Why It’s Important to Listen to Your Body by Kasia Niewiadoma

By Kasia Niewiadoma

There are so many dynamics to navigate as a professional athlete. We have never before had access to so much information about how our bodies work and how we can use specific training or nutrition techniques to get the results we want. Unfortunately, sometimes all that data means that we ignore the most powerful teacher of all—our own body.

Here are a few reasons we need to take the task of listening to and understanding our bodies more seriously—and how it can help us appreciate the lesson that sometimes less really is more.

Overtraining is a real thing

When a person partakes in too much physical training with little rest and recovery after hard workouts, the resulting stress on the muscles, joints and bones causes fatigue and soreness that ultimately affects performance. Fatigue is, of course, a part of athletic life. Sometimes, we take it too far, though, and tell ourselves that the more we push, the better we’ll do. But this isn’t how it works.

In order to know when you need to cool it, it is essential to have a trusted group of people around you who, by their observation and perspective, can help and slow you down. Having the right coach who allows you to do tons of hard work and rest even harder afterwards is crucial.

Recovering from illness is not always as straightforward as your think

Getting Covid-19 was really hard to overcome as a professional athlete—for a lot of reasons. Personally, I found myself overdoing it every day after testing negative. I only took four days off when I was sick. I had definitely underestimated the stress the virus had caused on my body! This was easy to do, as I wasn’t sure what I was dealing with.

Hearing from my team that I needed to be really careful about my return to training didn’t sound that serious to me because I felt okay. Yet a couple of weeks later, I started to notice that my body was no longer capable of pushing through the fatigue. I started to deteriorate, both mentally and physically.

The most difficult part was that a couple of my favourite races were just around the corner and giving up wasn’t an option. Instead, I decided to push myself a little bit more. In the end, I didn’t end up performing that well and I still had to take two weeks off to allow my body to recover. It’s still not quite the same.

You’re the only one who can show yourself genuine compassion

It is so important to have strategies in place to get yourself back on track when you notice that your inner dialogue is shifting into negative territory. Whenever my mindset is focusing on negative patterns of thoughts, I try really hard to get distracted by what’s around me. I focus on breathing or simply being aware of the quality of thoughts I am having—reminding myself that they exist inside me but it doesn’t mean that they define who I am and what I am doing. Of course, that is easier said than done. It is all about practice and it gets easier the more you do it.

Your body has more to tell you than social media

Regardless of how you feel about social media, I think it has contributed to making everyone harder on themselves. This can be especially true in an athletic context when we are all focused on performance and wanting to win.

Kasia Niewiadoma
To achieve your goals, you should always listen to your body. © ThomasMaheux

Social media is a part of my ‘job,’ you could say. I do not post a lot from my personal life and, therefore, I try to think of it as some sort of tool that I can use to help my team, sponsors and myself increase exposure.

On the other hand, when you find yourself using social platforms, you are taken into the vortex of other peoples’ lives and that’s usually where unhealthy browsing starts. It is very easy to see what other athletes are doing but hard to determine what exactly is the reality of the situation. It usually isn’t as perfect as it looks and always being exposed to these curated images and posts can add a lot of anxiety and stress. It is so important to be mindful of whom you follow and how much time you allow yourself to spend scrolling.

Real progress is a long-term, not a short-term goal

It can be hard to zoom out and look at the big picture when you take every training day with the ‘do or die’ mentality. It is so important to think long term in regard to racing and training, though. I think athletes focus too much on the process of getting somewhere instead of the final goal. This ends up leading to overtraining and unhappiness, as your body is always being pushed to its limit. Knowing what it takes to achieve your goal is very important but with that said, you have to be aware of not obsessing over every day that gets you there.

Everybody is unique

Finally—I think one of the most important messages that we need to keep in mind is that what works for one person, might not work for everyone. It is necessary to remember that our bodies are very intelligent and capable of communicating with us. They are able to give us signals when something is wrong but it’s up to each of us as individuals to listen and do something about it. There is no magic trick. We all need to be curious about our bodies, study them, and be open to learning. This is what will allow us to make positive decisions for where we currently are and where we hope to be in the future.