Can You Exercise too Much?

by Greatist
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Can You Exercise too Much?

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Exercise is healthy (and maybe even addicting), but when it comes to hitting the gym, is there such a thing as too much? When the amount of exercise exceeds the body’s ability to recover, instead of getting faster and stronger, we can actually end up becoming slower and weaker (not to mention sick and injured). So rest those tired muscles and learn the warning signs of when the body has had enough — or even too much.

DOES THIS HURT? — THE NEED-TO-KNOW

For many, the fun of working out comes with reaching our goals at a steady place, be it for a championship team or personal best in the weight room. Sometimes, though, we can actually push our bodies too hard, resulting in a state of chronic fatigue and decreased performance known as overtraining. And though very intense exercise might increase the likelihood of pushing things a bit too far, athletes of all shapes, sizes, and sports — from runners to weightlifters — are susceptible.

A lack of progress is often a first sign of overtraining, signaling it’s probably time to make some adjustments to allow for better recovery (and maybe take a good mental break, too). But the symptoms of overtraining include a variety of other aches, pains, and seemingly every other annoyance in between:

  • Achey Breaky Heart. Experiencing marked fluctuations in resting heart rate and blood pressure? It could be a sign the body needs more rest. Some observational research also suggests chronic endurance exercise can contribute to irregular heart rates. While the link between tons of exercise and heart rate problems isn’t fully understood — or accepted — it’s best to take any noticeable abnormalities seriously if they begin to occur.
  • It Hurts to Move. Chronic soreness — even days after exercise — and very slow recovery rates are also common warning signs.
  • Ouch! Keeping getting injured? Overtraining could lead to an increased likelihood of injury. The same goes for colds and infections.
  • It’s No Buffet. Dramatic fluctuations in appetite or weight could mean the body is chronically overexerted.
  • Not Enough Zzzs. Overtraining can also disturb our sleep patterns, making it even harder for the body to recovery.

A REASON TO REST — YOUR ACTION PLAN

Training breaks the body down, and taking time to recover lets it build back up stronger and faster than before. That means days off are often just as important as days on, and making sure a routine allows for R & R is key to making progress. Here are some other tips that will help anyone steer clear of overtraining:

  • Mix It Up. Doing the same thing over and over again can be stressful on the body and mind. A little variety helps keep things fresh, and if done correctly can even help us reach our original goals.
  • Increase Intensity Carefully. If a runner can only run a mile today, chances are they won’t be conquering a marathon tomorrow. Plan on making small steps every day toward those goals, one pound or meter at a time.
  • Fuel Up Wisely. Machines don’t run well without the right type of fuel. Make sure dietary choices match up with the type of exercise and goals.
  • Catch Plenty of Sleep. We all need our beauty sleep, and so do tired muscles. Plan on getting at least eight hours of sleep a night for optimum recovery.
  • Chill Out. Everyday stress can affect our performance in the gym, so grab a stress ball and smile more often to feel more refreshed.

Already overtrained? Consider taking some additional time off. While the right amount of rest will vary depending on the individual, but a week or two will likely give the body time to recharge to return faster, stronger, and better rested than ever before.

Do you ever overdo it at the gym? Sound off in the comments below and on Facebook.

Photo: Faungg | Flickr

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  • Peter

    The term “chronic fatigue” could be misleading here. Overtraining presumably has nothing to do with the long-term (and often debilitating) condition ME, which is colloquially known as “chronic fatigue”.

  • EllipticalMarathoner

    I do between 60 – 100 minutes a day on the elliptical – no impact. I’ve been doing it for about a year, and no aches and pain, just lots of weight loss (along with diet). My legs have definitely gained muscle – but do I need down time from a non-impact cardio exercise? On the days I only do 60 mins, I usually work abs or dumbells.

    • Goodenrachel

      Damn. You rock!!!!!

    • megan

      You cray! In a good way 🙂 nice name btw!

  • lmsinca

    I have a question. I’m 63 and trying to lose about 70 lbs and started swimming this summer. Joined the gym 7 weeks ago and have been swimming 5 days a week 30 to 45 minutes, more than 1/2 mile. I’m recovering from a back injury and so hired a trainer to help me with my core strength and endurance etc. Did that for six weeks and now am doing her circuit class two nights a week for an hour. Three of the days I swim I also do my own circuit for about 30 to 40 minutes. I take Wed. and Sat. off and just walk or do my own stretches and calisthenics at home for maybe 20 minutes or so.

