If you keep up with what’s happening in the fitness industry at all, you know that we are inundated with a “more = more” message. More cardio. More squats. More calorie restriction. However, if you aren’t careful, the “more=more” approach can lead to overtraining, injury, and illness. So let’s discuss for a moment what is too much when it comes to exercise.

In our coaching we often see people come in and approach their workouts and diet with full on intensity. They are amazed by the initial results and, of course, want more. They throw everything – energy, time, resources – at their weight loss, strength gain, or health goals. They can’t stop talking about how great the workouts are, how much better they feel. It’s like a new drug to them.

This, all out, full throttle approach works great!

Until…. It doesn’t.

One day you wake up and find that your knees are achy or shoulder hurts. Or perhaps, you just feel run down and you have developed a bit of a cough.

Couple weeks go by and your lifts that were easy begin to feel heavy. Or maybe you tweak your back on a weight that is not heavy.

The next week you are calling the doctor or chiro to make an appointment.

So… What happened? What went wrong?

The issue here is not balancing the stress of life, physical, emotional, etc.., with rest and recovery.

Exercise is a stressor.

Typically a good one but, a stressor none-the-less.

If you are exercising intensely and/or frequently you certainly can add more stress to an already stressed body. Let’s face it, we all deal with LIFE. (Relationships, work, travel, late nights, etc…)

Exercise and intensity is not a bad thing. In fact, exercise is proven to reduce stress. In terms of physical demand though we have to listen to our bodies and help our bodies recover from ALL the stress we experience.

How much recovery you need is based on a whole bunch of different factors. Namely, how much TOTAL stress you are under at any given time.

For instance, if you are up all night with a sick child, then you are late for work, you spill coffee on your pants— then you hit the gym. Chances are you will not hit a PR that day!

Furthering this example it will also take much longer to recover from the workout after all that stress vs. if you had slept well, made it to work on time, had a great breakfast and a great day overall.

With the right amount of exercise and intensity we get healthier and stronger. With too much exercise at too high of intensity we strain, stress, shut down, and BREAK DOWN!

Look guys, I’ve been in the fitness industry long enough to see this pattern repeated over and over again. Regardless of age, body type, sex, or how great of shape you are in. At some point your body says… Enough is enough and it shuts down. Most of the time that manifests itself in the form of an injury. BUT, 100% of the time there were signs and signals that the body sent out BEFORE the injury occurred. (Note: I’m not talking about some freak box jump injury, I’m talking about back aches, knees, shoulders, etc..)

The following is an excerpt from an article from the folks at Precision Nutrition:

Mission Control: Our bodies.

Overtraining isn’t a failure of willpower or the fate of weak-minded wimps. Our bodies have complex feedback loops and elegant shutdown systems that actively prevent us from over-reaching or pushing ourselves too hard.

Two systems are at play:

Our central nervous system (CNS) acts like a car engine regulator. If the engine on a car revs too high for too long, it shuts down. Similarly, if we exercise too much, our brain tries to protect our muscles by reducing the rate of nerve impulses so we can’t (or don’t want to) move as much. And we certainly can’t work as hard.
Local fatigue, the result of energy system depletion and/or metabolic byproduct accumulation, makes your muscles feel really tired, lethargic, and weak. Using our car analogy, this is sort of like running out of gas.
Training too frequently and intensely — again, without prioritizing recovery — means that stress never subsides.

We never get a chance to put gas in the tank or change the oil. We just drive and drive and drive, mashing the pedals harder and harder.

If we “lift the hood” we might see:

Poor lubrication: Our connective tissues are creaky and frayed.
Radiator overheating: More inflammation.
Battery drained: Feel-good brain chemicals and anabolic (building-up) hormones have gone down.
Rust: Catabolic (breaking-down) hormones such as cortisol have gone up.
As a result, you might experience:

Blood sugar ups and downs.
Depression, anxiety, and/or racing thoughts.
Trouble sleeping or early wakeups.
Food cravings, maybe even trouble controlling your eating.
Lower metabolism due to decreased thyroid hormone output.
Disrupted sex hormones (which means less mojo overall, and in women, irregular or missing menstrual cycles).
Here’s the thing.

You don’t get to decide if you need recovery or not.

Your body will decide for you.

If you don’t build recovery into your plan, your body will eventually force it.

The more extreme your overtraining, the more you’ll “pay” via illness, injury, or exhaustion. The more severe the payback, the more “time off” you’ll need from exercise.

That’s a bummer. Now your car has stalled, or worse — gone backwards. Argh.

So what are we to do?

Well… Sometimes, most of the time actually, less is more. The problem is not really that you are over training, the problem is that you are under-recovering.

I recently read an article from doctor that works with our elite military guys. While these guys are America’s true bad asses, the majority of these guys are suffering from chronic issues caused by under-recovery. Namely in the form of lack of sleep. It is causing, in particular, hormonal disruption. Testosterone levels of 11 year old girls vs. those of young bad ass warriors.

What they are finding is, they take these guys off of the “sleeping” pills and put them on a diet rich in whole foods and their hormone levels return to normal.

So what does this mean for the average gym goer? It means that ALL the stressors in your daily lives have an impact on your recovery and in turn your performance and in turn your overall health and well-being.

It’s OK to take a break! Chill out!

Go for a walk

Practice some meditation

Take a yoga class.

Schedule time for recovery

Sleep. Aim for 8 hours per night. If you can’t do that just aim for more than you are currently getting. Perhaps instead of a workout you could take a nap?

Get a massage

The point being in all of this is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. It knows when you need to rest and it WILL send you signals telling you. And you know what? It is perfectly acceptable to take a day off from your workout. You will be better for it.

*Source Precision Nutrition