Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Too Much of a Good Thing – Is it Possible to Over Exercise?


I will be the first to admit that I have a difficult time allowing myself a rest day from exercise. I have an all or nothing attitude with a propensity to over train. After a workout, I usually have a boost of energy and feel better. So, even on days when I am tired, cranky, or even sore, I push through so I can get that energy boost. The big “theys” of authority keep urging everyone to exercise more. Get off our duffs and be active. But for those of us who are already active (and overachievers at that), there is a potential to over do it. Can you really get too much exercise? Surprisingly, yes.

Over exercising can lead to Overtraining Syndrome. Athletes, triathletes, runners, weight lifters are all susceptible to overtraining. Even people new to exercising can get overly enthusiastic and over train, thus burning themselves out entirely. Exercising usually makes us feel good for various reasons, so why not do more and feel even better? Why not add on extra reps, extra miles and boost your results?

While exercising is good for us, when we don’t allow our bodies to properly recover, overlook proper nutrition, or get inadequate sleep, we end up doing ourselves an injustice. We are undoing all of our hard work basically.

As a personal example, when I first started lifting weights I fully believed that in order to see results, I had to work the muscle group three times a week. So I would do three full-body workouts in addition to my cardio. I didn’t count weight lifting in as part of my exercise regimen. I did have muscle tone. Who wouldn’t after lifting that much? But I was burnt out, tired, and dreaded workouts.

After completely Cathe Friedrich’s STS Program, I realized how wrong I had been about what I needed to do to see results. (The program only works muscle groups once per week.) I learned that more is not always better. It is a matter of how you work the muscle (e.g., muscle endurance, hypertrophy, number of reps and patterns, varying weights, etc.), not always how much. The same goes for running, swimming, biking, even floor and step aerobics. It’s good to vary your workouts and intensity levels. First off, you’re less likely to get bored. Secondly, you’re less likely to over train. It’s also important to take a rest day, and even periodically take an active recovery week where you do very light cardio such as walking or easy, slow runs. I’ll admit, it’s easier said than done. I know that for some that sounds absolutely crazy. Can’t take a day off? Seriously? Yep, very serious.

So, are you like me and have a hard time allowing yourself a rest day? Do you tend to go all out, all the time? You may be on the brink of, or even be suffering from Overtraining Syndrome. I know I have didn’t realize it at the time. I even snickered the first time I saw an article about Overtraining Syndrome. So how do you know if you’re suffering from Overtraining Syndrome?

Common symptoms:
  • Mild leg soreness, general achiness
  • Pain in muscles & joints
  • Possible increase in injuries
  • Moodiness and/or depression
  • Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
  • Sudden drop in or diminished performance
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Inability to relax, twitchy, fidgety
  • Insatiable thirst, dehydration
  • Lowered resistance to common illnesses such as colds and sore throats
  • Increased resting heart rate

The best treatment is prevention. So how can you prevent Overtraining Syndrome?
  • Take at least one rest day per week
  • Cross train
  • Periodize your workouts (e.g., alternate hard and light training days within the normal training program)
  • Keep a training diary. This can help you monitor training intensity and volume as well as mood, fatigue, etc.
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Maintain proper diet and nutrition

Disclaimer: I am not a professional, I am not a physician. This information is meant to be informative and was gathered from various sources. If you feel that you are suffering from Overtraining Syndrome, please talk to a professional.

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