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It’s Monday morning and you’re driving towards the freeway entrance, as you head to work.  You have your coffee mug in one hand, while holding the steering wheel with the other.  As you begin to make your turn onto the freeway entrance, a red engine warning light starts glowing on your dashboard.  What would you do next?

Several years ago, while I was working out at a small local gym, the gym owner came running past me, heading straight for the staff refrigerator.   There, he pulls out an ice pack and sprints back towards his client, who is lying on the floor with his knees bent, wincing and holding his breath.  The gym owner, kneeling beside his client, helplessly instructs his client not to move and to press the ice on his back.   

Just prior to the injured man’s workout coming to a screeching halt, the trainer had him standing on top of a BOSU, doing bicep curl squats, leading to a shoulder press, holding two dumbbells that were way too heavy for his abilities, forcing the client to compensate with poor body posture, on an unstable platform.  The client, with his limited form was moving beyond what his body would allow.   

After my workout, I saw the injured man in the locker room, wearing his pressed shirt and slacks, hunched over the sink, tying his necktie. Curiosity got the best of me and I asked what had happened during his workout with his trainer.  

"Oh, I just threw out my back.... it happens a couple of times a year."

Couple of times a year?!  He tells me in the most nonchalant way, as if throwing out his back was nothing new.  And as if throwing out his back quarterly wasn’t alarming enough, the injured man seemed casual about his lack of balance and strength.

Clearly, this man’s warning light has been on for a long time and either he was unaware or has chosen to ignore all the warning signals his body was telling him – the need for rest and maintenance.  Even his personal trainer chose to completely ignore the warning signs he observed from his client and continued to aggravate the condition.

How important is rest and maintenance?  If you were to pose this question to any elite athlete, they would rank rest and maintenance as their number one priority.  Behind the scenes and in the locker room of an elite athlete, you’d most likely see a physical therapist, chiropractor, physiotherapist and even a sports psychologist, treating and adjusting the athlete.  Why?  Because athletes know that having optimal form creates great function, however, poor form leads to poor function and debilitating injuries.  Basically, rest and maintenance will help you become pain and injury free during movement and actually make you a better athlete. 

So, what is rest and maintenance? Consider rest as cooling the engine of your car, while maintenance is changing the motor oil and realigning the tires.  Rest day is the day when you do nothing physically demanding for the body and allowing the body to recover from the physical stress of your prior workouts.

Maintenance is doing something that will enhance your recovery. Most times, rest and maintenance can be combined.  Consider it a day where you take your body out of daily physical routine and applying movement that counters your repetitive motion.  For instance, working at your desk, walking to work and even sleeping position becomes repetitive and the body adjusts and adapts to the repetitive motion, creating muscular tightness and weakness.  Since daily movement, along with workout and sport specific training are repetitive, it is vital to incorporate opposing movement to counter the muscular and structural imbalance. 

The easiest approach to rest and maintenance is to add it to as a part of your workout regiment and being diligent about keeping on track.  Foam rolling, yoga, massage therapy, meditation, Pilates, are just a few examples.  The key is to tune into the sensors and warning lights your body is telling you, and taking action for adjustment.  In other words, be cognizant of the little aches and pains you feel on your body.  They are the little warning lights that your body is in need of attention.  Remember, you do routine preventative maintenance on your car, so why wouldn’t you do the same for your body? 

So let’s go back to your Monday morning drive, with the engine warning light turned on.  Most people would react by saying that they would not allow their cars to get to a critical level, citing routine preventative maintenance they strictly follow. I’m sure we’d all agree that ignoring the warning light will only lead to greater damage to the car. So why would our bodies be any different?  The injured man who throws out his back twice a year will have a major permanent breakdown, if he doesn’t address the warning signals his body has been telling him.  So what would you do next? Would you ignore the signs and keep driving? The decision is up to you but the results will vary drastically.   

Sung Pak, LMT, is the principal at Bodymechanics: Tuning Body & Mind, at New Canaan, CT.  Working with elite athletes and post injury and post surgery clients, Sung utilizes suspension therapy and vestibular training to stimulate the brain to create movement efficiency.  For more info, contact:

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