How to Avoid Overworking Yourself During Exercise

Most of the fitness ads we see tell us to push ourselves harder, harder, harder. Pain is praised as a good thing; in fact, if you're not hurting afterward, have you even worked out at all?

This is a dangerous mindset.

After all, our bodies feel pain for a reason, and that reason isn't to be ignored. Whether or not you feel a lot of pain from your workouts, though, no one should spend every day slaving in the gym. When you put too much stress on your muscles, bones, and joints too often, you're going to cause damage that ultimately affects your performance. Too much exercise is just as damaging to our bodies as too little.

So, how do you know when you're pushing yourself too hard? There are a few signs you should keep an eye out for, but before we tell you what those are, we need you to understand that everyone's body is different. The signals your body gives you, asking you to slow down, might be different than someone else's. No matter what advice you're given, make sure that at the end of the day, you're listening to your own body.

Sign #1: You can't move a part of your body without feeling excessive soreness.

Feeling a little sore after a workout can give you a sense of satisfaction; it's like walking around with proof that you're making yourself stronger. But despite what you see on TV, you're not aiming to work any part of your body so hard that you can't physically move it the next day. If that's how hard you've worked yourself, you've done too much.

Additionally, you should only be sore for about 1-2 days. If your pain sticks around for a week or longer, it's a sign that you've overworked yourself, and that you should maybe go see your doctor.

A common mistake that many people make, especially people who are new to the world of fitness, is to try and do too much too soon. They'll finish one workout and think that since they were able to do it with minimal pain, they should up their reps, weight, time, etc. One of the best things you can do to avoid excessive soreness is to slow down. Do a workout for two weeks, even if it feels pretty easy, and then pick ONE part of the workout that you'd like to make a little harder. If you've been doing bicep curls with 5 lb weights for two weeks, try bumping your weight up to 7.5 lbs. On the other hand, you could keep the 5 lb weights and up your reps. Just make sure you're picking one or the other; don't try to increase both.

Sign #2: You're only sore on one side of your body.

Let's go back to those bicep curls and say that, after a session with your 5 lb weights, your left arm is fine but your right arm is on fire. This is an indication that something's not quite right; you may have even injured yourself.

Of course, being sore on one side of your body and not the other doesn't automatically mean you've injured yourself. But, just to be safe, you should take more time to rest and recover than you normally would. If the trouble persists, you should probably bring it up to your doctor to make sure you know how to prevent causing further damage.

Sign #3: You spend every day at the gym, or you're always thinking about your next workout.

This sign, of course, doesn't necessarily apply to professional athletes who train year-round for special events like the Olympics, the Crossfit Games, etc. But if you're not one of those athletes and you still find yourself practically living out of your gym, you may have an exercise addiction.

Like we mentioned above, too much exercise can damage your body over time, but addiction to anything--no matter how "healthy" it seems--can also damage your mind. Don't become so obsessed with sticking to a daily workout routine that you miss time with your family and friends. As much as we should want to take care of our bodies, our mission in life is not to lose weight; it's to live our life to the fullest with the people we love most.

Sign #4: You've missed a period or two.

Obviously, this sign only applies to ladies. Too much stress, emotional OR physical, can cause your period to be late or skip its cycle entirely. If you've been spending a ton of time in the gym and you've missed your period, you should consider talking with your doctor to see what's going on in your body.

Something else that contributes to this is calorie intake and general nutrition. Many women want to lose weight, so they don't eat enough and they workout too much, which causes the chemicals that control their menstrual cycles to become unbalanced. It's very important that you don't put weight loss above your overall health. To avoid missing periods, tone down the amount of time you spend working out, and make sure you're eating enough.

Sign #5: You're not getting enough sleep.

It's been proven that HEALTHY exercise improves your sleep patterns, allowing you to sleep deeper and longer and wake up feeling rested. As it turns out, overworking yourself will have the opposite effect.

When your body is over-stressed by strenuous exercise, your adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol, which is basically your body's built-in alarm system. That cortisol keeps your body from resting well at night, no matter how tired you feel. It can be extremely frustrating to feel exhausted every day and not find rest in your sleep. That's why it's important to make sure that you find balance in your workout routine; the balance will lead to better sleep, which will help you recover and allow your workouts to make you stronger.

If you've had any of these symptoms, please don't give up exercise altogether. It's tricky to find what workout routine works best for you, but the benefits of healthy exercise make it so worth it. You've got this. We believe in you.