I’ve had the idea of writing on this for a while, and I keep putting it off. To be honest, knowing my limits and staying within them can be tough for me. Really, neither part of that task is easy — I don’t always know my limits, and I definitely don’t always like to pay attention to them.
For me, determining my limits is a combination of what I can handle in the moment and what will be beneficial (or at least not detrimental) long-term. I can probably handle more in the moment than is necessarily wise, which is why I try to also consider beyond just this moment. Will this impact my sleep, which will then probably have impacts on my fatigue levels for honestly probably around a month or at least a couple weeks? Will this increase my pain levels? Will this increase my risk of injury? How will this generally help or hurt my energy levels?
For me, being generally active helps me. I generally just feel a bit… better… if I’m being active. Probably endorphins and whatnot are playing a role there but there is also a sense of accomplishment in hiking and climbing, and a community I get to be a part of. And it helps me feel productive.
I also can feel like I’m maybe actually doing something about my pain. Just this week my PT told me to do pull-ups to help with my rib pain, and I am happy to oblige! Strengthening areas in itself will help, or at least won’t hurt, the vast majority of musculoskeletal complaints. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a balancing act. Because activity (basically, the process of getting stronger) can also increase pain by increasing wear and tear and minor or major injuries. (Or through other mechanisms depending on what is causing the pain etc.)
I have a few general guidelines for activity that I try to follow. (Emphasis on try.) If continuing to do an activity is increasing pain over time, it’s probably not a good idea. So if I’m out on a hike and my hips start off nagging me a bit but are gradually getting worse and more difficult to ignore, it’s probably best to cut it short. Which is a surprisingly agonizing decision for me to make. In general, if pain is holding steady or decreasing, it’s probably okay — probably. For any activity, I try to warm-up slowly and carefully.
More specifically, I try not to stress too much over speed, particularly for something like hiking over uneven ground, because I can increase my chances of injury (and might not even really notice). For downhill hiking, I switchback or side-step down the trail wherever possible for the sake of my knees, and try to be especially careful. I try to avoid huge steps down (which can be pretty tough to avoid on some more technical trails).
In climbing, I avoid very dynamic movements as a rule, and certainly don’t do them while warming up or warming down. I started off as more of a naturally static climber anyways, but now I have made a conscious decision that that is one weakness I will not worry too much about. I pick routes partly based on likelihood of injury and how my body is feeling. If my shoulders and elbows, or wrists, are being (especially) problematic I’ll avoid mantling. Lately, my hips have been especially problematic. It’s been frustrating because I often use the stretchiness of my hips to my advantage while climbing, and particularly to make up for my (lack of) height, but I have been trying to avoid aggravating them too much while climbing lately. With mixed success.
While climbing, I also mostly avoid unexpected/unplanned falls. That probably seems crazy for a climber — falling is part of the sport! — but I would rather be able to continue, carefully, in a sport I enjoy than injure myself enough that I can’t return. (I’m not a professional or planning on going pro, so I’m okay with taking it slow.) I climb slow and static, which in itself means I don’t often fall completely unexpectedly. I’m careful before attempting the crux of a problem, making sure my feet are set, I have a clean place to fall, and I know exactly what I’m doing. These kinds of strategies probably mean that there are certain moves I probably could get, or could get sooner, that I don’t because I won’t quite commit enough. I do try to reconcile the two impulses (to both make the move and be careful), but at the end of the day I would rather be able to continue in the sport long-term than have a momentary victory. I should also probably note that I am careful in this way not just for the general fear of injury, but for specific problems — I am careful of falling because of my known back issues that could be exacerbated landing the wrong way, I am careful not to wrench my shoulder or sides because of shoulder and rib issues, I am careful of putting my hips or elbows into positions they could do but maybe shouldn’t because of known issues there, etc.
In day-to-day life, I am most often juggling how different things will affect my sleep and fatigue levels. I know that if I lose sleep, I don’t catch up on it easily, and the effects will ripple for weeks. So I don’t lightly choose to stay up especially late or get up especially early. I know that if my weekends get too full, especially if multiple in a row are too full, my need for recovery time will start eating into my productivity and my work week.
I hope that moving towards figuring out what is wrong will help me in better determining my limits, particularly when it comes to hiking and climbing, but in the meantime I’m doing my best to juggle listening to my body and living my life.