You’re pulling into mile five of a 10K. You’re attempting to deadlift one and half times your bodyweight. You have three more rounds of burpees and air bike intervals.
In each of these scenarios, serious discomfort will inevitably creep in. So, how do you hit the “override” button, and push through? The real question, according to Dr. Jeff Spencer, an elite-level performance coach, is should you hit the “override” button?
“This advice [below] is the same I’d give to an Olympian going for a gold medal,” says Spencer. Take this quiz to find out if you should override — or not.
Good or Bad Pain? Find Out If You Should Override Your Discomfort, Or Dial Back
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you’re clear to override. If you answer no to any of the following questions, your best bet is to pull back on your planned workout, or skip it altogether.
1. Are You Following a Structured Workout Plan?
“Every workout should have a specific intention,” Spencer says. If you have a structured progressive plan, you know you’re adequately challenging the body, and that you have the ability to do whatever that day’s workout is. “When you show up, you should know the workout and what it’s designed to do,” says Spencer. “Come in, do it, finish, leave.”
2. Do You Feel Recovered?
If you know what your normal is — in terms of one rep max or how many burpees you can do in a certain time frame — you have a reference point. Let’s take front squats, for example. If you feel more fatigued than usual at rep six out of 12, you can take that as a warning sign that you shouldn't push it. “In that case, if you continue to rep 12 with the same weight, that will be really three times the load and impact because your body's tired,” Spencer says. And, he says, a true champion will not override but instead, pull back by adjusting, or even ending, their workout. “If you’re struggling through something that’s normally a breeze, that’s your body telling you that it’s not adequately recovered,” Spencer says.
3. Objectively, Are You Recovered?
“If your heart rate is higher than you anticipated, or you're sweating too fast, or you're breathing too hard those are all objective signs that your body is inadequately recovered, and you should pause and reflect,” Spencer says. On the other hand, if those metrics are all in the green zone, it could be a sign that the discomfort is more mental than physical, and it’s time to hit override.
4. Is It Global Discomfort (Vs Focal Pain)?
Can you point to your pain? (For example, a specific spot around your knee hurts.) That’s called focal pain and it’s a clear indicator to stop or else risk injury. “If it's global body exertion where you can't really pinpoint it (but you feel like, ‘man, this is hard') that has a place in a person's overall fitness program,” Spencer says. When you feel that way, see it as an opportunity to challenge your body so during recovery, it can move to a higher level of adaptive performance. Still, you shouldn’t feel that type of exertion all the time. Spencer recommends working with a coach in order to determine how often you should push yourself to the absolute edge.
How to Use Your Results to Push Yourself and Prevent Injury
Ok, so you know your subjective and objective measures and you’ve determined that what you’re feeling isn’t focal pain. Now what? “Anticipate that the human mind is a master at talking us out of things at critical times,” Spencer says. “It's like the critic inside of your head.” Here’s how to override it:
1. View Your Negative Inner Voice as a Fake
Spencer says that when that niggling voice pops up (“you can’t do this”; “you’re too weak”; “you should just quit now”), see it as an imposter, not the real you. “A lot of people listen to it and end up quitting.”
2. Don't Play the Mental Game, And You Don't Lose
The other mistake Spencer sees amateur athletes make is talking back to the voice. Picture a Spartan racer looking at the big tire and growling at it and maybe even yelling at it. “That’s fatal because you're playing the voice’s game,” Spencer says. The right way to handle that voice? Ignore it completely. “Redirect your attention immediately to maintaining form and continuing with the pacing of your workout,” Spencer says.
3. Keep Your Eyes On the Prize — No Matter What
You should also constantly remind yourself of your mission. One of the reasons Spencer says people try to talk back to the voice is because, subconsciously, they’re seeking external motivation. That’s a recipe for failure. Instead, you need internal motivation in order to be successful — and override discomfort. Ask yourself: what do you want out of what you're doing? What are you willing to do to get the results? “If you need motivation from somebody else, change what you're doing,” Spencer says.
(Do you have what it takes to crush the Spartan 300 with Logan Aldridge? Test yourself now!)