Exercise and moving your body is a necessary and (hopefully) enjoyable component of a healthy, fulfilled lifestyle. Occasionally, the perceived love of or need for the daily boot camp class, cardio workout or weight session can become a hindrance to maintaining these goals.
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 pushing yourself too hard or exercising at a level that is too much for your body include:
- Struggling to complete a ‘normal’ workout.
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.
- An inability or challenge losing fat OR you feel you are gaining fat.
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.
- 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 immune system is compromised.
Dietary changes (especially increased sugar intake), lack of Vitamin D/sunlight, poor sleep habits and mental stress a few factors that can lead to you getting sick more often. 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 throats and nagging coughs which can often be brought on by over-training.
- You struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep.
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 hurt.
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 frequent dose of exercise has developed into an addictive behavior or just a healthy love of getting your sweat on.
Based on both my personal and professional experiences there are a few signs that your relationship with exercise may be becoming unhealthy:
- 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 you experience more than a few of the items on this list, exercise may be a problem for you. And if you’re in any type of disordered eating recovery, this problem will interfere with your progress. There are a few steps you can take to begin to find your way back to a healthy relationship with exercise.
- Ditch the rigid exercise schedule.
Many people who have a problem with exercising too much maintain a rigid schedule. Which may be helpful when working towards a goal, but when exercise is doing more harm than good, a schedule can be detrimental.
See if you can let your schedule go for a couple of days and instead take cues from your body’s wisdom. Before you head out for your morning workout, ask yourself, ‘What would feel fun and nurturing to my body today?’ as opposed to ‘What’s going to burn the most calories, or sculpt my arms and abs?’
- Find an activity that allows you to appreciate your body’s strength, power and all-around amazingness.
Most of the over-exercising clients I have worked with are participating in activities on a daily basis that leave their bodies feeling beat up. They are hoping to feel strong, powerful and energized, but in actuality the grim marathon workouts and brutal boot camp classes leave them feeling depleted.
If you relate to this, try something new; dance, ski, swim, rock climb or go for a hike. Decide how you want to feel in your body and choose an activity that supports that.
- Connect to meaningful motivation and inspiration.
Many people who over-exercise do so to burn calories, lose weight, or change their body. If these are your only motivating factors, then, unfortunately you will probably never be satisfied.
What if you stopped exercising to change your physical appearance and started moving to cultivate clarity, creativity and energy? If clarity, creativity and energy are not what resonate with you, what does? Find a motivation, a feeling or a state of being meaningful to you and give it a try.
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.