NIC DECAIRE, SPECIAL TO THE NEWS JOURNAL

“How’s your knee feeling?” I recently asked a friend.

Earlier, we had talked about a half-marathon he was planning to run in Philadelphia.

I already knew the answer. I just wanted to see if he was going to be honest with me.

It hurt, he told me. It was uncomfortable to run and his mileage was low for where he should be in his training.

When he was younger, running was his passion. But many miles over the years put a lot of wear and tear on his body. Now in his early 50s, his body was starting to talk to him more and more.

So I asked the one question no athlete wants to hear: “Is it worth it?”

“I am not sure,” he said.

Does the risk outweigh the reward? It’s something I always ask when I am coaching someone.

Growing up as a competitive bodybuilder and power lifter, I get it. You are always fighting your mind. This is what I used to do. At 17 years old, I squatted 500 pounds. At 35, the thought of that scares the daylights out of me.

Do I want to do it? Absolutely. I just have learned my limits.

For me, trying to squat 500 pounds doesn’t make sense. I’m a husband and father of two amazing girls who need their dad to be healthy and strong. Not injured. Doing something to push the limits just because it’s something I used to do doesn’t make sense. The risk doesn’t outweigh the reward.

People are always trying to push the limits in fitness. Trust me, I love watching American Ninja Warrior and seeing what the human body can do, but I don’t agree with people who come up with crazy exercise routines just for the sake of doing it. Fitness should be something that is fun, challenging and safe.

Do people get hurt exercising? Absolutely. It is a sport. The trick is knowing when to listen to your body.

Here are some tips when it comes to smart fitness:

1. If it makes you sick it probably is not good for you. If you are exercising to the point of vomit, it is time to scale back. It might happen once, but getting sick from a workout should not happen on a regular basis.

2. The slogan, “No pain, no gain,” is about the dumbest thing someone could say. If you feel pain, stop. Try a different exercise or modification. If it doesn’t go away, see your doctor or physical therapist.

3. Make it challenging, but make it safe. I like a good challenge as much as the next guy, but I know when something doesn’t sound safe. Going to the parking lot and trying to pick up cars might sound fun until your back goes out. Make sure your workouts do not leave you crippled for days or lying on the ground saying the rosary.

4. Don’t live in the past. Having your letter jacket from high school in your closet doesn’t mean you should wear it. Work with what your ability is now, not what it was.

I can still remember those days of competing and the joy I got from picking up the heaviest weight possible. And it is a good thing I still have the pictures. Right now, my fitness goal is to just make sure I am strong enough to pick up my girls in each arm.

Back to my friend with his race quandary. He thought he could probably push through those 13.1 miles and be fine.

But his life is about more than running. He recently found another passion in strength training. He has been doing this with a group for a couple of years. He enjoys it and sees the physical benefits.

“Your mind is telling you that you need to run this half-marathon because it is something you have done your entire life,” I said. “Not doing it would be a failure. But your body is telling you it is time for a change.

“Is it worth getting injured?”

He shook his head no.

Learning your limits and being smart about your fitness will keep you strong and healthy for many years. There really is no sense to push the injury or limit.

Remember, if you are injured you are probably on the sidelines.

Nic DeCaire, owner of Fusion Fitness Center in Newark, has been training clients for more than a decade.

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