Reactions to exercise

Almost at the 12 week mark from my next competition. Hooooo boy. I have been slacking, but on the plus side in 2.5 weeks since I “started” (soft start?) I have actually managed to drop 2 pounds… so yay?

Also I’m pretty out of shape.

Please understand that when I say that I don’t mean I look fat, or have lost muscle tone.

What I mean is I have not done cardio in forever and a day and I nearly cried while on the stairmaster the other day.

Not a joke.

Actually almost cried.

This is not uncommon… and here is why.

I think people react differently to exercise of different types. Everyone has a unique reaction, but in general there are sort of… camps of reactions to the two broad types of exercise. So I wanted to discuss what happens to me versus other people and why it’s important to learn your reactions.

Exercise type #1 – raised heart rate for an extended period of time. This is usually in the form of cardio (either HIIT or LISS of the LISS is at a high enough intensity) but can also be from circuit style weights or active rest etc.

My reaction –crying/getting choked up. I really don’t know why this happens but it does, I usually stop before I actually start to cry, but I have let it go too far once or twice resulting in extreme embarrassment in the gym. Basically if my heart rate is too high, for too long I start to get that “lump in the throat” feeling and my breathing gets a little heavier and then the tears start to prick my eyes.

It’s a purely physical reaction… I don’t feel sad, or proud or anything else other than confused at why my body is deciding to cry from exercise. But the important thing is that I know what the reaction is and why it’s happening… I’m pushing too hard.

I’m a firm believer in pushing to your limit. I’m also a firm believer that your limit is where you should stop. All the “motivational” memes about throwing up and/or dying can go to hell. I stop when my body tells me to, which is ideally BEFORE the tears.

Exercise type #2 – intense heavy lifting or long holds. This is the purely muscular type of exercise and oddly I’ve had similar reactions when I am doing a 3rd set of max weight deadlifts as when I hold a pose too long in yoga (to be fair it’s usually because I have already worked that muscle outside of yoga, but the point stands).

My reaction – yawning and then failing at whatever the task is.

The failing aspect is pretty obvious. Your muscle is tasked past its limit, so it gives out and if, say, you have a 200 pound bar on your back, you are going to fall… hard… and probably hurt yourself (which is why you squat in a rack and/or with a spotter right?!). Temporary muscular failure is a good and useful thing to incorporate in exercise and I am by no means recommending to stop as soon as you fail. You just need to, again, know your limits.

The failure that I’m talking about happens AFTER the yawning. Yawning for me is a sign that my whole body is exhausted and it’s trying to get more oxygen to push through. This is usually about 4 exercises in to leg day and all my energy stores are tapped. It’s also the point where I start to struggle with doing my “normal” weights and have to drop to a lower weight in order to finish. This is a good solution and preferable to stopping. It’s also why I order my workouts from most difficult exercise to least difficult, usually ending with isolation or machine exercises. This cuts down on the risk of injury and mentally helps me get through to the end. Thoughts like “don’t be lame, it’s just calf raises” have definitely cropped up.

I would say that my reaction to heavy training is a fairly normal reaction, the whole crying thing is most certainly not normal, but I’m sure there are other people who experience the same thing. The important thing is to know how YOUR body reacts and whether that reaction means you should stop, ease up, or keep going. So here is a list of other reaction to look for that may help you identify what your body is telling you:

  • Dizziness or blurry vision– usually to do with blood pressure – stop immediately before you hurt yourself and/or pass out. Let it pass and then see if you can keep going once you recover.
  • Hyperventilation – you overexerted yourself. Take a break, get your heart rate down and see if you are able to push through.
  • Nausea – could be to do with what you ate before working out… or you could be going too hard. Either way, ease up on things and consider eating a lighter meal before exercise
  • Tired/sleepy – did you get enough sleep? Yes? You’re pushing too hard, go easier, but keep going
  • Red face/sweaty – you’re exercising… this is as it should be! Unless you are popping blood vessels, in which case you should breath more.
  • Euphoria – of course you are happy, endorphins! Keep at it!
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