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Too much of a good thing: exercise


It's 7 a.m. on a Friday, and my dog and I have just finished our 15-minute morning walk. As Maddie tries to race up the stairs to my third-floor walk-up apartment, I pull back on the leash, and make my way slowly up the 36 stairs. I'm counting each step, and at the top, I'm walking like some version of Frankenstein. I pride myself on being in good shape, at least as fit as my Shih Tzu. I reluctantly admit that I may have over-exercised.

Exercise becoming a habit is a good thing. And it's natural to feel sore after a good workout, especially when you're targeting muscle groups you haven't worked in a while. But exercise can be like chocolate cake - there can be too much of a good thing.

Part of reaching and maintaining optimal fitness includes recovery time, especially when you're doing high intensity exercises. I asked Methodist Dallas Medical Center's certified exercise physiologist Ginnie Emmott, ACSM EP-C, EIM Level II, to look at my typical weekly workout schedule and let me know what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong:

  • Sunday-Pilates - strength training using a Megaformer machine. Works upper body, lower body and core
  • Monday - 45-minute indoor cycling class (known to most of us as spinning)
  • Tuesday -Hot yoga sculpt - yoga stretches that incorporate weights in a heated room
  • Wednesday - 60-minute Body Sculpt, a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout, working all muscle groups
  • Thursday - 60-minute HIIT class, which includes 30 minutes of treadmill runs, 30 minutes of weights, working all muscle groups
  • Friday - Off
  • Saturday - 60-minute HIIT class, which includes 30 minutes of treadmill and rowing, 30 minutes of weights, working all muscle groups

Each night, I stretch for about 30 minutes while I watch TV.

Here's the verdict from the expert:

"These sound like great classes and workouts that you do! I applaud you for that much motivation as well as giving yourself a DAY OFF!," Ginnie says. "To start, I would ask a few questions such as what are your goals regarding your exercise routine and is the cycling class HIIT as well? The number one rule: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Your body is designed to "fight or flight." It is an amazing piece of work."

Some signs of overtraining include:

Delayed recovery time: soreness is common for a day to 2 days after (length depends on how conditioned you are and what you've been doing) but "staying sore" is a sign of too much.

Elevated resting heart rate: if you're overtraining your heart rate may stay elevated through the day or it may not come back to recovery state as quick.

Mood changes: agitation, depression, irritability for no good reason

Decreased performance or lack of improved performance: if something that once was easy is now taking more effort or if you are not experiencing improved performance no matter how you adjust the workout.

Weakened immune system

Loss of motivation i.e. burnout

These in and of themselves are great workouts, great activities (especially if you enjoy them!) I would encourage possibly subbing something for a moderate intensity exercise day or "active rest" such as going on a walk with a friend, or walking your dog just to enjoy the scenery.