How can words affect how we handle our health and fitness?
Have you ever thought about the impact of words? I don’t think many of us give a second thought to it, but words can sting. Word can encourage or discourage. They can shape our perception of our abilities and sense of self. I still remember a word that someone wrote on my locker in high school before my coming out and the implications of that word. I still think of it to this day. That is the power of a single word. Words, even in our minds, can shape how we think of ourselves, our abilities or perceived shortcomings, and they can even be a source of encouragement or set us back because of what we feel we can or cannot do.
As coaches we have heard people gender exercises. I’m aware of how dated this is, but we still hear that language. Many men training require a modification of a push-up that enables proper form. Nothing wrong with that. I also know of women that can perform a push-up variation that many grown men would fail to perform. I know this is something that has been brought to our attention more recently and a conversation still worth having. We don’t refer to exercises as a “male” version, as if that is somehow superior to a “female” version of the same exercise.
I have heard people expressing that they feel broken, which is very discouraging. If a doctor or physical therapist labels a body part as “broken” or “bad,” that can stick with us. If a coach does the same thing, it can have lasting effects. We need to be aware of this. Sometimes we sustain an injury and need to work around it and rehabilitate that injury. Or we can avoid the body part altogether and not rehab it properly because it’s a “bad hip” or “bad back.” Often these injuries are a chance to really focus on the root of the problem and learn proper body mechanics. They shouldn’t be seen as a sentence for that back, hip, shoulder, or knee.
People say they can't do something when it's challenging right away. We try to use different words. Yeah, you may have a bad day where your shoulder or back are acting up due to a long day at the computer where you didn’t move. Maybe a new exercise is very difficult at first. Perhaps you slept on your neck in an odd position. Yeah, all of this stuff makes an impact on how you feel one day, but to say you’re “broken” or you "can't" can be a dangerous pattern to get stuck in. Maybe you need an extra pillow or just need to take breaks during the day. Or you just need to slow down and practice an exercise more. What is your body trying to tell you? Listen.
Sometimes clients have actually learned to achieve movement they would have avoided prior to training. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s really exciting for everyone involved. We work on strengthening, stretching, and enabling movements in a way that encourage. We work on that together. Sometimes it’s a shoulder, hip, or a back that simply gets neglected due to long days of sitting. We are all prone to it, and it’s really something to be more aware of many of us spend hours at a computer daily. It’s just a fact. Spoiler alert: The key to dealing with these issues is often just moving more.
We may avoid exercises altogether instead of working toward them. That is not to say everyone needs to perform a certain exercise. Maybe that variation is just not suitable for them. A deadlift from the floor is not for everyone, but there are endless hip hinge variations we can substitute. A hip hinge with the proper cues in someone with low back pain doesn’t need to be avoided.
What can we take away from this? Think about word choices. There is no such thing as a male or female exercise. The exercise selection is ability based and is dependent on that for each individual. Maybe something new seems challenging. Give it time. Maybe your body isn’t feeling its best one day. Think about your internal dialogue and the words you use to describe your abilities or a challenge you’ve faced. Think about the words coaches and healthcare providers use. Has there ever been an instance that you’ve been discouraged by a PT, doctor, or coach? Let me know.