Exercise recovery: ”how lockdown taught me to rest listen to my body”

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Stylist’s fitness writer Chloe Gray thought that ignoring an injury made her more resilient – until lockdown taught her the power of rest. For Fighting Fit: Lockdown Lessons While WOFH (working out from home), she reflects on how the past year has taught her to listen to her body. 

Recently, someone asked me how to deal with an injury. Not the physical side, which she was seeing a physio for, but the emotional turmoil of having to rest. My answer rolled off my tongue without a second thought. “Just let yourself wallow,” I shrugged. “It’s annoying that you have to take a break from something you love, so mourn the workouts you’re missing.”

On reflection, I’m surprised by that answer. Thinking back to January 2020, when I was injured myself, my attitude was different. Wallow? Me? Nope, I was in the gym despite my crutches. Then, I believed that stopping was a sign of weakness. That if I allowed myself to take time off, I was succumbing to whatever forces conspired to injure me in the first place (the irony being that my injury was tendonitis caused by overuse. I was the reason for my own injury). 

I hobbled about the gym, bashing out a gazillion upper body workouts and even went through a rotation of lying hamstring curls and kneeling squats that allowed me to work my legs without pressing through my painful foot. It was all out of stubbornness and ignorance, because I couldn’t imagine ever changing my routine.

Almost as if by magic, on the day I came to write about my fitness lessons from the past year, I’ve got another foot injury. It’s my left foot this time, and it’s a sprain rather than tendonitis. But the main difference is that, rather than making my way to my kitchen for a weirdly contorted version of the boxing workout I had planned, I took a longer shower than usual, spent some time putting on make-up on and sat down on my laptop a little early. I chose to rest rather than push through pain – and I did so without a second thought. 

Fitness writer Chloe Gray doing Russian twists in a workout class.
Exercise recovery: how lockdown taught one writer to rest

What’s changed in those 13 months to make me realise I could just… give in? A worldwide pandemic, to state the obvious, during which I’m lucky enough to have remained healthy and well. Even those I know who have had the virus have served their two weeks’ bed rest and been totally fine, so this revelation hasn’t come from a health scare or new-found appreciation for a functioning body. It’s because, when lockdown hit, I was forced to re-write my workout routine. 

Now I was starting from scratch, without any of the expectations I previously had on my training, I realised that I didn’t have to force myself to hit a certain number of workouts a week, or train with a certain upper/lower split. Pre-lockdown, I had been going to the gym on an auto-pilot that was so ingrained that not even a hospital-mandated rest could stop me. Lockdown meant I was forced to think about why I was actually training, in the same way we were all forced to think about what we wanted from our jobs and our relationships

It was never that I couldn’t rest – I’d happily take days off if, for example, I’d been out the night before and was a little hungover. It was that, for the most part, the gym was just something I did, rather than something I actually put thought and care into. 

It was part of my day like going to work, brushing my teeth or eating lunch; throwing my workouts together with as much love as my limp kale salads. I told anyone who’d listen about how empowering it is to workout, yet, like so many of us, I was trapped by my routine. Yes, I was getting the benefits of moving my body, but by simply going through the motions, I wasn’t progressing or feeling proud of myself by hitting PBS. That’s unsurprising, given that the body can only progress if it’s well challenged, well rested and well slept, of which I was none. 

Funnily enough, the biggest lesson I’ve learned during the year in which we’ve had to adapt more than ever before, is that I need to stop being such a contortionist. I need to make my workouts work for me, rather than forcing myself into a routine that doesn’t make me feel excited and strong. I’ve realised that change, rest and accepting what my body is feeling isn’t a sign of failure – in fact, learning how to exercise in a way that makes me feel good again has made me feel stronger and fitter than ever. Now I just need to take that lesson back to the gym with me on 12 April. 

Read more from Fighting Fit: Lockdown Lessons While WOFH (working out from home)

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