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No Pain = BIG Gain

Is Your Exercise Program Wearing You Out?

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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Member Comments

  • The advice given, to me, a long-time exerciser, is sound, practical and can be implemented with just a small amount of discipline. And it works. Trust me....
  • Sometimes, we can be all in, however, we need to check with our doctors and listen to our bodies. God info and thanx!
    Good article, my attitude in life has always been if a little is good, a lot is better. It was always in my eating and I just carried it over to my exercising.
  • Excellent article, esp. important for those just starting out after a long time of inactivity. It's easy then to over-train, even if you're not doing all that much. Then people get injured or just give up. Thanks for such sensible, useful advice!
  • Great article and much needed - thanks for sharing
  • Thumbs Up!!! Great advise Jen !!!
  • Great advice. I felt blah today but did my workout anyway. I didn't do it full out, like I would when I have more energy. Tomorrow is my recovery day and I still need to get outside, weather permitting, and do a leisure walk or bike ride. Just something so I don't eat everything in the house.
  • I think I needed to read this. I went from not exercising at all to doing 40-60 minutes every day. I hate taking days off, but I guess this is a good way to remind myself it's ok to take it easy some days and just take a walk instead of going on the exercise bike.
    I wish I'd read this sooner! My values of never giving up and discipline coupled with a high pain threshold, has resulted in me being badly injured and unable to do even household chores! I love exercising and the buzz I get from pushing myself, but after a month of being able to do nothing more than walk and cycle, I really wish I'd been able to rest more..
  • Thanks for sharing but this is not something that I'll have to worry about.
    I probably should aspire to it. :-)
  • I definitely needed to read this - in July I started from doing NOTHING, and jumped into hitting the gym hard (twice a day, an hour each time, split between lifting and cardio), which I managed to keep up for about 9 weeks. The problem was, I was just worn the heck out. Between the increased calorie burn and the reduced calorie intake, I lost 40+ lb, which is great... but I was feeling stressed / frustrated that I wasn't losing as fast anymore, and felt that my workouts weren't paying off, *and* was starting to get down on myself for being lazy.

    I dialed back for about a week, and feel much better now. I'm still going twice-a-day during the week (lunch and evening), but weekends now have me cutting back to once a day plus doing some kind of "active recovery" (housework, walking around my neighborhood, etc.)
  • I'm glad I read this article. My body has been hurting this week and maybe I am over doing my cardio. I did Zumba 3 days in a row but on day two my body felt REALLY tired and day three was no better. I think I am going to start doing that every other day because high intensity Zumba is kind of hard on the body and those in between days can help repair whatever is needed.
  • I'm a sick puppy, I enjoy a little muscle soreness. I'm not talking, can't walk soreness, or even everyday soreness; just a little "Ugh" every now and then to remind me that I just did an awesome workout.

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.