The number of people I’ve had ask me questions about workout-related injuries in the past three weeks… what are y’all doin’ out there? Lifting cars? Moving mountains? Running ten miles across the city to go home because you dropped off a moving truck without a ride home?

Oh, that last one is too familiar… but that’s beside the point.

The reality is that workout-related injuries happen. They just… they happen. There’s no way around that. The fact of the matter is that as a beginner, it is extremely easy to injure yourself simply because we all want to go wayyyy too hard in the paint too soon. That’s admirable, but it’s also dangerous.

I think about it, and it makes me cringe – when I was over 300lbs, there’s no part of me that would’ve been able to ever run for a minute straight, let alone a mile straight. I would’ve been fatigued – my breathing would’ve been short; the balls and heels of my feet would’ve been sore; my body would’ve been too in shock from the “out-of-nowhere stress” to be able to properly heal; my head would’ve began to hurt from the sweat and dehydration.

Yes. And it all happens that fast.

See, you have to always keep in mind what the purpose of exercise truly is – you make sure that you make use of a repeated motion or activity on a regular basis so that you don’t lose the ability to execute that motion or activity. How many people do we know that could, once upon a time, “do the splits” only to be saddened by the fact that they couldn’t amymore? That’s an ability that you develop – either as a young child or growing up – and if you don’t work to maintain it, you can and will lose it.

This is one of the main reasons why our elders experience such difficulty with aging – decreased movement, losing the ability to execute regular activities, lack of muscle to protect their bodies from injury.

This is what exercise is for. Weight loss is just an added benefit of exercise and increased activity levels.

That being said… getting back to 300lb me. I spent so much time being inactive, that I absolutely lost the abilities that I once had. My body wasn’t used to that much activity. My feet weren’t used to taking the kind of pounding that running provides. My lungs weren’t used to having to operate under such different circumstances. Those are abilities that you have to develop.

That’s not to say that a 300lb person can’t already have those abilities. That’s to say that the 300lb me became 300lbs partly because I stopped making use of my abilities. I stopped being active (at a very young age) and lost my ability to handle activity.

In other words, I had to start over. And starting over is terribly difficult when your body may already have difficulty handling the weight you’re carrying. That’s okay to admit. It’s also important that you admit it – there are no badges or awards given out for “toughing it out, even though your body is crying on the inside and you’re not gonna be able to walk for three days.” Stop doing it to yourself. I get it – no one wants to be the “chubby chick who had to stop in the middle of step aerobics who gets barked at by the instructor for stopping,” but screw that – that instructor is going to assume you’re being lazy. You know you’re trying to prevent further injury (unless you are, in fact, just trying to be lazy… in which case, get up and keep workin’!) and what you know is more important than the instructor’s assumption.

So many people shy away from running because they believe that they “can’t do it.” They have foot pain, joint pain, leg pain… they’re in agony whenever they try. Well, if your body isn’t used to running, what do you expect? It’s a shock! That’s why you have to train up to having that ability. You can’t just start out running full force – I know the runners on the sidewalk make it look sooooooo easy (I know… they got me that way, too) but it really requires you to train your body up to being able to handle that ability. Start off slow. Walk first.

I can hear it, now.

“But Erika, what if you weigh too much to run at all?”

Walk! That’s what I did – walking for 45 minutes a day, every day, helped me lose my first 50lbs. After that, I felt okay to try to run intervals. I felt like walking for 45 mins for a few months helped prepare my body for what felt like intense activity, and before too long? I was running for one minute, walking for four minutes. After that got boring and easy? Running for two minutes, walking for three. Then? Running for three minutes, walking for four. Then running for four minutes, walking for 1…. and from there? I was pretty unstoppable. The walking facilitated the weight loss that allowed me to be able to run without pain. My size combined with the duration of my workout – regardless of how intense the workout may appear to others – still created a lot of weight loss in a short amount of time. All I remember is that I was sweating. That’s always a plus.

The truth is… taking the time to go from sedentary to active requires a lot of patience, and acceptance of the fact that you cannot jump in full steam ahead. If you are experiencing pain* after a workout, think long and hard about whether or not you could – or should – scale it back a bit and take it slower. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you’ll still benefit from being active. It just… isn’t worth injuring yourself just because you wanna “lose weight, like, yesterday!” Spend time developing these abilities, and I promise your body will thank you. It’ll pay off in spades… or pounds!

*This kind of pain is different from the discomfort felt as you lift weights. There’s a little bit of discomfort that should take place over the course of executing a controlled motion – like a basic bicep curl – because you are challenging the muscle and compelling it to grow. That’s felt in the muscle, though. Anywhere else, and you should probably take the time to figure out what’s wrong.

Want more workout-related Q&A Wednesday?