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Is Your Exercise Program Wearing You Out?

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We’ve all heard that a combination of diet and regular exercise is the best way to lose weight and keep it off long term. 
 
For some of us, common sense dictates that the more you work out—and the higher the intensity—the better. But that’s not necessarily true. Even if you’ve gradually increased the intensity, duration and/or frequency of your workouts, you can still run into problems. 
 
Have you noticed that your workouts suddenly feel harder than before, even though you haven’t changed anything? Do you feel like you are losing ground, even though you’re working hard? If so, you may be overdoing it.  
 
The cause of overtraining is simple. You’re not resting enough to allow your body time to recover, or you’re doing the same exercises too much. Here are some common symptoms of overtraining:
  • Feeling tired, drained, and lacking energy
  • General body aches or mild muscle soreness
  • A decrease in performance
  • Inability to complete workouts
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of motivation
If you have been overtraining, it’s not too late to get back on track! Follow these three steps:

1. Your first priority should be rest. Just a day or two probably won’t do it. Depending on how severely you’ve been pushing yourself, three to five days should give your body enough time to recover—both physically and mentally. 
 
2. Get plenty of sleep and make sure you’re eating well, particularly during this recovery period. Focus on getting adequate amounts of protein, complex carbohydrates, and lots of fruits and veggies.
 
3. When you are ready to return to your exercise routine, start off slowly. Most research shows that it is okay to return to that same level of intensity, but you may need to cut back on the length and frequency of your workouts for the next few weeks. After that, you should be able to resume normal activities.   
 
Here are some simple things you can do to avoid overtraining and burnout: 
  • Use common sense! Work out less on days when you’re not feeling up to it. Schedule at least one or two rest days per week. Resting might mean no exercise at all, or just “active recovery,” which is light activity (an easy walk around the neighborhood, for example). Rest days should give you the feeling that you’re storing up energy. 

    When you push yourself through a high-intensity workout (cardio or strength training), tiny tears develop in your muscle fibers. Allowing your body to rest and recover for a day (or two) gives your hard working muscles time to repair those tears, and a wonderful thing happens—your muscles start to grow back stronger! Without ample recovery time, you continue breaking down the muscle fibers, and that’s when fatigue and injury can occur.
  • Incorporate a variety of activities into your exercise program. Or, if there is one thing you really enjoy, mix up your routine. Add speed or distance, increase the incline, or change your route—all of these variations can improve fitness, prevent injury, and keep your motivation high. Try different kinds of workouts within each week. For example, try an interval walking workout, a long distance walk, and a few “regular” walks at an easier speed and distance.    
     
  • Don’t do too much, too soon. Some people take the “all-or-none” approach, going from a sedentary lifestyle to exercising for 45 minutes or more, 5-6 days per week. At this rate, exercise doesn’t make you feel good like everyone says it will. You’re tired, your knees hurt, and your muscles are sore. After a week or two, it’s easy to get frustrated and want to give up. Instead, increase your workouts gradually and allow adequate recovery time to reduce these symptoms.  
     
  • Take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating a well-balanced diet, and getting adequate sleep. Allow for flexibility in your program. If you’re planning to walk and its 110 degrees outside, think about exercising in water, or at least avoid the heat of the day. If you’re not feeling well, give yourself a break—no guilt allowed. You may end up doing more harm than good by pushing yourself to exercise if you’re getting sick. 
Exercise should make you feel refreshed and energized—not exhausted. If it’s causing fatigue, soreness, or a feeling of utter dread, listen to your body! It may be time to make a change.

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About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.