The Downside of ‘Pushing It’

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One of the great bonuses to working out is that it makes us feel good. When the blood is pumping and the endorphins are rushing, it sometimes feels like you can conquer anything. Many people workout to relieve stress, and in some cases exercise can become downright addictive. An abundance of physical activity is especially enticing in the summertime, because it can be tempting to go-go-go as long as the sun’s out.

Pushing your body too hard for too long is known as overtraining, where the volume and intensity of the workload begin to exceed your body’s ability to recover. Alternately, overtraining can also be caused by chronic under fueling before and after physical activity, inhibiting the body’s ability to properly repair itself.

How do you know when you’ve crossed the threshold from simply challenging yourself into more dangerous territory? Overtraining Syndrome comes with a host of hallmark characteristics including a persistent heavy feeling and soreness in the muscles, an elevated resting heart rate, inhibited immune system, feeling tired all the time, and an increased risk for injuries. Overtraining Syndrome can sometimes even feel similar to depression symptoms like insomnia, decreased appetite, irritability, and a loss of motivation.

Constantly pushing your body to give more than it gets can set you up for diminishing returns, where the benefits gained from exercising become less than the amount of energy you invested. Instead of adapting to your workout, overtraining actually increases your perceived rate of exertion. When the body isn’t fully allowed to repair itself you’ll start to notice that your time in the gym feels more like a chore. For example, you may find yourself reacting more slowly in your favorite HIIT class as your performance decreases, or that weekly spin class may leave you huffing and puffing more than usual.

Exercise can be great for reducing stress, but sometimes life itself can be stressful enough to put your body in a fried-out state, and adding exercise on top of that would be counterproductive. When you’re tired but still feel driven to squeeze in a sweat sesh, consider these situations that already cause the body stress, and it might be more beneficial to rest than work:

  • Experiencing jet lag
  • You’re battling sickness
  • It’s been a particularly stressful week at work
  • You’re under-fueled

Keep in mind, you should always give your body at least 36 hours to rest and repair the muscles after intense exercise.

If you stay mindful, there are definitely some behaviors that can be modified to avoid Overtraining Syndrome. The first, and pretty obvious, place to start is by reducing the volume or intensity of the workout regimen. Consider decreasing the weight or your usual amount of reps; this is a great chance to focus on form to ensure you’re moving safely. It can be hard to stray from your usual routine and the urge to give it your all every single workout, but you’ll definitely notice a difference by the way your body thanks you.

Second, and very important, is to make sure you are nourished well enough for the intensity of the activity. Meet your energy demands with a proper mix of macronutrients. Carbohydrates supply the brain and body with energy, healthy fats support mental function and help to stabilize mood, and protein assists in muscle recovery.

After physical activity, help the muscles recover faster with a deep tissue massage or self-performed with foam rolling. This helps to keep tension from building up in the joints and tendons that are otherwise prone to injury from being overused.

Lastly, learn how to train smarter not harder. Try changing the order or the pace in which you perform the exercises. Make sure to split your workouts up to train different muscle groups on non-consecutive days, and give yourself at least one full day of rest each week. If you’re feeling particularly stressed out, consider taking a whole week off from training so the mind and body feel fully rejuvenated for the next challenge.

Don’t spend the summer too sore and tired to enjoy anything. By all means, move your body in the sunshine and enjoy the off-lake breezes, but be sure to reward your muscles with the relaxation they deserve.

-Erin Hackbarth

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