Fitness, Failure, And Fear Of Injuries

Today, let’s dive into fitness, failure, and fear of injuries. These are interesting topics that are closely related. A friend who follows my posts asked if I could write about it (if you have ideas for other topics you want to hear about, please let me know). Last week I was speaking with her and she expressed that she doesn’t exercise as much because she’s scared of getting injured.

Cathy (her witness protection program name) mentioned that she has 3 kids and a high-pressure job and that getting injured would have a significant negative impact on her family, career, and income. These are all legitimate concerns, and anyone would be wise to think about the potential impact on their life of a catastrophic situation. This is what insurance is for.

However, fear of injury from participating in a fitness program, and actual risk are completely different situations.

Fear is completely normal, and a good thing. Without fear, we would likely do all kinds of silly things in life. (Some of us already do). You may have heard some people talk about “rational” and “irrational” fears. Rationality is very subjective.

Have you ever tried telling your spouse that she is being irrational? Let me know how that conversation goes…I made that mistake…ONCE! I like to see fear as being helpful or unhelpful based on a given scenario. The same fear may be helpful in one situation, and unhelpful in another.

woman geting injured while runing

Let’s take a closer look at the fear of injury from exercise.

Many people are concerned about doing “free weights” because they are often viewed as “dangerous” and with a higher risk of injury. This is a complete MYTH. The opposite is actually true. Those people using “selectorized” machines at the gym (or not exercising at all) are at greater risk of injury. (More about that later)

Regardless, fear is real for the person experiencing it. Let’s run with the analogy of a “free weight squat exercise”, and see how fear can be both helpful and unhelpful.

If it was your first day ever in a gym, you’ve never exercised before, and someone asks you to do a barbell back squat with 400lb on the bar, being scared of injury would be justified.

On the flip side, if your coach gave you a 10lb training bar and asked you to do the same movement (barring any existing medical conditions or other ailments), being scared of injury would be unhelpful if it stopped you from trying the movement and learning how to improve. The potential for injury is always present with activity, but when approached properly it’s very minimal and far outweighs the risk of doing nothing

Reduction in injury risk comes from three important areas:

  • Movement quality
  • Movement skills
  • The coordination confidence that comes from doing the work to build these areas.
Movement Quality

This is by far the most important part of any fitness program…or life. The quality of the movement you perform will determine how your body responds, and the results you achieve. Poor quality movement leads to pain, frustration, and injury.

High-quality movement leads to greater performance, lower injury risk, and better results from every active thing you do. Unfortunately, most people (even those who are very active) move poorly. They are trying to build fitness on a broken-down body and flawed foundation.

This is where fear of injury is HELPFUL!

If you are out of shape, stressed out, not sleeping well, eating poor quality food, and haven’t been taught to move correctly, then YES, starting a fitness program (particularly a high-intensity one) is a recipe for injury.

The analogy I use with clients is to take a rusted-out junk car, loosen the lug nuts on the wheels, and then drive it on a professional rally course. It won’t perform well and will likely break down catastrophically during the race. Yet, this is what people do every day when they go to the gym for a workout or fitness class.

Building high-quality movement patterns are the most important thing you can do for your future physical capability.

If you would like to learn more on how to perform foundational movements correctly to maximize the benefits of your workouts and daily activities, register for our Movement Foundations Course.

register now for our Movement Foundations Course

Movement Skills

Understanding that fitness is about starting at the beginning of the Movement Spectrum necessitates a mindset shift about your physical development. As with most areas of life, we get better by acquiring knowledge and putting that information into action. In essence, we build new SKILLS. Movement is the same.

As you now know, Movement is NOT about fitness or performance.

It’s about coordinating your body and getting it to move in the ways you want it to (and that it is required to throughout life and various activities). You don’t have to be sweating or exhausted to do this. In fact, when you are learning a new skill, you want to be fresh and rested.

As you gain competence and start expanding the scope of that particular skill, gradually adding an element of fatigue can be an excellent way to progress the difficulty. Doing this at the beginning without a proper grasp of skill can lead to injury.

