Those of us who struggle to find the time and the motivation to exercise might find this slightly hilarious. Can we exercise too much, too intensely, too frequently? Mental health experts think so. There is a difference between avid exercise enthusiasm and exercise obsession. It all depends on attitude. If you exercise regularly because you enjoy the health benefits it provides and the feel good after effects of your efforts, you have the right mindset. If you exercise because you fear missing a workout, feel guilty or stressed if you miss a day at the gym, miss social events in order to work out, or exercise in spite of having injuries, you may be at risk for developing an exercise disorder.
“There is no set formula or standard that reveals how much exercising is too much,” says Theresa Fassihi, Ph.D., a psychologist with the Eating Disorders Program at The Menninger Clinic. “But if exercising is interfering in a person’s life, and it is compulsory, then it may be a problem.” It is common for people with exercise disorders to also have an eating disorder. Problems occur when body perception doesn’t match reality. People with an exercise disorder commonly over exercise to burn more calories, build more muscle or attain their notion of physical perfection. They may be preoccupied with their body’s appearance, weight and muscle mass and can spend a lot of time scrutinizing and criticizing their physique.
Eating disorders aside, there are many exercisers who over-train and feel like they can’t take a break from exercising because they don’t want to gain weight or get off track. Overtraining can leave you vulnerable to injury and illness, which might keep you away from exercise for weeks or even months. You are overdoing it if your workouts suddenly feel harder than usual or you feel like you are losing ground in spite of the fact that you are working harder than before. Overdoing your workouts can lead to diminished strength (and horrors!), increased body fat. Hitting the gym too often can actually make you less fit.
“The benefits you want from working out – getting leaner, stronger, healthier – reverse when you don’t take breaks,” says Holly Parker, Ph.D., a lecturer at Harvard University and a certified personal trainer. Muscles are not designed for high intensity exercise seven days a week.
Intense exercise creates tiny tears in muscle fiber that require recovery and healing time in order to build more muscle. The best way to recover from a particularly hard workout is a day or two of rest followed by a light exercise session. Signs that you may be over exercising include:
- Fatigue. If your exercise routine leaves you mentally or physically exhausted rather than revitalized, you are likely pushing it too hard and need to reassess.
- Decreased performance. One of the earliest signs of overload is a drop in your workout performance. This is most often apparent in endurance activities such as running, swimming and cycling.
- Moodiness. If you’re in a funky mood or have a short fuse, your body and mind may be experiencing fatigue making it harder to cope with life’s annoyances. Stress hormones such as cortisol are released when you are emotionally or physically overloaded. Studies have linked excess cortisol to insomnia, increased belly fat, and decreased testosterone, limiting its ability to build muscle tissue.
- Delayed recovery time. Listen to your body. If you have persistent muscle soreness that lasts for days after a workout, you need take a step back and rest.
- Sleep disturbance. Restlessness, inability to sleep, or sleeping too much are all signs of overtraining. Your body and brain require sleep time for repair. If you are tired and sluggish all day and then have trouble sleeping at night, it’s a telltale sign you need a break.
- Heavy legs. When your legs feel like dead weights, heavy, tired, and overly fatigued, the muscles have not had time to recharge and repair.
- Lack of motivation or disinterest in exercise. A significant decrease in enjoyment of exercise that had you previously stoked is a sure sign of burnout. If your workout has become a chore or something you “have to do,” you are pushing too hard.
- Compromised immune system. When you keep trying to push through without adequate rest, you risk a weakened immune system, inflammation or injury. You may become more susceptible to illness and it may take longer to recover.
As with many things in life, balance is the key. You need to work out hard enough to challenge your body at your current fitness level, while giving your body a chance to recuperate in between workouts. This doesn’t mean you have to skip exercise entirely. Just be sure to include lighter workouts, such as walking or yoga, in between high intensity workouts. These recovery workouts will help you stay in shape and cross training can help you avoid overuse injuries. Make each workout count and be satisfied when you’ve finished. Rest assured, taking an occasional day off allows your body to recover, rebuild and get stronger and leaner. When your restless energy returns to the point where you really want to go and work out, you’ll know your body has sufficiently recovered and is ready for more intense physical exercise.
Klean Endurance by Klean Athlete – Klean Endurance chews are an all-natural D-ribose supplement clinically proven to help restore and replenish energy. This formula supports cardiac function and reduction of muscle soreness and fatigue.
Catalyte by Thorne Performance – Staying hydrated and full of crucial electrolytes is essential for all levels of exercise and athletic performance. The CATALYTE™ powder formula contains vitamins, minerals, creatine, and D-Ribose that help repair and rebuild muscle.
Endura Lemon-Lime by Metagenics – This patented rehydration formula contains a unique, balanced blend of electrolyte minerals and carbohydrates designed to delay the onset of fatigue during strenuous activity and replace electrolytes lost through perspiration.