Are you working out too much?
As a trainer, I spend most of my time trying to motivate people to engage in a more active lifestyle by implementing an exercise program into their life. For the majority of my clients, I have to push them to get in at least 3 hours of exercise a week. On the flip side, there are some overachievers and “go-getters” that can’t wait for the next workout. Man, do I love those clients! You can tell them to do any exercise protocol, and they will attack it with a vengeance! They never let down, and are always giving it their all. While I can appreciate that attitude of “bring it on,” there is a time when exercise can be too much. Exercising too much comes in all shapes and forms and affects men, women, athletes, non-athletes, runners, and weight lifters. I don’t come across this very often, but there are times when excessive over-training can occur.
What is Exercise Bulimia?
The definition does not take the mental aspect of working out into account, which can be very beneficial, but Exercise bulimia is a newly recognized eating disorder, characterized by a compulsion to purge calories through excessive exercise. It is also known as “compulsive exercise” or “exercise addiction.”
Bulimia Nervosa is traditionally identified by the purging of calories through vomiting after eating. With Exercise Bulimia, sufferers feel a similar desire to purge calories, but use rigorous exercise as their method.
The reason I think the mental aspect should be more clearly defined, and should not only focus on the weight loss portion is that it only focuses on the body image and caloric burn of the disorder. I have come across more people doing it for the mental aspect such as reducing stress and blocking out tough situations going on in their lives than the caloric burn and body image portion.
Yes, most people exercise to look great, but there also is extensive research that shows exercise can release a significant amount of endorphins that can cause a so-called “exercise high,” making people feel much better psychologically. Feeling good mentally can sometimes trump how we feel body image-wise. Personally, I workout these days to reduce stress, get that “exercise high,” and feel great mentally. I specifically like to wake up at 4 am to workout before my first client because I know it makes me feel good, and it puts me in a better mood. Some say that I’m crazy for waking up that early just to workout. Does that mean I have e a problem even though I’m not doing it to burn excessive calories?
Let’s take a look at some common side effects and warning signs to extreme overtraining:
- Missing work, parties, or other appointments to workout
- Working out with an injury or sick, and the doctor recommends you rest
- Becoming injured or sick because of working out too much with not enough rest
- Becoming unusually depressed if unable to exercise
- Working out for many hours at a time each day, every day
- Not taking any rest or recovery days
- Defining self-worth in terms of performance
- Excessive weight loss
- Refusal to eat if unable to exercise
- Justifies excessive behavior by defining self as a “special” elite athlete
If you or someone you know have some of these symptoms, there is a possibility that you are exercising too much. Always consult with a doctor for a proper diagnosis. I feel that if someone is working out at a moderate-to-high-intensity, they should exercise no more than 90 minutes a day. If you are exercising for 60-90 minutes a day at a moderate-to-high-intensity, five days a week should be plenty. There is a lot of research showing that overtraining for more than 90-120 minutes a day, 6-7 days per week, can decrease progress in the form of fat loss, muscle and bone growth, decrease strength and endurance, and reduce overall physical performance.
After about 90 minutes of exercise, your testosterone and growth hormone responses start to decrease significantly. These hormone responses to exercise are arguably the reason why we make positive gains from training. Too much Cortisol, a hormone released during stress, can cause the reverse response, and decreases muscle gain, increases fat gain, and reduce strength and endurance. Top off too much exercise with inadequate nutrition and sleep, and you have a recipe for overtraining.
What You Should Do
Below is a recommendation for someone who gets adequate sleep (7-9 hours a day), eats mainly whole foods, and drinks enough water. Those things are priority. Sleep and nutrition are two of the main factors in determining recovery. This regimen would not be considered a beginners workout. It is a high volume workout.
- Monday: Metabolic Strength Training (45-60 minutes)
- Tuesday: High-Intensity Aerobic Interval Training (25-40 minutes)
- Wednesday: Metabolic Strength Training (45-60 minutes)
- Thursday: Yoga Class (60-90 minutes)
- Friday: Metabolic Strength Training (45-60 minutes)
- Saturday: light activity or rest
- Sunday: rest
Make sure to stretch and foam roll for 10 minutes each day to improve recovery and reduce injury.
If you are a runner, biker, swimmer, etc., you can substitute 2-3 of those days for their specific training. Time should stay consistent as well as frequency unless exercise is low intensity.
There are harmful effects to engaging in too much exercise. A well-balanced workout routine combined with proper rest and recovery and nutrition is always the key.