How much exercise is too much?
When you’re enthusiastically launching a new workout regimen, it might be challenging to figure out how much exercise is too much, says Toril Hinchman,director of fitness and wellness for Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
The best way to avoid overtraining is to develop a workout strategy that includes a solid and consistent rest and recovery component. “Training without a plan is a great way to overtrain,” she says. “Where people run into issues is when they jump in without a plan. They think they have to go to the gym every day for an hour or more, but you don’t have to do that.”
Hinchman also recommends checking out workout plan apps. There are a wide range of such apps, for beginners, intermediate exercisers and advanced gym veterans.
The importance of rest and recovery
How much rest and recovery time you need will depend on a number of factors, such as your age, the amount and type of exercise you engage in and your overall physical condition, Hinchman says. What’s a tough, hourlong workout for a 65-year-old man may not be so strenuous for a 30-year-old woman, for example. Whatever is a strenuous workout for you, there are some things you can do to help you recover the following day, such as stretching and doing foam rolling — in which you place a piece of foam underneath a part of your body that’s tight, such as your back or hamstrings, and roll over the foam.
It’s important to keep in mind that many fitness trainers don’t look at the issue as one of overtraining, but of “under-recovering,” says Jonathan Jordan, a personal trainer based in the San Francisco area. “The human body is designed to move,” he says. “It’s common for people to exercise a lot and not recover enough. So their bodies go into a recovery debt.”
To avoid under-recovering, be sure to drink plenty of water and to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night. And be on the lookout for these eight signs you’re overtraining:
If someone’s new to exercise and doing just one type of workout — say, running on a treadmill — at a certain point, that person is likely to feel burned out.
Varying your exercise routine routine is a good way to avoid workout burnout. If your workouts are primarily cardio in nature, mix it up with weight or resistance training. If the treadmill is your go-to piece of equipment, change up your workout by using a stationary bike. “Continually doing new exercises, new ways to move body is a good way to keep yourself excited about your workout regimen,” Hinchman says.
2. Diminished athletic performance
If at a certain point you’re not able to run, cycle or swim as fast you usually do or can’t lift the usual amount of weight, your diminished athletic performance could be a sign that you’re overtraining. This means “your body is telling you it needs to recover,” Hinchman says. “Once you get the rest you need, you’ll be more efficient and regain your usual athletic performance level.”
3. Lower appetite
Working out is typically a good way to work up a healthy appetite. But overtraining and inadequate rest and recovery could lead to hormone imbalances that suppress your desire to eat, Hinchman says. A diminished appetite, in turn, can compromise your workout regimen. “You need to consume the right amount of calories and nutrients to get the most out of your workout routine,” she says.
It’s natural to feel tired immediately after a hard workout and even the next day. “But if days later you have a heavy feeling in your legs and it seems like you’re not recovering between workouts, that kind of fatigue could mean that you’re training too much, and you need more rest,” Hinchman says.
“It could also mean you’re not getting the right amount of calories, minerals and vitamins. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, you need the right amount of nutrition.”
5. Elevated heart rate
The normal resting heart rate for most people is 60 to 100 beats per minute. If your normal resting heart rate jumps from about 50 up to 65 beats per minute, that could be a sign you’ve been working out too much, Hinchman says. It could also be a sign of a heart issue, so it would be a good idea to get checked out by a health care professional.
To establish your usual resting heart rate, put your fingers on your wrist to check your pulse, and count the beats per minute. A number of smart watches are also equipped to provide your resting heart rate. Of course, you won’t want to check your heart rate after a strenuous or moderate workout. In the morning, after you awaken from a good night’s sleep and before you get out of bed, is a good time to check your resting heart rate, according to the American Heart Association.
Generally, working out helps you go to sleep. But overtraining could throw off your natural sleep rhythms and disrupt the usual function of natural hormones like melatonin, a brain chemical that helps you get the shuteye you need, says Dr. Christopher McMullen, attending physician in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.
7. Mental health issues
Overtraining could disrupt the usual function of the stress hormone cortisol, which is released by the adrenal glands, McMullen says. Cortisol helps your body deal with stress, but when the hormone’s levels are too high, it could have harmful effects.
Harmful effects of too much cortisol could include:
8. Weakened immune system
Exercise in general is helpful for the immune system, McMullen says. Adults and kids should get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of the two each week, the American Heart Association recommends.
But exercising too much without getting the proper amount of rest can be counterproductive. “Your body’s systems can get run down if you’re pushing things too hard,” McMullen says. “If you’re putting all of your energy into training, there’s less left over to fight infections, so your immune system will suffer.”
To recap, here are eight signs you’re overtraining:
— Diminished athletic performance.
— Lower appetite.
— Elevated heart rate.
— Mental health issues.
— Weakened immune system.
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