Thanks to those circles all over the dashboard, you know what your ride needs and when it needs it. The temperature gauge tells you when your engine has to warm up or cool down. When you punch the gas, your RPMs might redline, letting you know your engine could drop. And when there’s nothing left in the tank, well, the gas light goes on to tell you there’s nothing left in the tank.
Unfortunately, your body isn’t equipped with pointing needles, red zones and blinking lights. You have to figure out what it needs based on feelings and messages—like hunger pains, dripping sweat and tight muscles.
As an athlete, you need a strong, clear awareness of your body. And you can develop this by being attentive to how you feel before, after and during workouts. This helps all areas of your training, particularly conditioning.
Davian Clarke, 400m sprinter for the Jamaican National Team, understands the importance of body awareness. The Olympic competitor and bronze medal winner, who’s currently ranked sixth in the world, drops a few lines about listening to your body during conditioning and how to respond to what it says. Check out this Q&A for some world-class advice on reading your body’s gauges.
STACK: How can you tell when you’re fully recovered between sprints in a workout?
Clarke: Sprinters can take many factors into consideration, including heart rate, breathing patterns and how heavy their legs feel. However, after performing for almost a decade, my coach and I have worked it out that I need about five to six minutes of recovery for long sprints and about three to four for short sprints. Long sprints would be 150 to 300 meters.
STACK: When you’re not given enough time to fully recover, how do you push through the next sprint?
Clarke: Recovery time is an integral part of training your body for success. Too much time means you won’t be in the right shape to be competitive, and too little rest can probably prevent you from performing at your best and contribute to injury.
STACK: How do you maintain your form when your legs begin to burn and feel like jello?
Clarke: That’s the million-dollar question—literally. Athletes have been searching for the answer to that question for a long time. When you feel your legs burning, whether in competition or in practice, you have to concentrate on key running movements that propel you along smoothly. Many people throw their heads back and begin running with no control. Staying calm—talking to yourself—is necessary. Go through the stages—chin down, drive legs forward, pump arms. Just keep repeating that all the way through the finish line.
STACK: How do you know when it’s time to stop a workout?
Clarke: Like I said before, make sure you get enough rest by listening to your body. If you can’t go any more, you can’t go. Not finishing a workout is better than finishing it and getting injured.
STACK: What can you tell young track athletes to help them learn to listen to their bodies?
Clarke: If you feel light-headed or dizzy, stop. If you throw up, stop. Never run until you feel sick. Remember, this is a sport and it’s supposed to be fun. If you aren’t finding joy from running, it simply means you’re doing it wrong.
STACK: How has body awareness improved your workouts and performance?
Clarke: When I was younger, I pushed my body harder and harder each day, but always ran the same. As I got older, I worked smarter by taking more rest and spending more time perfecting my running motion. This is when I started to consistently run faster and faster. And now, after competing at the highest levels in track and field for ten years, I seem to run faster each year.