Q: Every two years I get Olympic fever and step up my fitness routine… and every two years I end up with an injury from doing too much, too soon. What are some signs of overtraining and how can I know when I’m pushing myself too far?
A: You’re not alone. Plenty of people get inspired by the Olympics, which is a good thing—except when they, like you, try to do too much, too soon. This typically ends one of two ways: You either get injured, or you get too busy to sustain the same amount of exercise, so you give up. Instead, we recommend easing your way into a sustainable, low-impact workout routine that will strengthen your body and help you maintain a healthy weight and live longer. Choose stamina-building cardio activities like swimming, rowing, cycling and exercising on an elliptical machine instead of solely running or stair climbing, which can hurt your bones and joints if you overdo it. And add yoga to your routine to increase strength and flexibility.
If you’re doing all that and you’re still worried about overtraining, here are a few signs that you might be pushing too hard:
– You’re lifting heavy weights every single day. It’s fine to get a daily dose of cardio (especially if it’s low-impact), but when it comes to weight training, your muscles need rest. Take off at least two days per week from lifting—in fact, we’d prefer it if you only lift weights every other day.
– You’re constantly sore. Soreness is to be expected when you work out, and if you’ve just started a new routine you may actually feel sore all the time for the first few days. But it should improve soon, and if you’re pushing so hard that your muscles constantly feel painful and stiff, that’s a sure sign you’re getting close to the injury danger zone. Reduce the intensity of your workouts, and again, take a day off in between.
– You feel pain in your joints. If your wrists, knees or shoulders are hurting, you’re likely pushing your body too far—and/or doing strength training exercises with poor form. Either way, it’s worth it to take a session with a personal trainer to learn proper form (and consult one-on-one about how hard you’re working). Many gyms actually offer one session free to new members, so ask!
Look, we know how great it can feel to work really, really hard at the gym—there’s nothing like a good sweat-and-grunt session to feel powerful—but the sad truth is, that feeling very well may come at the expense of your bones, joints, muscles and overall health. A healthy combination of low-impact cardio and weight-bearing resistance exercise (such as lifting, or using resistance bands or body weight) helps your body stay fit for life—not just until the next injury.