Moderate exercise is key to a workout routine that makes you feel energized, clear-minded, and fit. But a culture with a “more is better” motto can make it difficult to remember that too much exercise can actually make you less healthy over time. We talked to several experts who broke down common signs you might be overexercising or experiencing burnout. Read on for their advice on how to enjoy workouts, while giving your body a break.
What’s the difference between overexercising and burnout?
“Burnout means you are either overtraining physically or mentally,” says Aaptiv trainer Candice Cunningham. “It can be caused by something as simple as not taking any rest days to having no motivation to workout.” You might also feel constantly fatigued, hit an exercise plateau, or find yourself bored during each and every workout.
Burnout is normal, and can typically be avoided by keeping workouts to a few days a week with plenty of rest in between. On the other hand, over-exercising marks something a bit more serious.
“When your body exercises, cellular damage occurs,” explains Dr. David A. Greuner, cardiovascular surgeon and Surgical Director at NYC Surgical Associates. “This is because you are training to some degree past your comfort zone, which results in your body adapting to become stronger. So, for a time after exercise, you’ll typically feel sore, or fatigued. Your body then needs time to rebuild the damage to become stronger. If you cause a significant amount of stress to your body while it has not had time to repair itself, overtraining occurs.”
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg notes burnout and over-exercising can exist separately, but occasionally over-exercising can cause burnout. And that’s exactly when she recommends reevaluating your exercise habits. “You know you are over-exercising when you stop paying attention to what your body is telling you (aches and pains) and continue to exercise hard despite that,” she explains. “A conscientious and thoughtful exerciser pays attention to signals and feedback from the body and the mind. An over-exerciser tunes out feedback from these sources.”
What are the common signs of overexercising?
According to Greta Angert, a Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist, the most common signal that you may be working out too much involves feeling like you have to work out on a daily basis. Other signs of overexercising include:
-canceling plans with friends or family because you have to exercise
-exercising when feeling fatigued or sick
-constantly thinking about exercise
-logging your run times, exercise routine, or calories burned
-feeling guilty when unable to exercise
-exercising against doctor’s advice
Cunningham suggests paying attention to the quality of your ongoing workouts as well. So, look for things like:
-no progress even after adjusting your workout more than once
“Typically, you will feel very under the weather, and very fatigued,” shares Dr. Greuner. “Muscle soreness that lasts longer than expected, or muscles that were not worked out that are also sore, are signs your body likely needs a break. In rare instances, overtraining can bring on a condition called rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is a potentially serious condition in which damaged skeletal muscle breaks down rapidly. This can lead to symptoms like severe muscle pains, weakness, vomiting, and confusion, and could eventually lead to kidney failure.”
Is overexercising a “disorder”?
Well, yes and no. Angert says true exercise addiction, a level up from overexercising, is a real disorder which requires treatment by a trained mental health professional.
The good news? Exercising everyday is not necessarily problematic. “Exercise can be a wonderful outlet for stress and can help with depression and anxiety,” explains Dr. Greenberg. “The feeling of having to exercise only becomes a problem when it interferes with other healthy aspects of life, when an individual feels compelled to exercise despite being injured or when body weight becomes low and unhealthy.”
Like anything else, exercise is great in moderation, and only an issue when done in excess.
What are good tips for recovering from a period of overexercising?
First things first: rest.
“We all have different bodies, and we all respond differently to training styles,” says Cunningham. “Still, you always want to take rest day.” Adequate rest time keeps your metabolism and hormone levels on par, and lets your body repair itself, she explains. Cunningham also reinforces the importance of nutrition, so beware of exercising every day in combination with cutting too many calories or macronutrients.
Dr. Greuner advocates for rest as well, plus higher protein intake, excellent hydration, and sleep. And Dr. Greenberg tells clients to view over-exercising as an opportunity to reassess your fitness routine as a whole, or perhaps engage in other activities such as meditation, reading, or listening to music.
Above all, give yourself permission to take a break—exercise isn’t an obligation, it’s a chance to move your body in a fun, enjoyable way to build strength and reduce stress.