    My legs are sore all the time. I can barely do the eliptical, they’re so sore, so I use the treadmill and rowing machine as part of my circuit but not for that long because I’m getting my cardio from swimming. Once I get going on my laps my legs feel fine and I feel like I could swim forever if I had he time. The only time I really notice how much they hurt is when I try the stair master of the eliptical.

    I’ve lost about 15 pounds.

    Any suggestions?

    • Stabja

      I would suggest to take a break on the length of time you are working out. Try doing some explosive strength training for no more than 15 minutes. Warm up on the stationary bike slightly and stretch good. This will shock your body and you will see better weight loss without the pain. I would only do cardio 1 to 2 times a week for max 30 minutes. I’m in my 50’s and have worked out my entire life and only got overworked when I did more cardio than 1-2 times per week. If you want to run marathons than great, but many of us don’t and shouldn’t. Mark Sesson from Mark’s Daily Apple can give you all kinds of story’s concerning to much cardio – it isn’t good for our body’s.

  • barbara lee

    I don’t know about the gym. I don’t like working on land, the water is where I go and yeah I suppose there is too much of that only in that it can be hard on your skin nails and hair! But I have gone from one class a few days a week (maybe) to two classes four days a week as well as extra workout time between and reluctantly leave when I am too waterlogged to continue! I love the not sweating aspect of it as well as the ease on joints.

  • mazzaj

    I am of the general opinion that too much of anything is not good for you. Take water for example, we are advised to drink two to three litres but take water consumption to the extreme and it CAN kill you. it waters down your electrolytes and potassium levels which are vital to the correct functioning of your heart. Execise is great, a natural mood lifter, body strengthener and fat buster but too much exercise can cause irrepairable damage to our joints and those of us who exercise excessively will find that those levels are not sustainable in the long term (for most people) and the weight we lost comes creeping back and more! so lets be sensible, and wise because we ALL want the changes to be for life not just for Christmas or that upcoming wedding day!

  • kwaters

    Good points! Overtraining and your body can’t perform, grow or repair. I remember a story about an Irish boxer called Barry McGuigan who was world champion in the late 80s. It turned out he only got really good when he cut his training in half as per instructions from his then new trainer, he was literally over-doing it day-in, day-out and reaped the benefits from cutting back and being fresher for each fight.

    • RobRex2010

      Very, very few people “over train”. The human body responds to exercise very well … even serious exercise. Most people who are told they are over training are training incorrectly or not using correct form and continue to suffer nagging little aches and pains… maybe even a small injury..start out slowly… develop a routine…sweat, a lot … feel fatigue…then change your tempo, exercises, your entire routine , even, no less often than every six weeks…

      • Hajj

        I totally agree, there is a huge difference between ignoring your body/good form/technique and “over training”…pushing yourself is important when trying to get into better shape and its highly unlikely that one will “over train” themselves. However, being overly ambitious or disregarding the skills and technique needed with various work outs or sports (for example, weightlifting) puts you at risk of injury. Run of the mill injuries are far more likely with beginners than over training.

        All in all, don’t ignore your body, aches and pains etc…look for the solution in better form,stretching, adjusting the sort of exercise you choose for yourself and your body…but don’t be afraid to push yourself…”over training” is not at all as common as this article implies…and being tired or sore is quite normal. as long as it doesn’t impede your daily functioning, youre probably fine.

  • Steveburg

    Ya Very Good points i read these ponts,i think exercise is very important for our body fitness,but exercise must be do under a training guide or consult the fitness trainer,which exercise is looking to u and what amount it would be required,,all are very important in the scenario as well

  • Sandrarinck

    Yes I have over trained and have paid the price for that because I didn’t heed the warnings…I become addicted to exercise.

    As a runner, it’s easy to become so acclimated to running that sometimes I “shake off” an injury thinking it will subside on its own.

    I had to take a couple months and my toe is still not recovered and the impact on my joints from running so much has caught up to me so now I cannot run. I can barely speed walk without pain from my big toe causing trouble.

    I did switch to an upright stationary bike that I love! But because of lessons learned, I have to heed the warning signs of overworked muscles and heart.

    Palpitations, sore knees that ache with prolonged resistance… For me, it’s a mental battle to take a break but if I want to reach my goal, I have to listen.

    • Nicole

      I can sympathize with you Sandrainck. Similar situation, but instead of my big toe, it was my knees, hip flexors and a few other issues. Long story short, after running 10 to 15 km/ day, (addicted as well) I can no longer run either.
      I’m now on the elliptical – so NOT the same, but I did it to myself.

