The last article post focused on building mental resilience. Now, let’s move on to physical resilience. Similar to our inability to internally withstand life’s stressors, physical injuries are basically the body’s inability to handle the external stress applied to it. Sometimes, injuries are sudden traumatic events like being in a car accident and will occur regardless of physical capacity. However, most physical ailments can be prevented if the person has the capacity to withstand the stress. For example, a stronger ankle will be more likely to avoid rolling when stepping awkwardly off the curb. An experienced runner will be able to withstand an acute increase in running mileage versus a novice runner. A mom who can lift and carry 150 pounds will be able to repeatedly pick up their 30 pound kid without excessively straining their physical system versus the mom who can only lift and carry 35 pounds. In order to reduce injury risk, your body must have more physical capacity to withstand the stresses applied to it. Makes sense, right?
So, how do we build physical resilience? The same way as mental resilience… by consistently stressing the physical system enough to challenge it without significantly overloading it. Avoiding physical strain and underloading the system does not challenge the body; therefore, the body does not have any stress to adapt to. Actually, avoiding physically demanding activities and living a more sedentary lifestyle will decrease physical resilience. However, when engaged in a physical training program, it is also important to not constantly overstrain/overtrain the system. Smart programming incorporates recovery periods to allow trained muscles, tendons, joints, bones, etc. to rest, rebuild, and adapt. This recovery is key to allowing the body to become stronger and, therefore, more physically resilient in the long term.
There are many ways to gauge how hard you are pushing yourself. And nowadays, there are a plethora of gadgets to monitor all sorts of data like heart rate, heart rate variability, recovery, sleep, and more. Having a gadget is nice but not necessary as research shows perceived exertion to be pretty reliable as well. For example, the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion is a 6-20 scale where 6 is how you feel resting and 20 is extreme max effort. The numbers correlate with heart rate (6 with 60 beats per minute, 20 with 200 beats per minute). So, if you are doing aerobic/cardio training, you can wear a monitor or simply use this scale to see how hard you are pushing yourself. A useful tool for weight training is Reps In Reserve (RIR) where you perform enough repetitions to tax the system without going to complete exhaustion or muscle failure. For most people, I recommend performing sets where you complete as many reps as you can but quit when you feel you only have 1-3 reps left “in the tank”. This is the point where you struggle with the weight but not going to complete failure. This is applicable for muscle endurance, strength, and hypertrophy training. The last tool is another scale applicable to any training (cardio, strengthening, mixed) and is a simple 0-10 Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). If you find yourself always below a 7 out of 10, then you are unlikely applying enough stress to your system to build resilience. If you are always pushing yourself at 9 or 10, you may be applying too much strain. Though challenging, the goal is to find a good balance of tough workouts but allowing yourself to recover. I recommend an average of 7-8 RPE over the course of a week where some workouts may be a little lighter and some more strenuous.
Alright, the topic of resilience is clearly important to me and I could go on and on about this. However, we’ll leave it at that for now. To wrap this up, I’ll leave you with another quote. This one is from Mark Rippetoe, a well-known strength and conditioning coach. I feel this quote applies to both mental/emotional strength and actual physical strength:
“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.”