How to over­come hit­ting the wall in your fit­ness jour­ney

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Kusal Goonewar­dena

IFyou ex­er­cise reg­u­larly then even­tu­ally you might ‘hit the wall’. The big ques­tion is: do you try to crash through the wall or do you take it as a cue to re­lax? Hit­ting the wall is more than ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a slow­down. In fact, truly hit­ting the wall is peak ex­haus­tion. You are phys­i­cally and men­tally spent. You lit­er­ally can­not keep go­ing. Hit­ting the wall can be emo­tional and de­mor­al­is­ing. You can feel like all the fit­ness gains you have made to date have van­ished. But it’s nor­mal and you haven’t lost your fit­ness. Elite ath­letes give us some cues. They will plan when they might hit the wall dur­ing their train­ing cy­cle, so it doesn’t hap­pen dur­ing an event. If you’ve taken any in­ter­est in sports you will have seen what hap­pens when elite ath­letes hit the wall.


Steven Kotler, one of the world’s lead­ing ex­perts on high per­for­mance, sums it up best, ex­plain­ing dif­fer­ent stages of an ex­er­cise pro­gram.

THESE FOUR STAGES ARE: 1. The strug­gle stage

Start­ing a new ac­tiv­ity loads the brain with new in­for­ma­tion: plan­ning the run, do­ing the run, learn­ing what our body can and can­not do. This stage con­sists of train­ing, dur­ing which the body re­leases cor­ti­sol, adren­a­line, nor­ep­i­neph­rine – stress hor­mones which pre­pare the body for in­creased in­ten­sity. But these hor­mones also cloud judge­ment and use en­ergy. They tense your mus­cles, in­crease your heart rate, pre­pare the body for the ‘fight or flight re­sponse’ and in­crease frus­tra­tion and ten­sion.

2. The re­lax­ation stage

Ath­letes know they must move out of Stage One, take their mind off train­ing and their sport, or they will hit the wall. This may sur­prise, but it’s im­por­tant to stop train­ing and do some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent like go to a movie. The re­lax­ation stage al­lows the body to flush the stress hor­mones while the brain in­tro­duces ni­tric ox­ide, which im­proves blood flow. The body then re­leases the feel-good hor­mones dopamine and en­dor­phins and you feel good again.

3. The com­pe­ti­tion stage

An ath­lete’s body and mind are now ready to be tested in com­pe­ti­tion. Tim­ing Stage One and Stage Two well, is crit­i­cal. If ath­letes skip Stage Two, then stress will pre­vent them from per­form­ing at their best and they might hit the wall dur­ing the event. But if they have suc­cess­fully man­aged Stage One and Two, ath­letes can reach the ‘flow stage’, where they can per­form at their peak.

4. The re­cov­ery stage

Ath­letes use a huge amount of en­ergy across stages 1-3. A planned re­cov­ery is cru­cial. This is where an ath­lete is ready to go to the next level.

Sleep, rest, good diet, healthy habits all com­bine to make a good re­cov­ery. It al­lows the ath­lete to com­plete the cy­cle. It means they have mas­tered their cur­rent level and can plan for the next level.


Many peo­ple ex­er­cise hard with­out the struc­tures and dis­ci­pline of elite ath­letes. Yet sci­en­tists have found just a 4% in­crease in in­ten­sity, du­ra­tion or fre­quency can push us from our com­fort zone. Our mind and body re­spond pos­i­tively to this, but we can be­come over­loaded. If you are over­loaded, stressed and just can’t take it any­more, you may have hit the wall. In time, as you learn to lis­ten to your body and your mind when ex­er­cis­ing, you will learn to recog­nise the signs. Try­ing to ‘crash through’ this wall of­ten cre­ates more stress and risks in­jury, which may pre­vent you do­ing the ex­er­cise you en­joy. Per­haps take a cue from elite ath­letes and re­lax for a while – do some­thing else, go to a movie, catch up with some friends, take a lit­tle time out. Chances are you’ll come back stronger.


• Hit­ting the wall is a nor­mal part of ex­er­cise. • Ath­letes hit the wall more than most and plan for it. • By lis­ten­ing to your body, hit­ting the wall will only be tem­po­rary.

Kusal Goonewar­dena is an ex­pe­ri­enced phys­io­ther­a­pist, lec­turer, con­sul­tant and men­tor to thou­sands of phys­io­ther­apy stu­dents around the world. Kusal has au­thored books in­clud­ing: Low Back Pain – 30 Days to Pain Free; 3 Minute Work­outs; and co-au­thored Nat­u­ral Heal­ing: Quiet and Calm. Kusal con­sults via his clinic, Elite Akademy.

By lis­ten­ing to your body, hit­ting the wall will only be tem­po­rary.

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