Exercise is a habit that offers lots of health benefits for anyone who wants to be their optimal self. Whether you are a dedicated gym-goer or prefer exploring the great outdoors, engaging in some form of regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health, period. Elevating your heart rate with high-intensity aerobic exercise can help lose weight, while strength training can also assist with controlling your bodyweight and strengthening ligaments and muscles.
But like any good thing, overdoing it with physical activity can cross into dangerous territory. Too much exercise can be dangerous for both your physical and mental health. In this article, we will discuss overtraining and other risks of getting too much exercise, share some of the specific negative effects, and offer broad recommendations for exercise frequency.
Remember that none of this information should be taken as medical guidance. To receive a unique workout plan tailored to your own personal needs, it’s best to consult with a registered dietitian, nutritionist or other type of healthcare expert.
To begin, it’s important to note that some feelings of discomfort and soreness are a normal part of exercising, particularly when it comes to weight lifting or other intense exercise activities that place a great emphasis on using muscles. In some cases – such as for new exercisers, or those who are returning back to regular workouts after a long time off – post-workout soreness can be quite intense.
This is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and it’s something everyone who works out regularly will feel at some point or another. Maybe it’s your first workout back after a vacation or period of illness, or perhaps you decided to go particularly intense on a body part group that you don’t usually focus on. Regardless, it’s normal to have some soreness or tightness in the subsequent days after a workout.
Massage therapy, stretching, and cryotherapy have all shown to be effective methods to treat DOMS, but the best solution is to simply rest the afflicted areas for a few days. Normal soreness will go away after that – if your pain and discomfort lasts longer than that, it’s a good sign you may be exercising too much.
Whether it’s intense cardio like running, heavy weight lifting, or athletic competitions, overdoing it with exercise can have a serious toll on your mind and body. Some potential consequences of excessive workouts include:
Injury to the overtrained area. For example, if you are doing too many upper-body exercises, you may experience pain and tightness in your shoulders, elbows and wrists. If you don’t stop training when you are already injured, you risk sustaining an even more serious injury.
Disruption to sleep patterns. Working your body too hard may cause you to feel groggy or tired more frequently. According to the National Library of Medicine, too much exercise can also cause you to need longer periods of rest.
Mood swings. Mental effects are also common when it comes to getting too much exercise. You may feel more depressed or irritable than normal because of the physical toll on your body. Moodiness when workout habits change can also be a sign of exercise addiction.
There is also evidence suggesting that overtraining can negatively affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds and other viruses. No matter what kind of negative effects you end up feeling, they will not be things you want to experience on a day-to-day basis.
It might not be as obvious as you think. Your body will do its best to adapt to the strain. However, there will likely be symptoms along the way that you are getting too much exercise.
One of the first signs is any kind of excessive pain or soreness. As mentioned, some degree of soreness is to be expected after exercise, especially for those who aren’t already in a consistent routine. But if you feel persistent, intense pain for longer than a few days, it’s probably a sign that you are getting too much exercise.
Another telltale sign of overtraining is a drop in performance. If you are suddenly only able to lift half as much as you used to, or only participate in an activity for a fraction of the time you usually do, it’s a sign that your body may be taxed from too much working out.
Pain, an unexpected drop in performance, and generalized fatigue are three of the most common signs that you are training too much. But understanding that you are training excessively is only half the battle – you also need to do something about it!
The first and easiest step for treating any kind of overtraining concern is simply to take a break from exercise. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests completely resting for 1 to 2 weeks if you feel like you are dealing with an excessive training problem. Often, an extended rest of this manner is all you need to fix the problem.
If you take an extended break from your regular exercise routine and you still find you are experiencing symptoms of overtraining, such as intense pain in your muscles, bones or joints, you should seek advice from a healthcare professional. In these cases, it’s possible that you sustained an injury from overtraining, one that will take more than just some rest to heal.
Even if you don’t feel like you are exercising too much right now, there may come a time when your workout patterns change. Perhaps an athletic season will be starting or you will be preparing for some specific competition or event. Whatever the case, it’s still helpful to know when you are overdoing it with working out.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most adults should shoot for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise intensity, or some combination of the two. Working out at this level will help your cardiovascular health and overall wellness, benefit the immune system, and help you fight off health problems like heart disease and obesity.
In addition to these two recommendations, the CDC also advises that you perform strength exercises that help you build muscle on at least two days per week. Strength training is important for functional health, but it can also help you lose weight.
Finally, keep in mind that you should always give yourself time for recovery. As mentioned above, simply taking a few rest days in a row is one of the best ways to treat problems stemming from excessive exercise.
Remember that this information and other things you find online should not be taken as medical advice. Consulting with a sports medicine doctor, personal trainer or other fitness specialist will help you avoid problems from working out too much. Whether you're interested in weight loss, enjoy running ultramarathons or triathlons, or simply want to be in the best possible shape, regular physical activity is vital. But to reduce the risk of injury from overuse of ligaments and muscles, make sure you schedule a reasonable amount of exercise and give yourself plenty of rest days. This will ensure that exercise only makes you happier, healthier, and the best version of yourself possible!