Exercise is supposed to be good for you. It can help you maintain a healthy weight, sculpt a fantastic physique, improve your heart health, boost your cognitive ability, and even support your mental health.
ut exercise has an ugly side. Like anything in life, it’s possible to overdo it. Without enough rest and recovery during exercise sessions, as well as between your workouts, you’re at risk of overtraining.
The amount of rest and recovery you need will depend on so many different factors, such as your age, health, training style. Only you can know how much exercise is right for you, so it’s really important to listen to your body rather than go by external information alone.
At what point do you start experiencing the signs and symptoms of overtraining?
- Plateau in progress - no longer seeing exciting results?
- Fatigue - wondering where that exercise-induced energy has gone?
- Insomnia - is your pounding heart keeping you up at night?
- Frequent injuries, infections and illnesses
- Chronic soreness - you really shouldn’t be sore all the time!
- Changes in mood - are you irritable all the time?
- Hormonal changes - such as loss of period or decreased libido.
Overdoing it can have an extremely negative impact on your mind, body and soul, so let’s take a closer look at the 7 reasons to take rest and recovery more seriously.
Overtraining leads to hormonal imbalance
Without enough rest and recovery between workouts, your body’s hormone production is disrupted. Firstly, the physical stress of intense exercise triggers the same response in the body as emotional stress, so overtraining can lead to chronically high cortisol levels.
If you’re already emotionally stressed, a challenging workout might seem like a good way to relax, but this will compound the harmful effects of cortisol and won’t do you any good in the long run. In this case, opt for some gentle, mindful movement and focus on deep breathing.
Without enough rest, your sex hormones like testosterone, progesterone and oestrogen will drop. The lower these hormone levels are, the harder it is for our bodies to balance cortisol. And yes, this imbalance will totally crush your libido because survival mode = no mating! Cortisol is further elevated, and the cycle continues until you eventually exhaust your adrenals.
When this happens, all hormones, including cortisol fall dangerously low. This results in low blood pressure, poor delivery and uptake of nutrients from the food we eat, severe fatigue, and we’re no longer able to gain any benefit from exercise.
The body breaks down muscle tissue to survive
When cortisol levels are elevated for too long, we end up in a catabolic state. This is a survival mechanism by which the body breaks down muscle tissue for energy, before storing the excess energy as fat.
Fat is more calorically dense, which is precisely what we need in a real survival situation. However, it’s generally not the aim of the game when it comes to working out.
Lack of rest and recovery will not only stop and reverse your progress, but through the process of catabolism, it will also reduce your immune resistance, knock your mental health down a few notches and destroy your gastrointestinal health. But that’s not all…
It could be healthier to not exercise at all, than it is to overdo it
Extra exercise doesn’t equal extra health
As you can see, going above and beyond in the gym doesn’t equate to increased fitness and better health. It’s just not that simple. In fact, those who do too much high-intensity exercise tend to have similarly poor health to those who don’t exercise at all. In fact, it could be healthier to not exercise at all, than it is to overdo it.
In addition to decreased libido in both men and women due to fatigue and hormonal imbalance, there is something called the Female Athlete Triad. This is the combination of osteoporosis, loss of menstruation, and eating disorders that can result from excessive exercise and calorie restriction.
While a healthy balance of exercise and recovery is excellent for supporting a strong and healthy immune system, overtraining can suppress it. For up to 72 hours after an intense workout, we have impaired immunity because the immune system is busy repairing and growing our muscles.
Muscles repair is what we want, but be mindful that it’s easier for bacteria and viruses to invade and take hold during this time.
Rest and recovery reduces the risk of injury
Pain is usually a pretty clear indication you’re overtraining! Tendonitis and stress fractures are common in people who don’t take rest and recovery seriously. These injuries are from repetitive trauma and insufficient parasympathetic activity, which is the part of the nervous system responsible for healing. Without proper rest, your immune system can’t keep up with all the repairs your body needs.
Whether you run, walk, or lift weights, prioritising recovery reduces the risk of injury because rest days prevent overuse. If you push too hard without a break, your muscles and joints suffer from overuse.
This leaves you prone to serious injuries that will force you to rest for much longer than you would otherwise need to!
Lack of progress? You may need more rest!
Has your exercise performance gone down? Have those once exciting physique changes plateaued or reversed? It’s time to rest! Overtraining can kill your progress and even cause you to retain or gain weight, despite all the extra hard work you’re putting in.
Don’t stress about it! If you slow down, eat well, and prioritise great sleep, you’ll soon be back on track. Here’s the thing; we don’t get fitter at the gym, in the saddle, on the road, or in the pool.
Our workouts apply a stimulus that elevates our heart rate, breaks down muscle fibres, and causes our adrenal glands to secrete the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This simply lets the body know things need to change, and the part where we 'get fitter’ comes later.
The body adapts to the stress of exercise during periods of rest. In other words, it’s during rest and recovery that the desired physical effects of working out actually take place. It’s during our rest days that the fitness magic happens! Mastering the art of recovery is key to getting great results and maintaining a healthy and long-term fitness lifestyle.
Better sleep means you can handle more training
Overtraining is caused by exercising more intensely and more frequently than your body can handle. However, you may only be doing a moderate amount of exercise and still experience the effects of overtraining if you’re not getting enough restful sleep.
To make matters worse, poor sleep is yet another symptom of overtraining, and so there is a danger of getting into a spiralling cycle. Sleep is so important to your general health and well-being. So much so, that a solid sleeping pattern can help you train harder and more frequently without overdoing it.
Nutrition is a critical part of rest and recovery
Great nutrition also increases exercise tolerance
Fuelling your body well is essential for getting the most out of your workouts. If your aim is to live in optimal health and fitness, then a training program on its own won’t cut it. Nutrition is a critical part of rest and recovery, and it’s an integral part of any exercise program.
Everything you eat either can help heal your body or increase the stressful load. We all process certain foods in different ways, so always be mindful about which foods help you feel your best.
However, there are nutrients we all need to function and stay healthy. Adequate protein is essential for muscle recovery and repair, while carbohydrates provide us with energy to train at our best, and healthy fats are essential for maintaining our hormonal balance. And let’s not forget about all those micronutrients that are vital for all our metabolic processes!
Do you want to train hard and recover even harder?
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