Exercise is so good and healthy for us. The general thought is the more you do of it, the better it will be for you.
Turns out that exercise is like almost everything else in life. In moderation, exercise is great thing. But too much of it can be bad for you, in a few ways.
One of the hardest parts about sticking with an exercise routine is avoiding injuries. I read a study out of Sweden that concluded that 90% of all people who start a new exercise routine quit within 2 months, due to pain. Pain is usually due to injury.
I work on amateur and professional athletes, and have for years. My practice always gets busier in April with runners. This is because the Pittsburgh Marathon is May. Everyone who is overtraining for it, or training too hard, will get injured in april. This is because it usually takes at least a few months of over training, or training too hard, to become over trained.
I always say that the hardest part about running a marathon is getting to the starting line injury free. The general theory with marathon training is that if you can do half the distance in training, you will be able to do the full distance in the event.
This concept of over training has direct ramifications on those of us who are regular exercises. We will have a much greater chance of sticking with an exercise routine if we can stay injury free. Once you injure yourself, even a sprain or strain, it can take 6-8 weeks to get back into exercising. It is hard to stick with a consistent exercise routine if you keep injuring yourself because you are pushing yourself too hard.
-A muscle sprain or strain can take longer to heal (8-16 weeks total) than a bone fracture which can take 6-8 weeks total. And a muscle sprain or strain can be more painful (ask anyone who has thrown out, or pulled, their low back (which is primarily a muscular condition).
This same concept of overtraining is pertinent to ultra marathon runners. There is a epidemic of these ultra runners doing really well for a year or 2 and then their performance drops off. They see their times getting slower they can’t produce the same power and they think that they need to train harder. They then train harder which only digs them deeper into the hole of being over trained. This is actually opposite to what they should do. They really need to back off from all exercise, take a few weeks off and another few weeks easy, then ease their way back into exercising at 100%.
The theory is that it’s better to rest instead of exercising at 70%-80% because you are fatigued. If you rest, then the following day you will be able to exercise at 90%-100%.
I am an avid cyclist, I used to race 100 mile mountain bike races. I have had the pleasure to meet, and work on, many cyclists. Cyclists from the weekend warrior to pro mountain bikers to CAD 1 road racers. Some of these races are crazy. Part of what makes a cyclist good is having a high pain threshold. They will driver 4-8 hours to a race. Race their bikes as hard as they can for hours at a time (some races can be 2 to 6 hours long, if not longer). Then drive another 4-8 hours home, that day or the next.
They will do this weekend after weekend, month after month. Some racing upwards of 30 weekends per year. This continual sitting and stressing of the muscles can easily cause the muscles to get over trained throughout a summer.
When an athlete gets over trained by racing too much over the course of the summer, the following season will not be a good season. The racer will usually get injured to the point that they have to take time off from exercising. They will not recover as quickly as they used to. They will not be able to “put up” the same numbers they were able to put up the season before. They will be hungry all the time, usually craving sweets.
From what I have seen professionally and personally, it can an amateur athlete 2-8 weeks to recover from being over trained. It can take longer the worse the overtraining is. It can take a professional athlete over a year to recover from being over trained. This is because the professional athlete usually has a higher pain threshold than an amateur. The professional athlete will ignore the pain longer and be able to compensate with other muscles easier than the amateur athlete can.
I have heard from professional football players and ballet dancers that by the time they reach professional status, they never have a performance or competition that is pain free.
Following a season of getting over trained, the athlete will not be able perform at his or her previous level. They won’t be as strong or fast or quick as they were before. And more significantly, the athlete will be more prone to injury. This is because the muscles will be in a chronic state of inflammation, they will be tight and won’t have their usual range of motion.
How do you avoid getting over trained? By listening to your body. You don’t get over trained over night. Your body will give you subtle signs that you are becoming over trained.
I live in a 2 story house. When I am recovered and feeling well, I can run up the 2 flights 2 steps at a time and not be winded or feel anything in my legs when I get to the top. When I am tired and need to take time off from exercising, I walk the 2 flights and feel the lactic acid burning in my legs and I am winded.
That is just one sign that your body can give you that you are over trained. Other signs include, but are not limited to: craving sweets, hard time waking up in the morning/ feeling like a truck ran over you when you wake up, always hungry, grumpy/ cranky.
If you listen to your body when you feel these signs and symptoms then you can avoid becoming over trained. When you do feel any of these signs or symptoms, back off from exercise for a day or 2, and you will be able to avoid becoming over trained.
Know the signs and symptoms of being over trained to avoid becoming over trained. Exercise smarter, not harder; to avoid becoming over trained and to avoid injury. This is the Pain Free Way.