“I want to start working out again, but it’s so much harder this time around.”
“Why can’t I workout like I used to?”
We hear this all the time, and we feel you! While the process to getting back to what you love isn’t always fast and easy, the reason that you’re struggling is.
If you don’t use it, you lose it.
It might be cliché, but it rings true in almost everything we do. You’ll lose gains in performance if you aren’t consistently using a skill and working to improve it. Don’t believe me? Try to help a high schooler with their math homework and see how much you can actually remember. You lost it, right?
Now, let’s apply this concept to our own bodies. Do you remember when we were kids and we were told to sit pretzel style with our legs crossed? Did you ever think to your preschool self, “there is no way I can do that?!” Of course not! You sat there for the entirety of story time, and didn’t feel any worse for wear. If you asked me to sit pretzel style now at the age of 26, I might end up in a wheelchair. My legs today are much stronger than they were when I was in kindergarten, so what’s the issue?
Yes! What is the issue?
It’s less socially acceptable to sit pretzel style on the floor, or do a number of tasks that we did as kids, so we just stopped doing them. Our bodies have adapted to what we actually are doing–sitting, standing, walking, and engaging in our sport or workout of choice. Eventually, our joints start to forget what it feels like to be rotated in opposite directions, through their own natural FULL ranges of motion (ROM). When we stop using the ability, our body adjusts to optimally perform what we’re doing consistently now.
Ok…can you give me an example?
People tend to look at athletes and marvel at the things their bodies are able to do. But let’s take a deeper look at a couple of professions and activities to get a clearer picture as to why and how they’re able to do it.
Stunt people and parkour freerunners put their bodies through the wringer. How can these people jump from 10 feet high, absorb the force by tucking and rolling and pop back up like it’s nothing? Meanwhile, so many others (even athletes!) make a tiny misstep and are stuck with an ache for the rest of the day.
The answer is they never stopped challenging their bodies through full ROM. They consistently used and built on the skills of absorbing force and other feats, and their bodies never forgot how to do it.
When I watch football, I often think about how just ONE play would probably sideline me for weeks. These guys play whole games, taking huge impacts, and then get up and go to practice the next day. How do they do it? You probably know the answer by now: They have consistently conditioned their bodies to do this skill their entire lives, and they never stopped using their full ROM.
In short, if you never stop using it, you’re likely not going to lose it.
I haven’t worked out in a long time, but I want to start working out again. Does this mean that I’ve lost it?
Not at all! But, it does mean that you’re going to need to start from the beginning to train your body through its full range of motion. This is why it’s so important to pace yourself when you begin any new activity. Your body needs time to adapt to what you’re asking it to do.
We see tons of athletes who are trying to start working out again or get back to the activity they love after a hiatus. They tend to have that motivation and excitement that we all have right at the beginning. But oftentimes, they’ll try to start right where they left off months (or even years) before, and expect the same results. They’re asking their body to perform in a way and on a level that it’s forgotten, and this will often lead to injury. So, you have to take the tortoise approach to getting back into activities: slow and steady will win the race.
Remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it–or you’ll have to work harder to get it back later!
If you’re trying to start working out again or aiming to get back to an activity that you love in a pain-free way, get in touch with us! We’re here to help get you on the path to the pain-free, high performance life you’ve been aiming for.
You can also check us out on Instagram, where we share exercises throughout the week that you can incorporate into your own workouts to address issues you might be dealing with.
Dr. Kennedy Chukwuocha DPT is our newest performance physical therapist. He’s a former Division 1 Basketball player, and his passion is helping others rehab injuries to get back to doing what they love. You can find his full bio here.