If your daily workout routine has been leaving you worse for wear, you may want to think about how much time you are giving yourself to rest throughout the week.
Your low energy, constant illness and poor sleep might be more than just a “slump” — you could be overexercising, and damaging your body in the process.
What is over-exercising?
Every individual has a different definition of what is “too much” exercise, based on their general health and whatever their regular workout routine is — for some, it may be that the eighth mile on their run is pushing it too far, and for others their limit may be 30 minutes of jogging, it all depends on the limits of the individual.
How do I know if I’ve been over-exercising?
There are a number of clinical symptoms you may see related to over-exercising, such as:
- Decreased appetite
- Restless legs
- Sleep disturbance, poor sleep, insomnia
- Poor mood
- Increased stress (high cortisol)
- Adrenal fatigue
- Poor immunity
- For women, can lead to amenorrhea (no period for three months or more)
It’s likely that you will see changes in how your workouts make you feel emotionally and mentally as well. Generally, people who over-work their bodies on a regular basis will start to dread their workouts; what once was an escape, or a way to feel more grounded and connected to yourself, starts to feel like a chore that leaves you drained — emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Over-exercising can also be damaging to our bones and muscles. When we over-exercise, the increased cortisol we produce can interfere with our bone-building, and that excess cortisol in the bloodstream breaks down bone tissue and contributes to greater levels of stress. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that regulates several processes throughout the body, including metabolism and immune response.
Over-exercising contributes to muscle injuries as well, as engaging in regular strenuous workouts usually means your muscles are not being given the proper time to heal after each session. This creates inflammation, which in turn contributes to the cycle of sore and injured muscles. (1)
How can I avoid the slump?
If you’re still holding on to your routine, whether for fear of losing progress or your “edge,” fear not! Science has shown that a the progress you see, especially in muscle definition, actually relies on you resting and giving your muscles time to heal.
If you can’t justify giving yourself an entire day off, there are ways you can alter your routine to give your body the break it needs, while not giving up your daily dose of movement.
First, you could simply try switching up your exercises. For example, if your routine is usually cardio-heavy, try alternating days you go for a run with days you do a circuit workout. Although you are still working your body, you are giving your sore muscles a rest and activating different ones with new exercises.
If that doesn’t go far enough to stop your slump, a next step could be replacing one or two high intensity workouts a week with lighter sessions. Activities like yoga, pilates, walking, swimming or easy cycling can not only give your body the rest it needs, but they keep you active without straining your body.
There’s even a new hashtag sweeping social media, “#RestDayBrag” — fitness enthusiasts are embracing this new wave of shame-free rest days, touting the benefits for mind and body of taking a day for yourself, cancelling a workout when your body simply doesn’t have the energy, and listening to your body to know when you need to back off. (2) (3)
How does this fit into the “active recovery” model?
While many #RestDayBrag posts are showing off cheat days with pizza boxes, pancake brunches or big Sunday roasts, many show people out for a walk or a hike, cycling with family and friends or doing some yoga in the sunshine. These light activities are extremely beneficial, especially for those who keep a rigorous workout schedule the rest of the week, as they keep your muscles from getting stiff by encouraging stretching of the muscles through easy movement, allowing them to heal. This is referred to as active recovery — simply put, you’re giving your body a break by engaging in a relaxing activity. (2)
Whether you’re practicing active recovery to keep sore muscles from stiffening up, or you’re aiming for a more passive day to really let your mind and body take a break, you’re giving yourself a better chance at success in your next workout. Just remember to listen to your body.