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  • Nathanael Littauer, CSCS

Pushing The Limit Isn't Always Healthy

Recently I was granted the opportunity to compete at the National Weightlifting Championships. I trained really hard leading up to a meet to make the qualifying total, and just barely squeaked by on my last clean and jerk attempt. The preparation process was a long ten weeks of heavy training and mental preparation.


There was only one problem. The National Championships were only seven weeks after the qualifying meet (I told you I barely squeaked in), meaning that I haven’t had the time to deload and go through a solid volume cycle with a lot of accessory work to give my body a break. I also always answer questions with as much honesty as I can, so when people ask how I’m doing I tell them the truth (or at least I don’t lie). My answer these tends to be, “Well, I’m alive. That’s for sure.”


“Indeed the presence of outstanding strengths presupposes that energy needed in other areas has been channeled away from them.” – Allen Shawn

I’ll be terribly honest with you right now that my knees ache, everything feels stiff, and my elbows have a tendonitis that makes me question whether the next snatch attempt will cause them to dislocate (I’m a little dramatic). I hurt. I ache. My wrist has some form of inflammation that caused a 50lb decrease in grip strength. Mentally I am exhausted and I question how much longer I can hold up to this. But this is what performing at the highest possible level I can looks like. “…energy in needed in other areas has been channeled away from them.” In order to perform at a high level, you need to disregard some things, one of which may be your overall health.


I saw a comment from Driveline Baseball’s founder, Kyle Boddy, that elite athleticism isn’t necessarily healthy. Now I may not be elite, but I’m within the top 50 in my weight category for US males, and training to compete alongside the top lifters has made me understand Boddy’s sentiment. To push the envelope of how much your body is capable of, sometimes you have to disregard your overall systemic health.


Baseball is a great example. The number of Tommy John surgeries has skyrocketed in the past decade (we can get into the training spectrum of this later), but so has the average velocity of pitches. Baseball has been pushing the envelope on what the body has been capable of, and the envelope is pushing back. We can train all we want. We can take as many steps as possible to keep the body as healthy as possible. But ultimately, pushing the limits of performance requires an amount of energy that will ultimately detract the energy afforded to overall health.


Missy Franklin’s retirement letter to the sport of swimming is another great example. Franklin’s journey after winning multiple Gold medals was filled with injuries, which she chronicled and lists as a reason for her retirement. At some point, the body can only take so much, but we don’t know what that point is until we have reached for it. We don’t know how far our bodies can go until they break, because the breaking point is how far they can go.


I know some may disagree with me. People cite training as injury prevention, but if we are really pushing the limit of what humans are capable it becomes more of injury management. The farther you push your body, the more likely you are to get hurt. It’s not rocket science. Training is a great tool for managing pain, for increasing performance, and lowering the risk of injury. But it cannot eliminate pain, or surpass all genetic limits, nor completely eliminate the risk for injury.

The farther you push your body, the more likely you are to get hurt. It’s not rocket science.

My own process of training has exposed this more and more. But to some of us it’s worth it. I know for me, I do not want to sit back and wonder what my body is capable of. I want to know for sure. I’ll toe that line. World class athletes do the same. A survey asked athletes that if they could choose winning Olympic Gold only to die 5 years later or choose not medaling at the Olympics and living the rest of their life normally, most chose the Gold medal. They want to know what they’re made of. What their body can do. And in those cases, sometimes overall health will take a backburner.

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