Overcoming Cardio Fear
By Erika Nicole Kendall on January 20, 2014
Q: In one of your posts you mentioned a fear of having your heart rate go to high. I’ve always felt uncomfortable and kind of afraid when my heart beats “too fast,” but how fast I consider too fast is completely in my head and based on a lifelong avoidance of exercise. Can you speak a little bit about how to overcome that and measure it properly?
Ugh, the stupid Presidential fitness test. Just… ugh. I say that not because I find it useless – I don’t – I say that as an individual eternally scarred from the yearly fail stamp placed on my forehead because of it. Ugh.
At this point in my life, my next mountain to climb consists of becoming a runner. Someone who can run several miles at a time – barefoot, even – without wanting to keel over and die for a little while. And I won’t lie – it stems from that little situation with my 17-minute mile during the stupid Presidential fitness test. (By the way, it looks like President Lyndon B. Johnson was responsible for that. We like him – rather, I like him – so I think I’ll give him a pass.)
There’s an interesting parallel here, that I cannot overlook or deny, though. In order to lose weight, I had to learn my body – what it likes, what it doesn’t; what it benefits from, what it’s harmed by; what it can use, what’s useless. In order to become a runner, I have to learn my heart: what it likes, what it doesn’t; what it benefits from, what it’s harmed by; what it can use, what is useless. I needed to learn what helps it and hurts it as well as what it feels like when it’s working hard, and what it feels like when it’s just truly hurting. These are things that no one can teach us – they are all unique and will be different for each individual, and can only be learned through careful listening to our bodies, minds and hearts.
But how do you do that if you’ve never been a cardio-happy kid? How do you “listen to your heart” if you’ve never paid it much mind before?
First, make sure it’s not a superficial issue. It can’t be because your “boobs are too big,” you’re “embarrassed by how funny you look” or you’re just trying to avoid sweating your hair out. ‘Cause if that’s it… I got nothin’ for ya.
Second, if you’re really taking this cardio thing seriously, don’t be afraid to slow down or stop. I know this seems counter-productive, but it’s real. In this regard, you exercise your heart similarly to any other muscle in the body. You train it by working it as hard as you can stand – go as hard as you can every time you go at it – and the muscle eventually develops the ability to withstand the amount of work you’re putting into it, thus allowing you to work harder and feel less “stress” from it. In other words, it learns how to handle what you’re throwing at it.. you just have to keep throwing work at it.
If you’re someone who has difficulty walking up a flight of stairs, that’s not reason to give up walking the stairs. That’s a reason to keep taking the stairs, stopping whenever it feels like too much to bear on your heart. Throw yourself into it. Eventually, you’ll be able to take the stairs without stopping… perhaps even run up and down the stairs. Repeatedly.
You can even apply that to walking your first mile. It’s OK to stop – as long as you eventually pick yourself up and keep going once you’ve calmed down. Treadmill running is the same way… although I preferred to leave the incline button alone until I better understood what my heart feels like when I’m working hard, hardly working and working too darn hard. For someone who needs to learn how to gauge their “stress levels” on a treadmill, adding an incline – to me – seems like an unnecessary step. Once I felt more comfortable with me, then I played with the inclines.
It’s all about listening to my heart. I had to skip the expectations of where I should be going, what I should be able to do at that point in time, and how fast I should be able to go. I couldn’t use anyone else’s expectations to tell me how to get it done, because they certainly couldn’t listen to my heart the way that I could, right? My heart is unique, deserves my time in listening to it and my attention when training it. It deserves me learning to stop when it feels overworked, and it deserves me always getting back up to try again.