Exercise is a major component of a healthy lifestyle, and the benefits of regular physical activity are well established. Incorporating more high intensity exercise into your routine can bring great benefits to energy, body composition, and overall fitness. Exercise and movement are also pillars of a Paleo lifestyle and moving your body regularly is important for optimal health.
However, there are many people who take their physique and physical fitness to an extreme level. Excess exercise can result in a regular state of physical exhaustion, which may do more harm than good.
The potential to over-exercise is rife, especially with all the daily headlines, conflicting theories and various experts telling you on how much is enough. Learn to listen to your body. A few signs that you may be overdoing your training or exercising at a level that is too intense for your body include:
Losing rather than gaining strength.
This includes feeling challenged or unable to lift weights you previously lifted with relative ease, your HIIT becomes more and more difficult even though the intensity is the same, or struggling to hike/walk/ride the way you used to. You feel as if you are getting weaker rather than stronger.
Lack of body composition gains.
Sometimes, working out too much can actually cause muscle wasting and fat deposition. Too much exercise can lead to an over-abundance of cortisol in the system which in turn increases insulin resistance and fat deposition, especially around the midsection.
Your immune system is compromised.
Your immune system may also be suffering from the added stress of your overtraining. Recent increases in your physical routine may result in an increase of sore tYour immune system is compromised.hroats and nagging coughs which can often be brought on by excessive exercise. Research has shown that the cellular damage that occurs during overtraining can lead to nonspecific, general activation of the immune system, including changes in natural killer cell activity and the increased activation of blood lymphocytes. This hyperactivity of the immune system following intense overtraining can possibly even contribute to the development of autoimmune conditions.
Over-training results in the sympathetic nervous system becoming overly dominant. Symptoms include sleep disruptions, restlessness, and an inability to maintain focus, even when resting or taking a day off, Recovery slows and your resting heart rate remains elevated. Your body is reacting to a chronically stressful situation by further increasing its stress response.
You are pushing yourself to your maximum on a daily basis.
Attempting to maintain a heavy, daily, physical workout will result in the inability to adequately recover. Your performance will suffer, your health will deteriorate, and much of your hard work and achievements in the exercise department will be compromised.
Heavy workouts leaving you feeling depleted for days.
Exercise should leave you feeling well, strong and energetic. Working out should not leave you feeling uncomfortable and drained. Post-workout exhaustion is normal, but feeling severely mentally and physically compromised is not. Exercise will generally elevate you mood and if you are feeling negative effects emotionally, you are probably exercising too much.
Your joints, bones and/or limbs hurt. You may feel achy and uncomfortable all the time. This differs from the delayed onset muscle soreness (or stiffness) from a heavy workout. You may feel that you never fully recover. Listen to your body. This may be a time to re-assess how and how much you are exercising
It is also important to assess whether your daily exercise routine may have developed into an unhealthy or addictive behavior as compared to simply a love of getting your sweat on.
A few points to consider include:
- You judge your day as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on how much you exercised.
- You feel anxious, depressed or guilty if you can’t find the time to exercise every day.
- You exercise even when you feel sick, tired or exhausted.
- You get sick frequently and cannot seem to recover.
- Your self-worth is based on how much you exercise.
- Your self-esteem is maintained by how much you exercise.
- You get really mad when something (weather, surprise dinner dates, illness) interferes with your exercise.
- You arrange work meetings, social obligations and family engagements around your rigid exercise schedule.
- You cancel work meetings, social obligations and family engagements to exercise.
- You feel worse instead of better after your workouts.
- You only exercise alone because others slow down your progress, intensity and calorie burning.
- You exercise to compensate for overeating (or simply eating).
If more than one or two of these apply to you, exercise may be becoming a problem for you. And if you’re in any type of disordered eating recovery, this problem will interfere with your progress.
There are, however, a few steps you can take to begin to find your way back to a healthy relationship with exercise and you can avoid overtraining whilst still enjoying high intensity exercise:
Reduce the frequency.
While pushing yourself hard at the gym is not inherently problematic, doing it too often during the week is overtraining. High intensity, high stress exercise should be limited to two or three times a week, especially for those who are dealing with other health issues such as autoimmune conditions or digestive troubles. Compounding those stressors with extra stress from your exercise routine will not leave you healthier, and can easily cause you to become sicker.
Sleep in vital for health. Not only is taking breaks from exercise important, but getting adequate sleep to allow recovery from intense exercise is vital to avoiding the overtraining syndrome. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, particularly on the days you train. Excess exercise can result in sleep disturbances, so if you’re feeling restless and having trouble sleeping through the night, you may want to reconsider the intensity of your training schedule.
Vary your workouts.
While high intensity exercise may be ideal for losing body fat and improving lean muscle mass, high levels of cortisol induced by stress can cause the body to hold onto fat. You may consider trying a type of exercise that can help modulate your cortisol levels. Although many view yoga as being too easy to affect fat loss, a regular yoga practice is shown to reduce cortisol levels, which may help in reaching your weight and fitness goals. Instead of doing a fourth day of CrossFit, try doing a yoga class instead. You may find that this stress reducing exercise helps you recover more quickly from your more intense exercise schedule.
Eat more carbohydrates.
While cutting down carbohydrate consumption is often seen as an ideal method to decrease body fat, a combination of overtraining and low-carb eating has been shown to raise cortisol significantly and negatively impact immune function. High intensity exercise also depletes muscle glycogen which can take significant time to be restored on a low carbohydrate diet. If you are regularly participating in high intensity training and want to avoid symptoms of overtraining stress, you may consider increasing your carbohydrate intake.
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If the way you exercise is leaving you tired, depleted and feeling like you are never good enough, then I invite you to find one thing you can do today to move toward a healthy relationship with exercise. I know how challenging this can be, but I also know if you keep it simple and take small steps, you can make big changes and optimize both your workouts and your health!