  • Maddie

    I do 45 minutes of elliptical, abs, and then 45 on a bike. I have been doing it for the past couple days (I used to do only 30 on each) but found myself feeling fatigued. I finished but just barely. I had broccoli earlier so my fuel was there.. Is my heart rate goes up but should I be concerned? Thanks, maddie

    • Sam

      Broccoli is insufficient fuel.

      • Tracey Taylor

        yep you need something with carbs,protein and healthy fats to fuel your workout before and after.

  • becki

    I think I have recently over trained, with 3 800+ calorie workouts and really pushing miles the past two weeks my knees haven’t stopped aching and I haven’t been sleeping well. My diet got out of Control! Thanks for the article, I’m going to give myself more recovery time in the future.

    • BuzzPreston

      What? For me, that’s about 5 hours of running at 80% for max HR. And that’s gross calories; for net calories I’d have to add another 30 minutes or so. What kind of workouts are you doing? Are you sure you’re calculating your calorie burn correctly? Most calorie calculators overstate calorie burn grossly. I’m really curious to know what you’re doing and how your calculating it.

      • Paul

        Hi BuzzPreston, I can burn between 900 and 1100 Calories doing 1 hour of Insanity workout. I use a Wahoo heart rate monitor and IPHONE app to calculate the calorie burn. That said, although I am fit and can manage Insanity, I am still over weight according to my BMI so get much more burn.

        • BuzzPreston

          Hi Paul,
          I never cared for BMI as an indicator of fitness. A 6 foot, 200 pound guy will register 27.1 and put him into the overweight category, whether he has 10% body fat or 35% body fat. Only one of those is right. If you are lean and defined, you’re not overweight. RE: the HRM to calculate calorie burn, I’ve never felt comfortable with the high numbers it recorded. I still track and record my average HR for each workout, but I use a separate calculation to determine both gross and net calories burned. You can find it on a site called Shape sense, (one word), dot com. I put it that way because this blog will delete any posts with a link, but I think you get the idea. They have quite a few fitness calculators along with explanation of the formulas used. Check it out.

          • Johnny

            true, I’m 5’8″ 210lbs body fat 8%, guess what I’m classed as obese lol, BMI is a joke and should be scrapped.

          • Paul

            Thanks, really useful site. As for BMI, I agree I am 6 foot 4 and have always registered overweight. I have found some of the responses on this topic interesting. I generally find having 2 days off in a week and drinking recovery drinks after exercise has kept me from aching and allows enough recovery to work out 3 days in a row. That said I do a mix of Insanity, running, 5 a side football and cycling to keep it interesting.

          • BuzzPreston

            Glad you like it. I use it religiously now. I generally don’t replace the calories I burn exercising, but by using the “net” calorie calculator, I’m confident that if I do, I won’t “replace” more calories than I’ve burned. I’m 72, so the HGH isn’t flowing as freely as it did some years ago. But to keep it going somewhat, I do three 20-30 minute HIRT workouts, one 20-30 minute HIIT hill sprints and one 20-30 HIIT sprints on my bike per week. Sometimes I’ll lift heavy on Saturdays, but generally I rest on Sat/Sun. I’m 6′, 169, 15% body fat and an avid long term Low Carb advocate. According to my doctor, my “fitness age” is 54. Also, I take about 4-5 days off every six weeks, when I also change routines.

          • GA_Sheep

            BuzzPreston? Sounds more like Buzz Lightyear to me! Rock on! 🙂

  • nicola green

    When i do 4 or more exercise classes a week i always put weight on. Any idea why?

    • Andrea

      You could either be putting on muscle mass which does weigh more than fat mass, or you could be overworking yourself

      • Tracey Taylor

        muscle does not weigh more than fat it just takes up less space. if you are doing strenuous workouts your body can retain water(or from too much sodium,that time of the month,etc). you dont gain a lot of muscle doing cardio. you have to lift heavy to gain decent muscle mass(for a woman it can take months to a year to gain 1lb of muscle) but you can also do body weight resistance training to .you also have to make sure you are eating at a surplus(you can get what are called newbie gains though but it probably wont be enough to see it on a scale).cardio helps you to lose weight and burn fat, weight lifting burns fat and you build muscle.

        • Ksig

          Muscle takes up less space, therefore per square inch it weighs more. Muscle is denser so the same weight in less space equals more weight in the same space.

