert or hurt yourself.

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here’s an audio version of this article,
Episode 59 of Gray Cook Radio

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We live in that constant flux between recovering from the last mistake or mistreatment of ourselves and looking for another opportunity to feel good enough to cause the same problems all over again.

I don’t know if I’ve really gotten better at this or not. I think one of the reasons I don’t get hurt as much is because I have a lot of residual pain from some of my previous misbehaviors. Some days, I wake up in pain and spend a little time trying to do the maintenance or corrective work to get me out of it. That’s reality.

When I do feel good, I’ll find a way to hurt myself. I’ll work out harder than I should. I’ll travel farther than I should. I stay up a little bit later and do a little more research than I should.

When I feel good, I’m going to do something that I shouldn’t do . . . and that something is probably going to hurt me.

How do you become a competent self-regulator? How do you get good at it?

If you don’t self-regulate, many other things will regulate you.

So, how do you self-regulate?
Listen to your body,
Understand movement, and

Know the resources that are physically available to you and the different ways you can be resourceful with them.

Simply put, that’s the dance that gets you through it.

We don’t really have a good gauge for balance in our lives, and yet all the ancient wisdom tells us that balance is the key to life. Balance is when life is at its best.

Anything that can take you out of balance, even though it might be different from where you are now, ultimately, it is not as sustainable . . . and it won’t create as much independence as balance does.

Since I graduated from PT school and became a strength coach in 1990, I’ve had many discussions about fitness and rehabilitation and have realized that, when it comes to personal fitness and rehabilitation, most of us will want independence and sustainability as much as any other goal. When we are injured or when we’re unfit—when we need rehabilitation or fitness education—we don’t want to be unnecessarily dependent. This doesn’t mean that we won’t be open to education, but at some point, the educator can fade away while the education remains.

It’s funny how we expect it to work that way in everything else we learn . . . but in fitness, we have dependence. In health, we have dependence. We can’t seem to learn enough to regulate our lives, our lifestyles and our activity loads in a way that keeps us in harmony with our environments and our social connections.

We sleep too much. Or we sleep too little.
We eat too much. Or we eat too little.
We have poor quality in each of the above. Or, we have great quality.

Somehow, we always find a way to screw up one of these dynamics:

The way we move.
Our social interactions in our environment.
Our food.
Our sleep.

Always check quality first . . .

Robb Wolf’s book Wired to Eat goes deeper into these four aspects of life. Highly recommended.

One of those things, we’ll do to excess and one we’ll do to a level that isn’t sustainable and doesn’t create independence.

My wife and I have had a recent opportunity to volunteer by teaching Physical Education classes (K-7) at a local elementary school. I want to see how the next generation is moving now, and see if there’s anything I can do to help them improve. But I’m not just constructing functional games and offering up new pieces of challenging equipment—The entire dynamic intrigues me.

I’ve been fascinated by the various statistics showing that America’s educational systems is lagging behind much of the world. It’s true, even though our classrooms are climate controlled, our school facilities are more modern and our teacher-to-student ratio is closer to optimal. There are places with far fewer resources that are educating kids better than us using resourceful means. One of the things they do is to introduce a problem at the beginning of class and let the class discover the solution, as opposed to the teacher simply reading the answer to a question that the kids haven’t pondered.

However, when we teach physical education, it is, first and foremost, good to understand who you are working with and what their movement abilities are. That’s why I’m an advocate of screening and that’s why I think screening should be part of physical education. So that’s what we’re doing in out K-7 classes.

That said, I don’t want screening to eclipse the work that can happen when we unleash the the human movement pattern learning system. You see, it’s not until we encounter a movement learning obstacle that we start getting resourceful with the resources that we currently have. That’s where learning starts. Learning to problem solve is a skill that we prize mentally but shy away from in the physical world. When you handle free weight or an obstacle, you must problem solve. When you sit on a machine, you just need to push, pull and pretend that it’s real work (note: intense expressions help.)

So with these kids, my wife and I have been creating physical problems to solve. When you are facing a wall, a box or a balance beam, you cannot instantly get stronger.

In those situations, you are forced to use what you have. That frustration creates a question . . . and that question will embrace an answer. Some kids will do well on an obstacle. Other kids won’t. The first thing we’ll do is stop the class 10 minutes early and we’ll talk. We’ll discuss why and how to handle this challenge if we have it again tomorrow. What would you do differently? If you had a few weeks to prepare, what would you do differently?

Kids will quickly learn that some things will create an instantaneous response—better technique, better breathing, better focus, slower approach, more rapid balance decisions—all these things we can do to anticipate the activity. What are some things we can do that rely on physical adaptation, realizing that I can’t change my strength today . . . but in about 2.5 weeks, I can probably demonstrate a much stronger version of myself. This isn’t because my muscles are larger. It’s that my brain is better organized.

We watch them process this message, realizing that it may change their physical path in life. Physically smarter beats physically harder in the long game of life.

We want to use these physical obstacles/opportunities not just to run kids through blind drills to burn their calories and get rid of their wiggles. We want to do it to challenge their brains and their bodies at the same time. Physical problem solving is no different than mathematical problem solving or communication and language problem solving. We simply need to use better symbols, better communication, better accountability and better baselines for our postures and patterns. I think we can.

Until that day comes, we should probably take some lessons that we hope the kids of the future will be provided with. What are they?

Everything that we do, every day, is physical problem solving. Rest and regeneration . . . Rehabilitation when you are injured may help you get back quicker. Engaging your confidence against reality (whether you are in competition in work or fitness) will help make you a better self-regulator. The longer I have worked in movement, the clearer this observation has become:

It’s not just how you move . . . It’s how you think you move.

Screening movement is one basic way to look at movement confidence and movement reality. There are a few different scenarios that can play out here:

1) You believe your movement screen is average or better than average, and it isn’t. In this case, your confidence is greater than your reality and you are likely to take on challenges that could prove unhealthy. (As Aristotle said, “We can’t learn without pain.)
2) Your reality is greater than your movement confidence. In this second situation, you will probably unnecessarily avoid healthy challenges. Bottom line – you may not get injured, but you also won’t be fully developed.
3)Your movement reality and movement confidence are matched. Go for it. Start self-regulating and have fun.

I opened my first book, Athletic Body in Balance, with the inscription from the Greek temple at Delphi: “Know Thyself.” If you know yourself, you can regulate yourself and you are well on the way toward sustainable physical independence.

There’s no reason that we have to hurt as much as we do. And when we’re healthy, we don’t need to go and get hurt because we are simply out of touch with our ability to recognize and write movement patterns.

You can choose to learn from physical screens and tests and proactively start to customize your physical challenges and experiences . . . or you can wait for pain to help you wake up. Your call.


Need to play catch up on all things MOVEMENT?
Here are some of my favorite lectures, conveniently in one collection:

Gray Cook lectures