Written by Dr. Mercola from Mercola Fitness
When it comes to healthy habits, too much of a good thing can backfire, and that applies to exercise as well. While most people suffer from lack of exercise, once you get going, it can be addictive and some people do end up exercising too much — either by exercising too intensely, and/or too frequently.
However, a really important part of creating optimal fitness is recovery. An equation to keep in mind is that as intensity increases, frequency can be diminished.
For example, as a weak beginner, you can do high intensity exercise three times a week and not put much stress on your system. But once your strength and endurance improves, each exercise session is placing an increasingly greater amount of stress on your body (as long as you keep pushing yourself to the max).
At that point, it’s actually wise to reduce the frequency of your sessions to give your body enough time to recover in between. In fact, you need to allow your body to fully recuperate in between sessions in order for the exercise to remain productive.
Seven Signs You May Be Overdoing it
The featured article by personal trainer Jennipher Walters addresses signs of overtraining that are commonly overlooked or misdiagnosed. The following seven symptoms may signal that you need to cut back a bit and allow your body to recover between sessions:
- Exercise leaves you exhausted instead of energized.
- You get sick easily (or it takes forever to get over a cold)
- You have the blues
- You’re unable to sleep or you can’t seem to get enough sleep
- You have ”heavy” legs
- You have a short fuse
- You’re regularly sore for days at a time
The Higher the Intensity, the Greater Your Need for Recovery
If you’re doing high intensity interval exercises, it’s NOT recommended to do them more than three times a week. Both Phil Campbell and Dr. Doug McGuffhave addressed this in previous interviews. If you don’t allow your body to fully recuperate and rebuild, your efforts will not pay off beneficial dividends…. especially if you’re exercising to get healthy and live longer.
One of the keys here, as with any exercise program and lifestyle change, is to carefully listen to your body. I can provide you with guidelines and principles but ultimately the key to your success will be learning how to be sensitive to the feedback your body is providing you and then honoring that feedback.
With exercise you have to pay careful attention to recover if you tend to be someone who pushes yourself hard. If you only work out occasionally, this is a non-issue. But for those who are really committed and disciplined, it is very easy to over train, so please understand that recovery is every bit as important as training and if you work out too much you will not achieve the results you’re seeking.
Over or Underestimating Yourself Could Nullify Your Efforts
As described in the featured article, many make the mistake of pushing themselves too hard. Others don’t push themselves hard enough. In order to maximize your workout efforts, it is important to strive for that ‘Goldilocks’ Zone’ where you’re pushing hard enough to challenge your body at your current level of fitness, while allowing your body to recuperate in between.
Needless to say, this ratio will change over time, and that’s the point — many people forget they need to continuously up the ante as their fitness improves. Similarly, you need to look for signs of pushing yourself too hard when the addictive qualities of exercise start to kick in.
This is especially important as it applies to high intensity exercises. As mentioned earlier, doing high intensity interval training more than three times a week can backfire and become counterproductive. This is because when you work your fast-twitch fibers, it takes about 48 hours for that fiber to heal and fully recover. This is twice the recovery time needed for long and slow exercise, which only work your slow-twitch fiber. These can typically heal in just one day.
Earlier this year, I realized I was feeling unusually fatigued between sessions, as I was doing three Peak Fitness sessions per week. I ended up first reducing the intensity of my exercise by about five percent (instead of getting my heart rate to 173 or so, I would only bring it up to about 163).
Later, I switched to doing just two sessions per week instead of three. It’s important to not get too attached to any one particular program, but to continuously keep adapting your regimen as you go along. Most recently I reduced my Peak 8 session to a Peak 6 session, but I increased the intensity back up so now I get my heart rate from 170 to 174. But I only do them once a week unless I am unable to do my strength training, then I increase to twice a week.
So have fun, play with it, and be very careful to listen to your body both post exercise and in the interval between exercising. If you are feeling great and have plenty of energy, that is likely a good sign you are not over exercising. But you know your body better than most and if you know this is a risk for you, then implement the cautions I advise. However if you know you will never push yourself that hard then you need to ignore the caution principle until you have pushed yourself hard enough to know you have overtrained.
So, how do you know if you’re sufficiently recovered from your exercise? One tip gleaned from Dr. Doug McGuff is that you know you’re recovered when you have that restless energy and feel like you have to engage in some type of physical activity. You will just want to work out.
Strive for Balance
While high intensity interval exercises accomplish greater benefits in a fraction of the time compared to slow, endurance-type exercises like jogging, I do not recommend limiting yourself to peak exercises alone. Ideally, to truly optimize your health, you’ll want to strive for a varied and well-rounded fitness program that incorporates other types of exercise as well. Without variety, your body will quickly adapt.