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Self-Sabotage: Why You Should Stop Overdoing It

"Even if you maintain a healthy heart rate while training and your workouts, taken in isolation, seem to be beneficial, your overall exercising habits may still harm you."

You come to the gym for the first time this year simply because, on a whim, you got yourself a gym membership, the best Christmas present anyone could ever get. Now, the gym card will burn a hole in your wallet if you don’t use it at least once. You have come to terms with being the laziest person you know and just decided to give it a shot. You decide you need the instructor’s help this first time and before you know it you’re being mercilessly pushed to your limits. You do all sorts of squats and push-ups, pushing yourself further and further beyond what, to you, seems to be humanly possible, but to your super fit instructor this just isn’t enough. You force yourself into the last catatonic round of burpees, and it seems to have finally killed you, giving you a valid reason to end this torture. Your chest is pounding, you’re heaving for breath. Your heart rate must now be at least 200 bpm.

The story will probably sound familiar to many of us. And at some point we've all asked ourselves why exercising feels so damn hard sometimes.

How To Know You’re Overdoing It?

It is commonly advised to stick to 50-70% of you maximum heart rate for moderate physical activity and 70-85% for intense exercise. When you go above 85%, the body switches into anaerobic mode, or the oxygen-free mode. As oxygen supply becomes insufficient, muscles turn to their own supply of glucose stored in chains called glycogen and burn it, releasing lactic acid. As the acid builds up, you start having a burning sensation in your muscles and a feeling of being incapable to exercise at full capacity. As the heart fails to pump blood as efficiently as it should, it causes a range of symptoms, all related to improper oxygenation of body systems. The most common signs of overexertion are:

  • lightheadedness
  • shortness of breath to the extent that makes it almost impossible to breath
  • palpitation in the chest, or a feeling of fluttering and irregular heart beat
  • burning sensation in the muscles due to rapid build-up of lactic acid

It is highly recommended to limit raising your heart rate to almost its maximum capacity to short spurts intermingled with periods of more moderate exercise. High-intensity interval training, for instance, is built around exactly this principle: intense activity and moderate activity at a ratio of 2:1 (40 seconds go, 20 seconds rest) that lasts up to 30 minutes. The benefits of such workouts for cardiovascular system are undeniable, but exercise at such intensity should be avoided by older population and approached with caution by people with a history of heart disease.

Imbalance In Exercising Routine vs. Overtraining

Even if you maintain a healthy heart rate while training and your workouts, taken in isolation, seem to be beneficial, your overall exercising habits may still harm you. It is common among people trying to lose weight quickly or achieve outstanding results over a short stretch of time to inadvertently sabotage their very own fitness ambitions by exercising too often or for too long and not getting enough rest between bouts of physical activity.

You may be fatigued and suffer from insomnia, or notice that your performance and motivation are low. Here’s why this may be happening:

  • Improper nutrition and stress in your personal or work life will usually bring about a feeling of fatigue and you will notice that you don’t achieve as much as expected even if you exercise at a perfect pace and frequency. Stress levels and food that fuels you both play a crucial role in your muscles’ post-exercise recovery and when these factors are amiss, you will feel it.
  • Not putting in enough rest between workouts is one of the worst things you can do to your fitness progress. Instead of achieving more, you will either stagnate and struggle all the time. Your performance may even deteriorate, simply because your body is never capable of at least exercising at the same level of intensity as it did during the previous workout since is hasn’t recovered yet.
  • Exercising sporadically, which is what busy people are so guilty of, usually leads to poor results. If you’ve been to the gym once this week and then 5 times next week and if you exercise too intensely, but too rarely, you will get stuck and your results will plateau. It is always better to have several moderate intensity and duration exercise sessions a week than one that is supposed to make up for all the others you’ve ditched.

"It is common among people trying to lose weight quickly or achieve outstanding results over a short stretch of time to inadvertently sabotage their very own fitness ambitions by exercising too often or for too long and not getting enough rest between bouts of physical activity."

If you train too hard and for too long and never in many months give yourself time to recover, you will likely start overtraining. While this syndrome is very rare among ordinary gym-goers and joggers, it is rather common among professional athletes. Overtraining is usually manifested in the following way:

  • Decline in performance
  • Constant muscle soreness
  • Fatigue
  • Increased resting heart rate (RHR)
  • Weakened immune system and frequent respiratory infections
  • Depression and irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Personality changes

It is important to understand that overtraining is a rare state that comes as a result of extreme training happening over a long period of time (think, weeks and months, not days). Not having a balanced routine, on the other hand, is common and will affect your progress. The good news is if you know your heart’s limits, exercise at the right frequency and intensity, nourish yourself, take enough rest, and don’t expose yourself to too much stress, you are guaranteed to achieve your fitness goals and will be motivated to aspire to more.

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