Over Training - why working out more isn't always better
When it comes to working out, sometimes more isn’t always better. Let’s chat about over training, what it is, how it can impact you and what to do about it. It’s all about working out SMARTER not always harder! Balance is key!
Over the years of training, I’ve seen it all. The most common pattern I see people getting in is quite often the hardest to break which is the cycle of over training leading to illness/injury/or frustration (because you aren’t reaching any of your goals)and then ultimately, throwing in the towel completely.
Let’s look at this in a real-life scenario. Take Amy for example, totally fictitious, don’t worry….I’m not picking on anyone. Amy has a vacation coming up on June 12 and it’s the first time she’s going to be in a bathing suite since giving birth to her 8-month-old daughter. She’s freaking out and hasn’t had any time or energy to get to the gym, until now.
Amy wants to lose 30lbs, tone up and get bikini ready, ASAP. Her plan- workout 6 days a week and follow a 1200 calorie diet that is lower in carbs then what she is currently following.
Week one – Amy is crushing it. She’s feeling amazing because she hasn’t had a good workout routine in over a year, and mentally she feels like she’s being proactive. Not to mention, she’s high on natural endorphins
Week two – Amy is still going strong. Her body is sore, she’s already lost 5 pounds and her motivation is still through the roof.
Week three – Amy is still extremely determined but her body is starting to slow down. That soreness is starting to slowly turn into dull aches and pains. During her workouts, she’s losing steam a lot quicker and is having a hard time mentally pushing through. By the end of week three, Amy has come down with a nasty cold.
Week four – Amy is frustrated. She’s still battling her cold, is waking up not feeling well rested and has missed a few workouts this week. Finally, by Thursday she’s over her cold and ready to get back on track. While Amy is outside running her little heart out, just thinking about that stupid bikini she wants to squeeze into, she hears a pop in her knee and a sharp pain rush through her left leg.
Week five – poor Amy is now nursing a minor knee injury which will keep her out of the gym for the next 3 weeks, per doctor’s orders.
Fast forward 3 weeks – Amy has completely given up all fitness goals and is still trying to get her energy and knee back in good standing. Her confidence, motivation and self-esteem are at an all-time low. It’ll take another 6 months for Amy to muster the courage and energy to get back into a fitness routine.
Although Amy’s story is a slight exaggeration of how over training (or doing too much too soon) can backfire big time- this cycle is all too common. We have good intentions, but sometimes we need to listen to our bodies and fitness professionals when it comes to training appropriately. This means we have to also think more about our overall stress and what we are doing to recover.
As a fitness coach and nutritionist, I wanted to drive home the point of over training before it was too late. Don’t get me wrong, I want all Upstate Row classes full and everyone to reach their health/fitness goals but I want people to achieve that in a healthy, safe manner. Not just for short-term results but long-term health.
Over training usually occurs when there isn’t enough recovery. It’s a multilayered condition with wide-ranging effects with the main symptom being fatigue or “hitting a wall.”
When we think about being “fit” or getting “in shape” we usually consider a few variables such as how hard we exercise, how frequent we exercise and our nutrition. What we frequently miss is how we recover. Gym time is simply a stimulus for change. This stimulus will only create results if we recover enough between workouts. The quicker and more efficiently we can recover, the sooner we can spur further progress1.
If you’re over training, you may experience:
- Fatigue (general/extreme)
- Excessive soreness, more than 3 days of extreme soreness from one workout
- Increased aches and pains (beyond normal aches/pains)
- Frequent colds/lowered immune function
- Blood sugar issues (hypoglycemia/hyperglycemia) *
- Trouble sleeping (staying asleep or falling asleep)
- Food cravings, insatiable hunger
- Low metabolism/ decrease thyroid function*
- Sex hormone imbalances (decreased mojo, irregular/missed periods)
*represents hormone interactions
Basically, all the symptoms you see listed above represent over stimulation of your sympathetic nervous system or your “fight or flight” response. When we over train, our sympathetic nervous system is way out of balance with our parasympathetic nervous system which is often referred to as “rest and digest.”
We also need to consider what’s going on in our lives when we look at over training. Sometimes it’s not the workout itself. If we are going through any major life stressors (new baby, a big move, new job, loss of a loved one, divorce, etc.) then our fight or flight response is already in over drive and intense exercise may send us over the edge.
Even though exercise is healthy, it is still a stressor and something we need to be aware of. Stress, from any area of our life, can increase our levels of cortisol including exercise. Increase levels of cortisol for long periods of time can lead to the very symptoms listed above.
If you want to be fit, maintain a healthy weight, and perform well in all other areas of life then you must find balance. As much as I would love to tell you to remove all stressors from your life, that’s obviously not realistic.
Let’s take a quick look at relaxing and restorative activities that can rebalance your nervous system and help you recover better. Remember, the faster you can recover, the more you can train and the quicker you can see and feel progress!
Rest & Recovery activities include:
- Yoga ….hello!!! Flourish Body + Soul
- Tai chi
- Meaningful relationships/connections
- Relaxing hobbies
- Warm baths
So as we continue to train at Upstate Row I need you to do a few things….
- Try to build in 30 minutes a day of passive recovery such as meditation, restorative yoga, reading, etc. These are basic relaxation activities. Don’t over think it, just do something you enjoy and make time for it.
- Listen to your body. If you’re experiencing a lot of external stress in your life, maybe doing 3 high intensity workouts is not the answer. As much as it may feel good to get out some tension, it may be putting too much additional stress on your body. Instead, try dialing it down temporarily for 1 solid workout and 2 active recovery workouts such as an hour hike in nature, or a yoga class. Once life restores normal order, increase the intensity of your workouts.
And one last thing because you’re probably thinking to yourself “this isn’t me, I’ve never experienced over training”……Ask yourself this- have you ever really been able achieve your ideal level of “fit”? I ask this because we either lose motivation, hope, burn out, aren’t seeing results, etc. etc. and just like Amy, we just stop dead in our tracks. I would say that over training is almost always linked to our inability to reach our full potential and breakthrough physical plateaus. Sometimes though, the path is not so obvious or we aren’t as in tuned with our bodies. Failure is no excuse to throw in the towel completely, it’s an opportunity to learn more about yourself and your body, make changes and reassess.
We will continue to explore this topic more….this is just the tip of the iceberg. I’m not going anywhere, and I sure as heck don’t want you to burn out on me! I want to see everyone at Upstate Row push through plateaus and fatigue in a healthy way so you can look back with pride and confidence and say, I’m healthy, fit and fully in control of my body.