Train to tolerate pain, says Laird Hamilton, and you’ll become a better athlete.
Three Ways to Shock the System
1. Stand on Golf Balls
This is one of the best ways to train your body to tolerate discomfort. It also breaks up scar tissue in your feet and stimulates your body’s nerve endings — there are more than 7,000 nerve endings in your feet. That’s the whole point behind reflexology. When we start training, we’ll go straight to the balls in the morning. You almost start sweating standing on them, because it revs up your nervous system — it lights everything up. To do it, place a golf ball under your forefoot, with your heel on the ground, and slowly transition your weight so that more pressure is on the ball of your foot. Roll the golf ball over your arches, heel, and between your toes. Do one foot at a time, adding more pressure. Over time, you should be able to stand on two balls — one under your forefoot, one under your heel — while holding on to a table or hanging from a chin-up bar to support your weight. Slowly ease more weight over the ball. The nice thing is that you can adjust the amount of pressure you can take.
2. Use a Foam Roller
This is a great way to relieve stiff muscles, but it’s also a discomfort inducer, since it’s immediately painful. You can use a roller to massage your shins, rib cage, neck, lower back, hips, IT bands, lats in your upper back — basically, anywhere that’s tight. I look
for places that hurt and target them with the roller — it breaks up that tight tissue and helps massage out toxins, just like a good session with a therapist can. I even use it to adjust my spine by rolling on it first thing in the morning until I hear a pop. I have a regular white foam roller, a black one that’s a little harder, and sometimes I even use a plastic PVC pipe. You’ll feel a little like Kill Bill rolling on a pipe, but it’s great for your feet.
3. Take a Yoga Class
Most people don’t stretch, because, in a way, it’s one of the activities that hurts us the most. It’s instantly uncomfortable, which isn’t true when you work out intensely and can build up to that pain, or when you have sore muscles from a tough session the day before. If you watch football players stretch before a game, you see a kind of agony on their faces that you don’t see when they’re on the field. This pain is why yoga incorporates so much breathing, because you have to exhale that discomfort out to get through it. And mentally, yoga is a good way to practice being uncomfortable because, for many of us who are used to constant action, it’s challenging to have to be still and focus on the body and breathing.
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Men’s Journal.