The vast majority of Americans don’t exercise nearly enough. But those who get bitten by the fitness bug sometimes take things to the extreme right off the bat—and yes, there is such a thing as workouts that are too hard.
Especially in cities like New York and Los Angeles, where high-intensity, push-yourself-to-the-max workout classes have taken off over the past 10 years and people run from stressful meetings to stressful training and barely leave time for sleep.
“Overtraining is a specific term and type of fatigue,” explains Albert Matheny, an incredibly smart, credentialed trainer who co-owns Soho Strength Lab in New York City. Matheny says most people, aside from some fitness instructors and serious fanatics, don’t “overtrain,” but many are doing the wrong thing the wrong way every day at the gym. “People are just doing too much zero-to-sixty type of exercise,” he says. “It is not an intelligent way to work out if you sit all day then try to go max effort in a 45- to 60-minute class.”
The Intensity Issue
The biggest culprit? “HIIT is the most common cause and doing it too often,” he says. While the exercise method is incredibly effective and efficient, it is not meant to be done every single day for long periods of time. It should also include proper warm-ups and cool-downs and be paired with adequate recovery and restorative exercises like yoga.
“it is never good to go at 100 percent [effort] every day,” Matheny explains. “One to two times a month is okay, but every day exercise should not really exceed 90 percent effort.”
How to Tell if Your Workouts Are Too Hard
The signs of pushing your body too much are different for everyone, but Matheny says some hallmarks ones to look for are a lack of improvement or decline in performance, growing apathy toward workouts, and having an elevated heart rate when waking.
Doing HIIT constantly or going to max-effort spin classes multiple times a day could also mess with your metabolism by spiking your cortisol levels, especially if you’re not recovering and re-fueling properly.
“If you don’t eat properly and vary your workout modality and intensity, then you will not recover muscularly or hormonally,” he says. “If you do exercise correctly, it is the BEST thing for metabolism.”
What to Do
So how do you push yourself hard enough without going overboard?
Matheny says the right intensity level is different for everyone based on your training history and the type of workouts you’re doing. If you can work with a trainer to get it right, definitely start there.
If not, make sure you’re incorporating plenty of strength training, not just non-stop cardio. And “not doing HIIT every day is my best recommendation,” he says. “ You should be pushing to 100 percent in workouts no more than once or twice a month.” Your max heart rate should be between 60 and 85 percent in regular workouts, and the bulk should be below 80 percent. “Overtraining also has a HUGE recovery component. If you are not fueling after your workout, sleeping, or doing things to aid recovery then it is much easier to get overtrained.”
In other words, don’t run in late after the warm-up, bolt before the cool down, skip eating in favor of happy hour drinks and then get four hours of sleep. You’d never, right??
(Featured Photo: Shutterstock)