Remember when I mentioned people using machines at the gym instead of free weights?

This is why doing that is MORE dangerous than using free weights. With machines, you aren’t building any movement skills. Sure, you can improve your muscle strength, size, and aesthetic appeal.

However, when you get out of the machine and try to do anything in life, your body won’t have the skills necessary to perform well. Muscles are definitely part of the movement, but in real life, sport, and most activities, they are all integrated and working together to move you properly.

Typical machine training, along with many traditional free weight exercises, involve isolating individual muscles.

This isolation doesn’t transfer well to the integrated movements in life, leading to a greater potential for injury, and a misplaced sense of confidence in your physical prowess.

a woman who hikes

Coordination and Confidence

As you build your “toolbox” of skills and begin expanding the scope, your confidence will quickly improve. Fear of injury should decrease for those fitness skills you’ve mastered.

Keep in mind that confidence can also be a double-edged sword.

As mentioned above, many people mistakenly believe their physical capabilities are much greater than they actually are (at that point in time). This is evident in the weekend warrior, “over the hill” athletes, and many gym enthusiasts who train using the “bodybuilding” style, often leading to a continuous string of injuries that keep physiotherapists in business!

With that being said, when you learn to move PROPERLY and begin building your toolbox of skills, confidence is a natural and beneficial result.

This includes confidence in your ability to do those particular skills, but also the confidence to learn NEW skills. This mindset shift is invaluable to your future development, and begins to make activity and exercise FUN!

This is a good time to mention failure.

Most people think of failure as a bad thing. In reality, failure is essential, and a natural part of learning any new skill. Once we’ve shifted our mindset to see this and truly understand the power of it, fear of failure is virtually eliminated. Every failure becomes another opportunity to learn, get stronger (mentally and physically), and move toward your objective.

Your Future Fit Self.

The more active you get, the more challenges you will be confident tackling in life. This is great. I’m a firm believer that life should be a fun, challenging adventure that sees you continually learning, growing, and exploring your boundaries. Of course, this is done within your own scope of priorities and comfort.

Pro athletes have clauses in their contracts that prohibit them from participating in any high-risk activities. It’s important for each person to assess their own risk/reward ratios.

As a father of two young kids, I look at sport and activity differently than I did in my teens and 20s. The consequences of catastrophic injury and death are much higher now. This doesn’t mean I avoid active adventures that can carry risk, I just consciously mediate that risk. Great examples are two of my favorite activities: mountain biking and skiing.

Mountain biking is amazing, and I’ve been doing it avidly for 20 years.

While I’m very confident on cross country trails, and some downhill trails, my skill set is not in “West Coast” riding, over large structures and gnarly downhill courses.

When I do find myself in those situations, I do the ride around the big structures and get to take it VERY easy on the crazy downhill sections. Some of the people I ride with have no trouble (or fear) bombing over insane precipices, but that’s their skill set…and personal choice. With skiing, I’ve been doing it since I was old enough to walk. In my teens, friends and I would launch ourselves off huge (for us) jump, and even over decent-sized cliffs.

While I love skiing and going fast, these days, I wouldn’t even consider doing the things I did back then. While I’m arguably in better shape now, my body isn’t as resilient, and I have a healthy respect for keeping the integrity of my joints and cranium! 🙂

So how do you determine whether your fear is helpful or a hindrance?

Here’s a Checklist to Help Assess Your Fears:
  • Evaluate the nature of potential injury risk for the given activity
  • Assess your ability level in that activity
  • Assess the activity variables (weather, visibility, gear, safety equipment, instruction, guidance, etc.)
  • What is the likelihood of potential injury from this activity?
  • What can you do to mediate any potential risk?
  • Given the potential reward of the activity, is the risk worth it?

Hopefully, this information was helpful.

Let me know if you experience fear of injury. My team at FRESH! and I would love to hear you out.

Just book your free Complimentary Success Session and let’s start building your skillset and your confidence right now!

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