Let it be your passions that kill you

We think we can avoid, or at least minimize risk in this life. But we can’t. We can simply exercise some level of choice as to which risks we want to actively confront.

This was brought home to me over the last couple of days. While most of my training is sleds and my specialized pulley system (more on this soon), I do still like to get in the gym and test myself. My current challenge has been the 100 x 100 challenge that I got from Stuart McMillan. It is 100 kilos (about 200 pounds) for 100 reps for time on a hex bar deadlift.

On Wednesday, I was kicking off the new year with a 100×100 workout. Mind you, I have been workout out throughout the holidays, and this is a workout I have done in the past with no ill effect, other than trouble sitting down and standing up.

I completed the workout in 4:55, a PR by about 30 seconds and knocking off my goal of beating 5 minutes. I felt good throughout the workout, but right as I finished, something exploded in the back of my head. The pain was so much that I laid down then and there on the lifting platform and didn’t move for 5 minutes. This is apparently known as a “thunderclap headache” and can be the sign of bad things.

As it subsided to some degree, I shrugged it off as an exertion headache. But after it kept me up the entire night, I ended up, on the suggestion of my doctor, in the emergency room to make sure that I hadn’t literally blown a gasket. Six hours and a number of pinpricks later, I was cleared to go home and take it easy for a few days.

My point here is that I train to stay healthy, to avoid risk. But, of course, exercise carries its own risks. Pushing myself as I did may not be the best choice (and I will likely not do that particular workout again for a while, if ever). But I would rather be fit and healthy and feel good than sit on the couch and avoid the risks of excessive exercise. The risk is definitely worth the possible fat-tailed outcome that I drop dead in the gym.

After all, one day I will drop dead. Something is going to kill me. I would rather it be in the gym, or on the ski slope, or bike trail, than sitting on my ass or because I eat and drank too much.

But we can examine the risks that we take and measure whether they are worthwhile. Exercise, though potentially dangerous, is absolutely worthwhile. That said, certain exercises, and certain types of training, probably aren’t.

For me, Olympic lifts are worthwhile because I have trained them for many years and am a certified USAW coach. But for most athletes they are not worthwhile. Heavy squats were a staple of my training for many years. But I honestly don’t think they are worthwhile risk. There are too many other good ways to get in leg work that don’t compromise the back.

This is one of the reasons that I turned to sled training. You can get the benefits of a wide variety of training, but remove many of the risks. I can have a 10-year-old do “sled snatches” and 77 year old grandmothers do sled pulls and rows with very little worry that they are going to hurt themselves. I can’t say I would have either group do real snatches of heavy squats.

There is the risk that exercise will hurt you, or even kill you. But something is going to do it. It might as well be something you love and something that helps you feel better, now and in the long run. Just choose your risks wisely.

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