For many people, an exercise routine can not only be difficult to start, but challenging to maintain. And then there are people like me, who find it beyond difficult to disrupt a workout regimen in order to give the body a much needed break.
I have been working out six days a week for about 1 hour and 30 minutes per session, for at least a year if not more, and I have always had a tough time taking a break. What I’m really saying is, I have a healthy (or unhealthy) fear that if I miss a day I will lose whatever I have gained. I am extremely dedicated to my program; even if my schedule steals a day from me, I will most definitely make that day up on my one rest day. Crazy – probably, but that’s me.
Springtime happens to be the most challenging ‘physical’ time of year for me. Because I am expending energy outside doing landscaping chores, while still continuing my regular exercise schedule, exhaustion is inevitable. According to my Fitbit, I get from 9 to 10,000 steps a day just from my workout, and maybe another 5,000 or so with normal activity. When I’m on landscaping duty, my number escalates to a total of 25 to 32,000 steps, which over a two-month span is a ton (although, I must admit, my ego loves it).
How do I feel after multiple days of 32,00o steps, which includes hauling wheelbarrows full of dirt or bark mulch across an acre of land or cutting down trees for example – pretty damn tired! Hitting the gym with legs that feel like lead weights is beyond difficult.
I found myself praying for strength just to get through five plus miles on the treadmill. That’s when I realized I was going about my workout in the wrong way. Pushing yourself to get through a workout isn’t a bad philosophy, in fact it’s good, but in my case, I needed to take a hard look at myself and entertain a smarter approach.
So what happens to your body when you don’t give your muscles a break? “Overtraining makes you more susceptible to illness and overuse injuries.” (1)
In general, because I exercise regularly at a higher intensity, my one day a week off is probably sufficient, but for those people just starting out, more days off may be required. Muscles need time to recover and repair damage; “Strength and endurance gains actually happened during recovery and not in the gym.” (1)
I knew I was burnt out when I’d get on the treadmill or elliptical and I was afraid I wouldn’t get through the workout. I actually had some anxiety about heading to the gym; I was procrastinating and putting off my workout (which is like self-inflicting torture) as if that would solve the problem. But, after one truly intense week, I cried uncle.
Writing about fitness is one thing, living what you write about is another. I really thought, “how can I give advice to readers about fitness if I’m not treating my body right.” I decided to get educated, go online and get the skinny on what was happening to my body, for my sake and yours.
Basically, I realized I was exhausted. “Signs of overtraining include exhaustion and fatigue, insomnia, moodiness, decreased performance, lack of appetite and muscle soreness.” (1)
Seeing the signs of overuse isn’t enough; admitting the signs are there and dealing with them is the only way to stay on a healthy track and make gains in your performance.
If you are tired, whether it be from crazy landscaping endeavors or not, altering your workout may help. Changing the duration and order of activity, or taking a well-deserved and necessary break may be a ‘must do’ in order to regain strength.
As much as I hated to admit it, I needed to recover. At 52 years-old, I pride myself in staying in shape, so when I have to back off, it’s tough. Taking a few days off is mentally difficult for me; as a former competitor, it’s like admitting defeat, which I consider a nasty six letter word.
According to Shape Magazine, it is recommended that experienced exercisers detrain on the eighth week of an exercise cycle, by decreasing training load. (2)
My orthopedist, an avid ‘exerciser’ as well, offered me this advice, “As you age, whether you like it or not, it takes the body longer to recover, plus, you just can’t exercise the same way you did when you were younger.” (Yet another statement I want to fight.)
So, for all the young workout rats out there – stay educated and aware, and for the older folk, like me, who are determined to be in the best physical shape possible – go for it, but listen to your body when it cries foul.
In the end, you really have to be in tune with yourself. How much exercise is right, how much is too much, when do you pay attention and say, “I’m tired, I need a break,” and what kind of break will you take?
I needed three days in a row to recover; Friday through Sunday. By Monday, I can’t tell you how much better I felt, both physically and mentally. I had energy, my legs weren’t dead weight, and I wasn’t afraid to be in the gym and go after my workout. I forced myself to check my ego at the door in order to find relief.
Right now, I’m in a five-day exercise cycle; trying it out to see if I notice more positive benefits than negative results by taking an extra day off. However, my off days still include a three mile walk with my husband; it keeps my body limber, my mind satisfied, and gives us time together – it works for me.
If you can, pay attention to your body’s needs and make your mind, mind you. Be smart, open yourself up to new possibilities, and don’t be afraid to shake things up. You may be shocked by how letting go just a little bit can renew your mind and body.