You think you’re treating yourself right with regular workouts, and it’s true that exercise is one of the healthiest habits you can pursue. However, all good things are best enjoyed in moderate doses, and physical activity is no exception. If you push your body too hard, it’s bound to rebel–and as a result, you may become injured, sick or even depressed.
Because an individuals’ fitness levels can vary greatly, there is no one-size-fits-all exercise schedule. However, certain physical and emotional symptoms will warn you if you’re exercising too much or too hard.
Signs of Overtraining
Overtraining syndrome occurs when you don’t allow sufficient recovery time between workouts, and this condition takes time to develop. One major symptom of overtraining is decreased performance; while a healthy workout schedule increases strength and stamina over time, taking on too much makes you less capable of performing the same activities that used to come easily. You may lose coordination, become winded after several minutes of activity or have trouble completing your workout.
Overtraining often raises your morning heart rate, so check your pulse upon waking up to monitor any changes. You may also get more headaches, lose your appetite, have constantly aching muscles and get sick more often. You could also become irritable and unhappy, feel unmotivated and have trouble concentrating. Weight loss is another common sign of overtraining–even if this is a desired result, you should consider rapid fat loss a warning.
Overtraining Treatment and Prevention
The best cure for overtraining is rest. Discontinue all exercise until the symptoms disappear, even if this takes a week or longer. Once you return to the gym, don’t go back to your former intensity. Instead, start out at a comfortable pace and gradually increase resistance, speed or workout duration. Allow adequate recovery time between exercise sessions. For example, wait 24 to 48 hours between high-endurance cardio sessions, and 48 to 72 hours between vigorous strength-training programs.
In some cases, overtraining stems from psychological conditions that require more extensive treatment. Just as with eating disorders, some people exercise compulsively due to self-esteem issues or other problems. It is also possible to become addicted to exercise. If you can’t seem to allow yourself adequate rest between workouts, even when you feel sick or sore, your best plan may be to see a therapist.
Choosing Workout Intensity
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest performing moderate aerobic exercise 150 to 300 minutes per week, or vigorous aerobic exercise 75 to 150 minutes per week. If you’re a beginner, start out with 30 minutes of brisk walking or other light exercise five days per week, and gradually incorporate 30 to 60 second intervals of jogging or more intense cardio.
No matter what your fitness level, stay on the safe side with the 10-percent rule: Only increase your activity level by 10 percent or less each week. For strength training, two or three weekly sessions is sufficient–choose weights that you can lift 12 times before wearing out your muscles.