          • Tracey Taylor

            the only way muscle weighs more than fat is if you have a lot of it.(not to mention I said it takes up less space) in this case she is most likely not gaining weight due to muscle gain, you can weigh more and be a smaller size if you put on enough muscle but we all know that building muscle takes time especially for a woman.and it wont show on the scale in just 4 or more classes a week. it takes months to put on decent muscle mass being a woman and a caloric surplus except, for newbie gains and then again most likely it will not show up on a scale. if you notice weight going up from working out its usually water retention. Ive been lifting heavy for a little over 3 years and my weight has not went up much in that time either. when it does I know its most likely water retention.

    • Kelly Carter

      Exercise makes you hungry! Are you tracking your meals? If not, you should. This site (or app) makes it as easy as it gets.

    • Ben Mills

      Does your diet change when you work out more? Some people eat more often when they exercise. It could be muscle mass but most folks do not gain that much muscle mass all at once. Keep track of your calories.

    • Freeman

      Could be post exercise water retention – fluid in your muscles to protect against injury and help repair them. Does the weight come down again, and continue to come down overall?

  • HitmanHart74

    I am running 5k a night on the treadmill, in about 18.5 minutes. Along with healthy diet this has helped lose 3kg in the first week. Have also started a bit of weight work, light weights with lots of reps. Have reached max speed on the treadmill, is further distance recommended?

    • megan

      Fast!!

      • HitmanHart74

        I’m up to 8k in 29m 30s now, and my fiancée is doing 5k in about 28 mins. We have started having rest days now so will see what happens on the next weigh in

        • megan

          Impressive 🙂 I use to be a runner but its so mentally tough to stick it out for 3 plus miles!! Congrats to you guys!!

          • HitmanHart74

            It helps because it’s on the treadmill at the mo, so we can still watch TV! Lol. Thanks though, some nights easier than others, may go back to one rest night a week if weigh in result isn’t good

  • Rockarasta

    I lift 7 days a week. Never felt better.

    • Tracey Taylor

      why are you not resting your muscles so they can repair themselves?

      • HJ

        work different muslces on alternating days and youll be aight

  • Viper123

    I’ve heard this many times also by fitness trainers and such. I agree with this article:)

  • Mindy

    I am always sore from exercise even if its a slow walk but I still keep at it. It is hard to tell when my body needs a break

  • Mary

    Hi everybody!
    I just recently joined the fitness community, so this is new to me. I’m a mom to 3 beautiful girls. My last two pregnancies were back-to-back, and it really took a toll on my body. I’m all done having kids now, and I’ve recently decided to get my weight and health under control, not only just to look and feel better, but also so I can be a positive influence for my daughters. I too have had concerns that I may see reverse results by trying too hard. I do Zumba for 50 minutes every Monday, and I do Turbo Kick for 50 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday. So I do three 50-minute classes a week at the fitness studio, and then I do 45 minutes of cardio at home 4 or 5 days a week also. I’ve been wanting to replace a few of the cardio workouts with strengthening exercises, like lifting weights a little bit. I know it sounds kind of extreme, especially for a beginner, but I really am enjoying myself. I am a little sore some days, but it’s so minimal it’s probably not worth mentioning. I’m sorry that I am carrying on so much, haha…I’ll get to the point. I guess my question is, What would be the most effective routine for me to get into? What kinds of workouts (cardio, strength) and how often? Thank you in advance to all who respond!

    P.S. I am also watching my calorie intake, drinking 64-80 ounces of water a day, and trying my best to eat the recommended daily amount from each food group.
    :)+

    • K&N Fitness .

      Hi Mary going by my past experience with it you should try sticking to more compound movements when it comes to your strength training this will help in strengthening you and also with fat loss if you need this to. Just check out youtube you will find loads of workout ideas with compound movements in it. Hope it helps and keep up the good work

      • Lori Fallone Altman-Nicastro

        Mary,
        I do 4 classes a week. 2-Body pump (no impact involved) and 2 spin classes. So I’m getting equal amounts of cardio and weight lifting.

    • BuzzPreston

      Too much cardio will age you faster You’ll be in good cardiovascular condition, but you will also age quicker. Google it for details. Shorter, but more intense workouts will provide you with many more benefits. If you like the Zumba, think of it as RWB, recreation with benefits. You should also include some strength workouts, not heavy weights, but light to moderate.
      There are also many “bodyweight” strength workouts on You Tube, etc.

      RE: diet, it depends on whose recommendations you’re following. If you using the USDA Pyramid or Plate, you’re nutrition profile is the same one that Kansas Feed Lots feed the cattle and hogs to fatten them up for market.

  • megan

    Hope I never have to deal with this. I like working out 5-6 days a week lately.

