Exercise is generally the first thing people turn to when they embark on any kind of heath or fitness journey. It’s widely assumed that the harder and more often you train, the quicker results will come. But more isn’t always better.
We’ve all seen the Hollywood movies (The Rocky series, etc) where the main character undergoes a rigorous training regimen in order to whip themselves into shape in preparation for a major event. But is this really the approach we all need to take to become fitter, stronger, healthier and happier? Keep reading to find out my take on the subject.
Is there such a thing as too much exercise? In a word, yes. But how much is too much? That depends on the individual. To understand overtraining, we must first understand the purpose of training in the first place.
When training for any kind of improvement, whether it be fat loss, muscle gain, strength or fitness, we are essentially exposing the body to a stressor to which it must adapt. This is the fundamental principle of all training.
When trying to achieve a positive adaptation (i.e get results), it’s important to look at exercise as a stressor which the body must cope with, in the same way it must cope with other stressors such as work, finances, relationships, interrupted sleep, pollution, etc.
For a positive result or adaptation to occur, adequate recovery factors need to be in place. The body uses nutrients from food, as well as the process of sleep to repair and adapt, and ultimately “bounce back” to be stronger than before. That’s how training works.
It is for this reason that I always recommend getting nutrition, sleep, and mindset in order before going gung-ho into the intense exercise. When we exercise, we are taking the body out of homeostasis, which is its normal, rested state. Heart rate is elevated, blood pressure is raised, toxins are released, metabolic rate is elevated, body temperature increases, and so on. The body then needs to spend resources to get back into homeostasis. In the case of resistance training, muscle damage occurs which must then be repaired via protein synthesis and sleep.
How do you know when you might be overdoing it? Everybody is different and unique, and we all have our own stressors to deal with. The term “physiological load” is a blanket term which refers to the sum of all stressors that a person’s body has to cope with outside of its normal limits. Each person has a different physiological load, and this needs to be taken into consideration when starting an exercise program.
For example, a 20 year old student living with his parents would generally have less responsibility and be exposed to less overall stress than a sleep deprived 40 year old office worker with a mortgage, 3 children & poor eating habits.
The 20 year old in this example has plenty of free time to prepare healthy meals, and always gets at least 8 hours’ sleep. Therefore he would be able to train at a higher intensity for more workouts per week than the 40 year old, and still be able to adequately recover and adapt positively.
The 40 year old, as well as first working on his sleep and nutrition, might only be able to manage no more than 3 workouts per week at moderate intensity in order to see a positive adaptation.
Learn to listen to your body. It will always let you know when something isn’t right. If you struggle to wake up, get out of bed and get moving in the morning, that’s the first sign that sleep could probably be better. Make sure you aim for 8 hours if possible, and avoid bright lights, especially blue light from phones, computers and television screens, before bed. Find out more about proper sleep HERE.
If you feel constantly run down, have poor digestive health, and catch colds often, you may not be fuelling your body with the right nutrition to support the training you’re trying to do. Make sure to eat plenty of protein, healthy fats, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. These contain fibre to aid with digestive health and detoxification, and are also high in antioxidants which protect your body from being overly damaged by the stressors it is exposed to.
Transforming your health has an “order of operations”. Instead of getting straight into a Rocky-style workout plan, have a look at your lifestyle. Are you eating enough of the right foods to support what you’re trying to do? Are your sleeping habits up to standard to recover from the training you’ll be doing? How much have you already got on your plate?
Don’t burn the candle from both ends. Build a strong foundation of healthy lifestyle habits, then add exercise on top of that once you’re ready. Your body will thank you for it, and you’ll be able to consistently improve!
If you need help putting these principles into place to build a plan unique to you, contact me!