I’ll start with an honest statement here. I am writing this because I feel that I, like many others, might be suffering from over-training syndrome and exercise addiction.
Oh and a disclaimer: if you are reading this as someone who is contemplating beginning an exercise program- do not let this scare you away! Start that exercise program, reach those goals, it is good for your health. Just take this as an educational session on how to not get too addicted to that exercise program and start seeing problems!
How to tell if you are exercising too much? Has your body had enough? Has your mind had enough? Are other areas of your life being affected? Over-training and exercise addiction can happen to those of us with the best intentions. We want to get in, and stay in, the best shape of our lives. For some, over-exercising is just a misinterpretation that extra exercise means extra fast results. For me, sometimes over-training happens just because my body feels invincible. I’ve been into fitness for so long, I’ve studied it, I teach it, I do it 5-6 days a week. So when my body feels good it is easy to convince myself to do more, to see just how much I cant accomplish that day. If I can’t decide if I want to do my normal lift at the gym, or a HIIT class at Kosama, I do both, because I have nothing telling me not to. I feel great after both workouts, my caloric burn is through the roof, as is my metabolism. But I often don’t notice how close I am to over-training until is hits me like a brick. I find myself unable to complete the workout, not because my mind is telling me to quit, or because my muscles are just sore and it would be easier to not to that last squat, but because my body is tirrrreeeeddd, all the way down to the bone.
This cycle happens to me frequently, more frequently than I notice. And with this time, I have really stepped back to look at how it is affecting my life. Here are my initial thoughts:
- My body is just sore,I’ve had a lot of high intensity workouts recently
- My nutrition is fine, it’s not like I starve myself, not even close- I couldn’t if I tried! So I obviously am just sore
- I workout because I like to, and it doesn’t affect other areas of my life
- I exercise the same amount as I always have
But then I took a further step back and realized a few things…
- My body is transforming lately- is it my workouts or Advocare? I’ve gone weeks with multiple high intensity workouts, sometimes 2 a day, but always at least 1 rest day. I’m proud of the caloric burn and the way my body is transforming- finally “leaning” out, and I can see muscles I used to not be able to see unless I was flexing really hard and that feels good!
- Okay maybe I workout a little bit more than I always have, I guess I kind of up the intensity and/or time duration on a slow scale and haven’t realized the increase
- My weights have been stuck for awhile, I haven’t seen any new big PR’s- maybe this is a plateau?
- My nutrition is good, I don’t starve myself, but maybe 1800-2100 calories is actually too low (gasp) for my activity level. Maybe I need to re-evaluate how much I’m actually burning in a day by exercising as well as coaching group fitness and being on my feet all day….?
- Do I let exercise and nutrition interfere with my life more than normal? It’s hard for me to say. Yes I will go lift on a Friday afternoon now instead of hitting the bar at 3pm, or I will choose to eat at home before meeting my friends out, but I have always been contributing that to 2 things: 1) I have more bills to pay now, so I’ll save my money where I can! 2) I’m out of college, I don’t need to pretend to be a college student anymore..?
- Okay so maybe a few other things in my life are being affected or compromised because of my exercise habits and/or eating… I’m stressed, but is it because of work, or stressed out about fitting exercise into my day? Maybe it’s both. Maybe I feel that I’m losing my libido due to my hormones being so out of whack from all of this exericse- something I didn’t realize was so closely tied together until recently. Sometimes I don’t realize how tired my body is until I’m sitting on the couch at 8PM, and then it affects my home life, and I am just absent because my body and mind are already asleep.
- Oh and its hard for me to take rest days! It throws me off. But don’t worry, I know it’s important, so I take them!
My good news is that I do not (yet) have any signs of over-training injuries, but surely that would be the next thing to come! I could list more about how I feel, my current level of exercise, how it’s affecting my life, yadayadayada. However, I want to share some of the research, extensive research, that I have done for myself. Time to start practicing what I preach, for real.
What Science Says About Over-Exercising
When someone is showing signs and symptoms of overtraining, they might be classified as those who have “overtraining syndrome”. This is when an athlete, exerciser, etc. sees diminished performance as a result from an increase in training volume and/or intensity combined with inadequate rest days/periods and/or inadequate nutrition.
When exercise is a good thing….
- It helps control your weight
- It helps lower your risk of chronic and debilitating health conditions
- It improves your mood
- It helps you sleep better
- It boosts your energy
- It improves your libido
- It can be fun!
What happens within your body when you exercise….
- You intake more oxygen- by up to 15-20X more
- Your heart rate rises
- Your body works to release heat- by sweating
- Metabolic wastes are eliminated
- Your muscle fibers are being broken down and torn
- Certain hormones are released- epinephrine, norepinephrine, aldosterone, cortisol, testosterone, & growth hormone
Anabolic and Catabolic States….
