“Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself” by Lisbeth Darsh

“Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself” by Lisbeth Darsh

Once you’ve learned to put the pedal to the metal in your workouts, it can become hard NOT to go hard.

When I started taking my fitness seriously about eight years ago, I discovered that intensity groove … and I LIVED there. Every workout was faster, better, and more intense than the one before. When my friends and I finished throwing down, there wasn’t one shred of energy left in us. Tanks empty. Brains fried. Hands shaking as central nervous systems tried to recover. We couldn’t walk right. And we were HOOKED.


It was a drug-free drug trip and we took hits daily. I wrote posts like “Chasing the Dragon” and “High” because I simply could not get enough. Exercise left us all feeling so strong and accomplished and powerful. Well, that is after we recovered from the workout…


Like Dr. George Sheehan wrote in “Running and Being”: “There is an excitement in practice. Perhaps the greatest of all excitements. The discovery of who I am. Alone with myself and my stopwatch, I learn who I am. I find out what I can do.”

The good part about this time was exactly that: finding out what we could do. We all pushed ourselves to accomplishments we never thought possible. Achievement was contagious as well as intoxicating. And it was all such great FUN.


There was a problem, though: rest and recovery got shorted, and that eventually hurt us. Sleep and moderation took second place to the thrill of going hard, and some of us paid the price. The Stress Tiger eventually caught me, and I experienced a series of injuries and some unhappiness.

But I learned, and now I’m healthier and happier than I’ve ever been, and I take better care of myself nutritionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. To get to attitude nirvana, however, I had to evolve my thinking on intensity. I had to remember that exercise doesn’t always have to be performed at full throttle, that sometimes it’s okay to go at slow speed or medium intensity. That sometimes it’s good to put the dumbbells down and go for a walk in the woods. That life will continue if I pedal my bike for an hour and enjoy the ride. And (shockingly!) that if I nap and watch Netflix for a day, the world will keep turning and the sun will come up. (I know. It surprised me too.)

See, when we keep our heads locked into a more/more/more concept, we limit ourselves in ways that can become unhealthy. We lose perspective. We forget that life is full of peaks and valleys, and so too is our exercise.

But change can be difficult, especially when we’re addicted. Adjusting a viewpoint is hard, adjusting habits is even harder. And some of us use exercise not only to garner improved health, but also for stress management or mood stabilization. (Quite honestly, if I don’t exercise regularly, I can be a Grade A bitch.)


So, what do you do if you know that you need more rest or less intensity, but you’re just not sure you can handle it? How do you learn to slow down or rest without losing your mind?

First, adjust your thinking. Just as strong starts in the mind, rest starts in the mind.


1.) “Rest is a Four Letter Word” but that’s okay. You need rest, and sometimes you can get some rest while exercising. (Yes, I did just write those words. You’re not hallucinating.) That run you want to take tomorrow? Slow your pace a little, or make it one mile instead of five. That fifth fitness class you are jonesing to attend this week? Maybe you should walk or bike instead. In fact, your progress on losing fat and building muscle may increase as you decrease the number of cortisol-level-raising workouts. (May is the operative word. Everyone needs to experiment and ascertain what works for them individually.) That daily walk might be exactly what you need.

2.) You have the ability to regulate you. Throttle back if that’s the wise thing to do today. (Or throttle up, if that’s what you need.) You can still get all the intense exercise you need, just do it at the right times.


3.) There’s nothing wrong with small adjustments. In fact, small changes are often a good start. Don’t get caught up in the go big or go home mentality. Small changes can lead to big changes, and you should start where you need to start.

But the takeaway point is this: exercise is more than one mode and it has more than one intensity level. Look at your training plan and figure out what you need more of and what you need less of. (If you haven’t been going hard enough, you might actually need to ramp it up!) Make your adjustments and see what happens. You can always go back to breathing fire daily, but you might be pleasantly surprised at how good your lungs feel (and the progress you make!) when you’re not constantly choking on smoke.

And, most of all, remember what William Feather said: “No man is a failure who is enjoying life.”

Lisbeth Darsh is the author of “Live Like That” and the soon-to-be-published “Strong Starts in the Mind.” She blogs regularly at Words With Lisbeth.