Three Signs You Go To The Gym Too Much
Illustration by Mr Joe McKendry
Want to get ripped without ruining your life? Here’s our guide to exercising within your limits.
Overtraining might only seem a problem for those to whom a “rest day” is anathema. But while exercise can be stress-relieving, it can also be a cause of stress itself. Your risk of overtraining is therefore affected by other factors such as work, nutrition and sleep. If you’re putting in 12-hour shifts at the office fuelled by double espressos and Deliveroo orders, then it’s conceivable that you could overtrain on just a couple of hard sessions a week.
“Overtraining is intensity plus frequency: doing too much, too often,” says Mr Leo Savage, personal trainer at London’s Third Space health clubs (thirdspace.london), which incorporate a private medical practice. Training is a cycle of knocking your body down to rebuild it stronger; run yourself too far into the ground, without sufficient time to repair, and you’ll simply be ruined. “Rest is a huge part of it,” adds Mr Savage.
To paraphrase another bro-cial media aphorism, go hard by all means, but then go home (and not just when the gym closes and the cleaner evicts you), eat well and recover. Remember: even God – and the abdominally blessed Mr Craig David – chilled on Sunday.
Overtraining can hold the “gain train” in the platform, while your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) increases. “You’re lifting the same weight as usual but it feels harder,” explains Mr Savage. “Or your strength might even decrease.” Other symptoms include soreness and fatigue – confusingly, also corollaries of successful training. “Soreness after a workout is normal, especially if you’re building muscle,” he adds. “But if you’re sore all the time and your progress stalls for weeks, you might need to train less to be more effective.” Listen to your body and adjust the intensity accordingly. Headaches and frequent illness are an indication that your immune system is struggling with the load, too.
Too much lifting can get you down; the runner’s high can be replaced by a permanent comedown. “The mental symptoms of overtraining are depression and lack of motivation,” says Mr Savage. “You feel like you have to work out still, but it’s not to full effectiveness.” For some, exercise is an escape, a void-filler or a sticking plaster to mask a lack of self-esteem, when it should be just one aspect of a full life. “Move away from appearance or weight and focus more on the performance aspect or just the healthy, moving side of things,” says Mr Savage. “When you do that, workouts become a lot more enjoyable.” You’ll also be more aware of when you’re overdoing it (see above).
If you’re hitting the gym at lunch while your torpid peers bicep-curl pints, then you’re entitled to feel a bit smug. Less so if you’re missing significant events like leaving drinks and birthdays because the prospect of skipping a session sends you into a spiral. “You can go out a couple of nights a week – just offset them with workouts,” says Mr Savage. “A lot of people work out so that they can eat out more, which is fair enough.” Redress your workout-life balance by swapping the occasional session for “active recovery”: more social, less intense pursuits such as sports, hiking or just walking. (NB five-a-side is not low-intensity. Unless you’re in goal.) Exercise should enhance your life, not become it.