Part 1: Are You Recovering From Your Workouts?

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You never really liked to exercise, but lately you started an exercise program after work which is quick, fun and motivating. You work out three to four times per week, sometimes the workout is exhilarating and at times you count the minutes just wishing it could be all over. Are you bored or is your body telling you to rest?

What is Overtraining?
The purpose of exercise or training is to help you feel good in the moment by enjoying the euphoric sensation of training, but also to stimulate adaptations or changes in your body that improve health, fitness, longevity and quality of life. If improvements stop and you begin to feel unmotivated by the workouts and are actually more fatigued before, during and after the workouts, it may be a sign that you are overtraining and not giving your body adequate time to rest and recover from the workouts.

Isn’t Overtraining Something that Athletes Experience?
Yes, athletes are definitely a group of individuals who push their bodies to the limit with each workout and require workout programs that improve their strength, speed and overall performance. Athletes are not in the game to look good, but rather to succeed at their particular event. Research has been conducted in the area of overtraining, specifically, looking at various blood markers that may indicate an athlete is not fully recovering from the workouts. While this information may be useful from a physiological standpoint, it does not take into account the mental stress and fatigue the athlete is feeling which may contribute to feelings of overtraining. With that being said, there is very little agreement on precise markers or test that can be completed to verify if an athlete is overtraining.

What we can agree on is that if progress is habitually stunted, fatigue becomes chronic and motivation diminishes, the athlete may be experiencing symptoms of overtraining. You may not be an athlete who trains five hours per day, however you may rise very early in the morning for a hard 45 minute workout on the treadmill two to three times per week, hit the weights another three times per week, drive the kids to school, rush off to work and finally have an opportunity to collapse on the couch for 30 minutes around 10 PM after washing the dishes and putting the kids to bed. You are not an athlete, but may be inflicting a lot of stress on your body. If your workouts are getting dull, you can’t seem to get the running mileage in and you‘ve had to use lighter dumbbells, you may in fact be overtraining, either in the gym, or in life.

Are You Getting Too Much Exercise?
Ironically, while many people are motivated to take control of their lives and to include exercise as part of their day, there are many people who may be pushing themselves too hard or for too long and who are not giving their body enough time to recover between workouts. I hear words such as “recovery”, “replenishment” and “rest” used frequently in a gym setting and with personal trainers. Since everyone varies in fitness level, muscular make-up and other physiological factors, it is very difficult to classify “too much exercise” since the ability to rest and recuperate varies from one person to another.

The fitness industry does commit to various guidelines when making recommendations regarding exercise in the form of resistance and cardio vascular training. For instance, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends you perform cardiovascular exercise three to five days per week for 30 to 45 minutes at a moderate intensity level (55 to 65% of your age predicted maximum heart rate). . In terms of resistance training, depending on your level of fitness and goals, you could train two to four times per week at various repetition ranges.

Remember, whether you are lifting a dumbbell, rushing nonstop for eight hours or trying to deal with the stress of working for an uncompromising boss, the stress your body feels is the same in all of these situations and can cause fatigue, headaches and make you susceptible to illnesses. The only difference is that physical stress, such as exercise, stimulates the body to become stronger, more resilient and to release the feel-good hormones. Mental stress, on the other hand, while it initially helps you become focused and alert for a presentation or to finish a project by eliciting “fight or flight” responses, over time it releases various hormones and impacts many metabolic processes that can contribute to sickness and disease.

What Should You Do?
The answer is to figure out what is stressing you out – the workouts or your life. If life is stressing you out, then short intense workouts may help you deal and overcome some of the anxiety and emotions of work. If your workouts are stressing you out, you simply need to follow some time-tested training principles. If you are experiencing the symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, headaches, susceptibility to colds and the flu and chronic muscle soreness, you may be overtraining. Part 2 of this series will highlight some practical solutions to overtraining.

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