  • Kolton

    When I first starting working out I think I went a little to hard benching and now my shoulders hurt for my first 2 sets but after that it seems fine until I stop working out for the day then it’s back to hurting

  • eksploited

    I wonder about this. I do an hour of spin like every other day. I generally try to average like 90% of max HR. The other day I did two days back to back. The second day I couldn’t even get my HR up to 82% … Orvertraining?

  • Crystal Sloan

    So, i just started the gym. I have not worked out ever. Except in high school. And even then i didnt really. I never needed it, i was always skinny and could eat everything and not gain a pound. Now i am a good bit over weight. I want to loose about 50 pounds. So I joined a gym. They have personal trainers. So, i saw a personal trainer e who gave me a plan of working out 6 days a week. Monday full body strength training, Tuesday cardio, Wednesday full body, Thursday cardio etc…. when I originally went with the trainer my strength training consisted of leg press left leg ( due to some knee issues he wanted me to strengthen it) and the both legs. Leg extensions, 1 leg then 2 legs. Leg curls 1 leg 2 legs. Then chest press lat pull down overhead press bicep curl rotations. Superman and plank. All of which takes about two hours. My problem is I have noticed on my leg strengthening, i have had to decrease the weight for my one leg. I don’t know if it is just worn out by trying to do one leg 12 reps 3 sets. And then both legs 12 reps 3 sets . SI have also noticed that my other leg is quite a bit stronger than the other. Should I maybe take off the both legs, or maybe give it a break and do other stuff then come back and do both legs. I’m so frustrated. Been at it for a month and watching what I eat. I have only lost a pound. Anyone have any advice.

  • newb

    Crystal Sloan 12 hours ago

    So, i just started the gym. I have not worked out ever. Except in high school. And even then i didnt really. I never needed it, i was always skinny and could eat everything and not gain a pound. Now i am a good bit over weight. I want to loose about 50 pounds. So I joined a gym. They have personal trainers. So, i saw a personal trainer e who gave me a plan of working out 6 days a week. Monday full body strength training, Tuesday cardio, Wednesday full body, Thursday cardio etc…. when I originally went with the trainer my strength training consisted of leg press left leg ( due to some knee issues he wanted me to strengthen it) and the both legs. Leg extensions, 1 leg then 2 legs. Leg curls 1 leg 2 legs. Then chest press lat pull down overhead press bicep curl rotations. Superman and plank. All of which takes about two hours. My problem is I have noticed on my leg strengthening, i have had to decrease the weight for my one leg. I don’t know if it is just worn out by trying to do one leg 12 reps 3 sets. And then both legs 12 reps 3 sets . SI have also noticed that my other leg is quite a bit stronger than the other. Should I maybe take off the both legs, or maybe give it a break and do other stuff then come back and do both legs. I’m so frustrated. Been at it for a month and watching what I eat. I have only lost a pound. Anyone have any advice.

  • Bridgitt Lee

    I workout 5 or 6 days a week between like 90 minutes to 2 1/2 hours, and I feel fine. I figure 1 or 2 rest days don’t hurt. If I’m very sick , like I have a fever or I’m throwing up, I obviously rest. You got to be careful, because people spread viruses at the gym, and some people don’t wash their hands or even shower. I work out at home too or outdoors if I can’t make it, but I prefer swimming, water running, using the cardio machines, weight training, kettle bells, pilates, taking zumba, kickboxing, spin, or isanity classes, and walking/hiking/biking outdoors, etc. I’m addicted but in a good way. There’s no workout I won’t try( well maybe with the exception of surfing.

  • Nancy

    I just had the sleeve surgery almost two months ago and I have lost 32 pounds and now I am trying to live a more healthier life style. Does any body know what the calorie intake is for people like myself who can’t eat as much as a normal person? I am open for suggestions.

  • Mark Jude Purdon

    My name is mark I had spinal decompression surgery I’m on 3o mg oxy for pain 4x a day I have been doing my elliptical bike 8 days in a row I couldn’t exercise without the oxy I weight 250 I’ve been eating low carb I’m a diabetic and I need to lose about 80 lbs I’m 5 foot 5.should I do the bike every day or do it 7 and rest I need to lose the weight I’m hoping losing the weight will help elevate some of my sciatica pain in my leg’s
    Everyday or rest ?

  • Fatima Raza

    I wanna ask some if 31 min of treadmill including 5 min of running at 8km/hr with 20 min brisk walk at 6km/hr..with warm up and cool down of 6 min at slow paces is moderate ,low or high for a female of age under 30.. I’m doing 20 min of yoga and aerobics too with treadmill..kind suggestions please