An active lifestyle with regular exercise can be great for health and wellbeing, and exercise at a suitable frequency and intensity during the week can improve fitness levels greatly. Issues can arise, however, when those looking for greater improvements to their fitness begin to exercise in greater frequency and at higher intensity levels. How much is too much exercise? Is there an optimal level? Although the threshold of exercising too much, or over-training as it is sometimes referred, varies from individual to individual, there are some notable signs which may indicate too much exercise is being performed.
The signs of too much exercise
- Lack of motivation. A lack of interest and will power in exercising may indicate a burn out from too much exercise.
- Decreased performance levels. Loss of strength or endurance may indicate lack of rest and excessive exercise training. The odd under par training session is normal, but a trend of decreased performance is a clear sign of something being wrong, possibly sourced from too much exercise.
- More injuries, niggles and illnesses. When the body is under greater stress from exercising too much, it becomes more open to illness due to an underperforming immune system, and the body is also more susceptible to injuries.
- Headaches, depression and fatigue. A general feeling of being down and unmotivated could be the result of too much exercise and lack of rest and recovery.
- Decreased appetite. A burn out from too much exercise can lead to a lack of appetite, further decreasing the level of nutrients the body is receiving for its much needed recovery.
If any of the above factors ring true for you it would be wise to seek advice from a health professional, as any of these symptoms could easily be caused by another health matter which needs to be uncovered and sorted. If you feel you are exercising too much, what should you do?
Firstly, we need to know the cause of the over training. It could be that the exercise frequency is too high, training for too many hours during the week, not leaving enough time for recovery. It could be excessive use of one exercise, exercising the same set of muscles in great intensity and frequency with little rest. It could be the compound effect of exercise with an already active lifestyle, or stressful job.
The stressful job aspect is not in the realms of this article, but the other factors are. Too much exercise is solved by decreasing exercise, and ensuring your new exercise program is sustainable. Rest is the key word, with an ample amount needed to ensure full recovery before the body is exercised again. Diet is also important, with a lack of important nutrients being a possible source of decreased performance and fatigue. Protein, carbohydrates and fat levels must be optimal for the training goals, with enough macronutrients for recovery and repair.
What can be done?
Below are some general ideas which could be used for avoiding over training / too much exercise:
- Allow for at least 48-72 hours before re-training a muscle in moderate to high intensity.
- Keep resistance training sessions under sixty minutes.
- Allow for rest days in the week where the body can relax and recover completely.
- Do not go to failure excessively during weight training exercises.
- Perform a well balanced training plan, which allows for the muscle groups to rest during the week before being trained again.
- Limit high intensity cardiovascular training sessions during the week, and allow for recovery.
- Drink plenty of fluids during training, and during the day.
- Ensure a sound diet is being consumed to allow for the correct levels of nutrients for growth, repair, recovery and body function.
The above list is by no means conclusive, but it should provide some general pointers for avoiding too much exercise. It would be wise to cease training for a week if you believe you have been over training, allowing for the body to recover, and then begin on a more sustainable exercise plan.