Aside from eating a diet rich in whole organic foods, exercise is one of the most important components of living a healthy and balanced life. But did you know that, like with just about everything else, getting too much exercise can actually be harmful to you?
That’s certainly not to say that you should stop exercising altogether; you just might need to modify your routine a little. And really, only if you’re someone that overstrains yourself.
How Do You Know If Your Workout Is Too Much For You?
This is another one of those instances in which you need to be listening to your body, it’s going to know best. Yes, you should feel like you’ve worked out, but if you’re experiencing one or more of the following symptoms on a regular basis, you should probably reconsider your routine:
- Dizziness during or after a workout.
- Having trouble breathing and/or maintaining a conversation while working out.
- An elevated resting heart rate.
Those seem pretty basic, right? And they are. But they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of possible symptoms:
Skipped Menstrual Cycles
Of course, there are many different reasons that you could skip a month, but if you’ve been spending an hour or two at the gym every day for the last six weeks, it might be time to cut the regime back a little bit.
Hormonal Imbalance Due To A Spike In Cortisol
If simply skipping your period isn’t enough to deter you from overdoing it (I’m sure that most women would even argue that they’d welcome the break), maybe the overproduction of cortisol will change your mind. The longer and harder your workout, the more of the stress hormone you’ll have pumping through you. Increased cortisol can cause everything from the breakdown of muscles to weakened immune systems just to name a couple. Click here for a more detailed breakdown.
When taken to the extreme, exercise can become just as much of an addiction as heroin. Have you ever known someone who explained how much better they felt after running or working out especially hard? Their brain is actually using the same ‘reward’ system that it would use for a heroin addict. As soon as that ‘high’ runs out, they’re left feeling catatonic and/or useless. Here’s a study on rats showing exactly how the process works: The rats were given naloxone and separated into groups of various activity levels; the ones in the high activity level grouping experienced the worst withdrawal symptoms.
Disrupted Sleep Patterns
Exercise can actually help you sleep like a baby at night, but the opposite effects can actually take place when you overdo it. When your body is stressed, regardless of where that stress is coming from – you can be getting 8 hours of sleep and still feel like you’ve barely taken a cat nap.
A Lazy Immune System
A lot of people who overexert themselves regularly won’t stop until they hit the point of actually feeling ill. You could experience everything from a sore throat and cough to flat-out flu-like symptoms. If you’re exercising so much that it’s actually making you sick, you really need to consider restructuring your routine.
Dangerous Heart Arrhythmias
Long-term overstrain can cause damage to all of your muscles, that includes your heart. One of the most common arrhythmias found in elite athletes is atrial fibrillation (A-fib). A-fib can put you at an increased risk of stroke and heart failure.
Additionally, continuous excessive training may be associated with other heart issues, but there is some inconsistency in the research.
It’s absolutely normal for you to need a recovery period after exercising. However, if you’re still unable to function by the time you get to work or you’re too tired to do your chores when you get home because your body is begging for you to sit down and relax, you probably overdid it.
Are You At Risk?
Again, it’s going to depend on your body. That said, you’re definitely more likely to suffer constant over exhaustion if you prefer high endurance workouts:
- Marathon training (long distance running)
- Boot camp training.
- Tough Mudder races (This includes zombie runs and the like).
- People that are stone-cold obsessed with HIIT training*
And the like. Does that mean that you should immediately give up your intense regimen? Not necessarily.
How To Tone It Down A Little
Reduce The Time And Frequency Of Your Intense Workouts
The intense workouts you’re doing aren’t necessarily the problem, the duration and regularity of them more likely is. Dedicate two or three days to your high intensity workout, and opt for something a little lighter such as yoga.
Following regular yoga practice has been shown to reduce cortisol levels. That means that in addition to all of the other benefits this incredibly relaxing practice offers, it may also help you recover more quickly from your high intensity training. If your goal is to lose weight and you seem to have hit a plateau, you might want to consider incorporating yoga into your routine seriously – The increased cortisol caused by your high-intensity workouts is actually holding onto fat.
If you’re someone who has issues sleeping, I recommend taking a warm bath and doing some restorative yoga just before bed.
Make Sure That You’re Getting Enough Sleep
Getting adequate sleep is probably the number one most important thing when it comes to living a long and healthy life, but very few of us actually end up getting the amount we need on a regular basis. Overtraining (in addition to work, children, holiday worries, etc.) can cause sleep disturbances, so you should notice a difference after toning it down a bit. Again, a warm bath, chamomile tea, and some restorative yoga right before hitting the hay can do a world of wonders here.
Don’t Skip Your Post-Workout Meal
Overtraining is enough to cause the symptoms I mentioned above. Still, if you’re overtraining and low-carb eating (and/or not replenishing your system with the nutrients it needs to heal at all when you’re finished your workout), your chances of developing them increase. One of the best things you can put into your body post-workout is whey protein – It can essentially rescue your muscles from their catabolic state and help you recover much faster.
The foods you eat throughout the day will also contribute to how you feel and function overall. As much as you may be opting for whole, organic foods and grass fed meats that provide the nutritional value that your body needs to thrive.
Consider Switching To HIIT
Why is this on both the ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ list? Because when taken to extremes (which is done quite often, at least around my area), HIIT training can do just as much damage as training for a triathlon.
Done properly, HIIT training allows you to push your body hard enough to challenge it, but then you allow it a period to rest and recover before starting over with a new exercise (one that usually focuses on another area of the body). The process can be applied to just about any type of exercise from sprinting to weight lifting – Just give your all for 30 seconds (you should be registering an 8 on your scale of discomfort for as much of that time as you can), then take a 45-90 second rest.
If you’d like something a little more structured that will work your whole body, click here.
If you’re an annual marathon runner and you’re just not willing to give up your devotion to the lifestyle yet, please at least read this – It’s a link to the Marathon Medical Director’s Association guidelines for reducing your risk for developing cardiac arrest while you’re training and competing.
Getting exercise is crucial and comes along with a whole host of health benefits, but overdoing it can actually put you on par with someone who sits around all day and chooses not to exercise at all. Have you ever suffered any of these symptoms from overworking yourself at the gym? If so, what steps did you take to slow down? We’d love to hear your personal story – Tell us in the comments section below.