I have a very specific goal in writing this post. I want to convince you the reader, and myself the writer, of something very important. I am not trying to convince you that over training is dangerous – we already know that. I am not trying to convince you that some of you are addicted to exercise – we certainly already know that. I am trying to convince you that we really, really need to take action and do something about it.
I work in a fitness environment. I absolutely love teaching classes and coaching people and pushing them to their limits. There is no greater satisfaction than seeing someone dig deeper than they have before and give a workout everything they have got. You recognise that passion in people that you see in yourself in your own training sessions, and it’s inspiring. So I encourage it, of course.
Recently I have noticed a worrying number of people coming over before a class to let me know that they’re feeling like shit, but will do what they can. “I’ve just got this sore throat that won’t budge” “My hip is playing up again” “I’m still so sore from last week”. At first, these comments didn’t worry me. Niggly pains and little injuries are common…as long as they had addressed that and were reigning it back in their workouts a little, they would be fine. It was only when I recently noticed it happening to myself that I started getting a little concerned.
How many times have you found yourself getting frustrated about not quite getting the results you want, or expect, from your training? Your 1RM just won’t increase, your physique just doesn’t seem to be changing, you can’t quite shave that last second off your running time. I’ll bet you’ve complained about this to a number of people and been met with the question “are you getting enough rest?”
And I’ll bet you probably brushed them off and kept on searching for the answer to your lack of results. Stupid hippies and their rest. I don’t have time for rest.
Or maybe you are well aware that you could do with a little more rest (like myself), but you just enjoy training so damn much that you’d actually rather sacrifice those results a little in order to keep the training sessions in. You’re in love with training. You’re not in love with results.
What are you training for?
It is time to sit yourself down and ask yourself what you are really training for. You don’t need to have a competition coming up or a beach holiday in the near future. Are you training because you want to be the strongest version of you? Are you training because you want to feel at your most confident? Are you training because you want the energy to play with your kids? Whatever your reason, you have a goal – you have results that you wish to achieve. It is time to start prioritising moving towards that goal, over training for training’s sake.
When we train for training’s sake, we are training for our own short term gain. We are training for the endorphin rush, for the feeling of being strong, the feeling of accomplishment and pride we get from that hour (or two or three or four…) we spend in the gym. These feelings are incredibly addictive, and that’s why we keep going back for more. Training on our rest days, extending our workouts, getting exercise in any way we can. If you always had your goals as your top priority, you would train sensibly, eat appropriately, and sleep as much as possible. If you can see that your training session is becoming more important than your results, perhaps is it time to re-assess.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. The effects of training too hard or too much on your mental health can be very, very bad. Using myself as an example – I didn’t realise just how much over training was having a negative impact on my life until I noticed these mental effects. I have had a niggly injury for two or three months, and have been feeling a little sore and fatigued since around the time I came out the womb, but these aren’t the things that stuck out to me. In the last few months I have been up and down more times than that Grand Old Duke of York (I know, that was a good one. I’m here all week…) and I have definitely noticed a link between my emotions and my training sessions.
If you have a bad training session, how does it affect the rest of your day? Are you irritable, snappy, upset? Would these feelings be reversed had you had a good training session? The last bad training session I had was last Tuesday. My parents (who I very rarely see) had driven up North to spend the week with me and were meeting me at my house after my Tuesday morning training. I had been so excited to see them, the trip had been in the pipeline for a while. It was actually my dad’s birthday celebration. When they got to my house they found me un-showered, miserable and teary, still lay in bed, struggling to find the motivation to move.
An addiction to exercise can lead to clinical depression.
The important thing to remember is that you are more than your training. Just because people respect you for being strong, muscular, lean or super-fast does not mean that this is the only thing that defines you. You probably have a lot going for you, and people recognise you for those traits just as much as they recognise you for your outstanding dedication to the gym. It is okay to focus on your other attributes for a while.
I have seen many people’s health take a hit from over training – in terms other than injury and emotions. If you have ever found yourself with a cold that just won’t quite go away, you’ll probably find that your excessive training is to blame. I recently have developed sores on the sides of my mouth that just won’t heal. I cut my feet to shreds on my last holiday from wearing shoes which gave me blisters, and I have never known cuts take so bloody long to scab over. I know fully well that I am simply run down from pushing my body to the absolute limits.
Bad skin, baggy eyes, struggling to sleep. Sound familiar? Our bodies need the chance to rest up and use our resources in order to get back to good health. We are wasting those resources dragging ourselves through hour after hour in the gym. Ultimately, if you give your body a chance to get back to good health, you are far more likely to actually be moving towards those goals we discussed.
Before it’s too late
You often find that when people go through some traumatic event – a car accident, illness, family death etc. – they always say “I just never thought it would happen to me”. Guess what? Nobody goes into the gym predicting they’re going to get injured that day. Right now, I can’t squat or deadlift because of injury. Do you know what I love more than anything in the world? Squats and deadlifts. If I could print off this article, go back a few months and say “hey Gina, I think you should take a read of this” then maybe I could have prevented injury. Having said that, I’m so bloody stubborn that it probably wouldn’t have made a difference.
So please, don’t be as stubborn as myself and many others in this industry. Anyone can push themselves in their training, but actually taking the time to look after yourself mentally and physically is what will take you to the next level. Being passionate about training is awesome, and you should certainly cling on to that passion and use it to move forward in every way you can, but don’t be an idiot. Figure out your goals and always, always have them in the back of your mind. I guarantee that missing a training session when you’re feeling run down is in no way going to stop you reaching those goals.
About the Author -
I'm a 21 year old psychology graduate with a passion for health and fitness which has blossomed over the past three years. I have battled and overcome an eating disorder, and come out the other side as a much stronger person. I am currently lifting competitively as a member of the North West division of the British powerlifting federation. I am a firm believer that we never stop learning, and I try to be the sponge that soaks up as much information as possible in order to broaden my knowledge of this industry.
You can read more about my views on life, health, fitness and travelling as well as getting information on nutrition plans on my personal blog: smallstepstochangingyourlife.wordpress.com
You can follow me on Instagram here: instagram.com/georginastanway
And contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org