Fitness and Flare Ups, Not to Worry

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Not everybody has flare ups.  A flare up is a way to describe when a sensitive and more delicate area gets irritated.  It looks a lot like an injury, but it’s not an injury.  It’s a sort of pre-injury and it’s a sign that you’re doing too much too fast.


If a flare up happens, some pre-existing, physical concern, such as a knee that’s been bothering a person for a while, will become aggravated.  That might mean that the area becomes acutely painful, stiff or swollen, and this lasts for a handful of days. 


My biggest fear when it comes to someone experiencing a flare up, isn’t that the person has injured themselves.  My biggest fear is that it will make them quit training.


Starting fitness training, or doing any kind of new physical activity, could cause a flare up.  It’s better to anticipate this and expect it rather than be surprised and worry that you’ve made a mistake and you can’t really do this stuff after all.  You’re not trying to cause a flare up.  One couldn’t call it a good thing.  But it does happen sometimes.


The difference between a flare up from fitness training and an injury, from either exercising or taking up a new sport, is that a flare up is just sticking your toe across the line, while an injury is throwing your whole body across the line.


What a flare up offers you is the chance to see clearly where the dividing line is between challenging yourself to your limit or doing too much.  It’s important to remember that this is a moveable line, and each time you train, you nudge it toward being able to do more activity more easily.


And that’s why it’s important to not let a flare up stop you from physical training more than temporarily.  If you keep challenging yourself, you will adapt and increase what you’re capable of.


A flare up is not an injury.  It is aggravation of a sensitive area.  It’s not fun, and it may require a little extra recovery time, though only for the affected part.  Flare ups also remind us not to be in a hurry, that the body requires time to make adaptations and that we need to fine tune our ability to listen to ourselves.


Putting some tension or load through a sensitive area will help it to adapt and become stronger over time.  We just have to be a bit more careful about the amount of load that we use. 


My best advice for avoiding flare ups is really to not worry too much about avoiding them completely, but other than that it’s mostly just to take your time.  Don’t worry about making your squat or your lunge deeper.  It will get there if you keep practicing what you can do.  


It’s okay to experiment with pushing yourself, but keep it friendly.  If the body says no in any given moment, then respect that.  It doesn’t mean that’s your limit for all time.  


It may also be advisable to modify an exercise, for instance by putting your weight on your forearms instead of your wrists.  This wouldn’t be a permanent modification, because the sensitive area isn’t broken, it just needs more time and a bit more care than other areas.


And that’s why it’s so important to keep showing up.  Because it’s the consistent, manageable dose followed by a recovery period, that creates adaptation and will change what you can do, how much you can do and how enjoyable and effortless it becomes.



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