An anabolic state is what is considered “ideal” for the body. During an anabolic state your body is building up and repairing tissues and muscles, especially those that have been torn apart during exercise. When the body is in an anabloic state it is using energy within the body for repair, growth, and maintenance.
On the other hand, during a catabolic state, the body is breaking down food and nutrients to store the energy for later use, and later anabolic processes. During this state, larger molecules in your body are being broken down into several smaller ones, and thus, releases energy to then be used by the anabolic process.
It sometimes can be hard balancing between these 2 processes
When exercising we are in a catabolic state because our body is breaking down complex sugars to be used for energy, this is a natural process that needs to happen for your body to sustain exercise. BUT being in a catabolic state for too long can be detrimental to your health and can cause muscle mass loss. Being in a catabloic state for too long is known as catabolism: it is breaking down your bodily tissues, your muscles, it weakens your immune system, even causes fatigue.
Over exercising= catabolism.
How exercise can be a bad thing….
- It can cause over-use injuries and tears in the joints, tendons, bones, ligaments
- Over-exercising is often tied to a lack of proper nutrition, or compulsive behaviors and calorie counting
- It can actually strain your heart, due to high amounts of increased heart rate. The heart is a muscle too
- It can compromise your immune system
- With too much exercise, the adrenaline is constantly pumping and other hormone levels are constantly increased, making it harder to fall asleep, stay asleep, or getting enough sleep
- Exercise might cause your mood to shift- you might be irritable, depressed, develop low self-esteem, or stress
- Over-exercising can cause some women to develop a condition called “amenorrhea” or the loss of menstruation
- Too much exercise can put you in a negative catabolic state where your body is breaking down the tissues faster than your anabolic process can build them up
So how to tell if you are overtraining, reaching overtraining syndrome, and need to slow down….
- You all of a sudden have a lack of motivation to hit the gym
- You are extra sore, even from exercises you have been doing for years
- You have reached a plateau, you are not seeing results despite your efforts
- You are restless and/or are unfocused
- You feel your soreness down to the bones & joints
- You have a lack of energy, you feel sluggish and slow
- You are getting sick more frequently
- You are feeling discouraged
The easiest way to avoid over-training:
TAKE REST DAYS! Your body, more specifically your muscles, need time to repair! They are broken down during exercise and will never get a chance to build back up (making you stronger) if you don’t give them a chance to. Rest days are the #1 most important thing when it comes to fitness success, and if rest days are hard for you try some easy “active rest” ideas…. casual walking, light & fun swimming, yoga, stretching, even yard work or gardening, be creative!
My Top 3 Take-Aways and “Must Try’s” to combat my overtraining and/or fitness addiction
- Find balance between work and exercise- especially because my job is exercise I need to consider how much work I’ve already done in the day, or plan on doing in the day, before planning my exercise
- Choose between my personal lifts and a group fitness, kosama workout. Somedays it might make sense to do 2- based on time and the different natures of each workout- but I no longer need to do a kosama strength class and my own lifting class on the same day
- Be lenient. About calorie counting (both calories in and out), about skipping the gym if just doesn’t fit my schedule, about hanging out and having a life rather than committing to the gym and a stay at home meal- even though I’ve already had 6 workouts this week- maybe that’s a sign to just let loose.
BONUS! Love my body and know that just because I’m in the fitness industry, doesn’t mean that everyone is judging me for having a sports model like body. Or know that just because I’m in this industry, it doesn’t mean that I HAVE to always be on my A-game, outworking everyone in the room, trying out multiple exercise avenues, and all the other stereotypical views that are put upon us in the industry. We are knowledgeable in fitness, we love fitness, we love proper nutrition, but we are also human, not freak-of-nature robots.
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Choueiri, Richard. “Fight Back To Build Mass: Let These Catabolic Crushers Help Keep Hard Earned Muscle!” Bodybuilding.com. N.p., 09 Sept. 2010. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
“Effect of Too Much Exercise on You.” Effect of Too Much Exercise on You. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
Eller, Marlan. “How Does Exercising Affect Your Hormones?” IDEAfit. IDEA FitnessConnect, n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
Maffetone, Phil, Dr. “The Overtraining Syndrome – Dr. Phil Maffetone.” Dr Phil Maffetone. N.p., 06 May 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Fitness.” Exercise: 7 Benefits of Regular Physical Activity. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
“What Happens to Your Body During Exercise – Hello Healthy.” Hello Healthy. N.p., 17 July 2015. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.