We all know that the new year can bring with it an increase in pressure to hit the gym. Add to that the constant stream of (often heavily filtered) #fitinspo on all our socials, and you can be left thinking that you need to be active 12 of your 16 waking hours. Even the thought of keeping up with your daily mediation practice can be cause for anxiety—exactly the opposite of what you had first intended.
But whether you’re ramping up your efforts to reach a new goal or have made a resolution to overhaul your usual fitness regime, an increasing amount of research-backed evidence cautions the effects of going too hard, too fast. Instead, it points to the importance of slowing down and easing in to get the most out of your endeavours.
Need convincing? These are three reasons to adhere to a “less is more” attitude.
Fatigue Can Set In
You know the feeling: your workouts feel longer and more draining, and not necessarily in your muscles. Somewhere deep, in your gut, or in your head.
Fatigue comes for us all at some point, and it can catch up to us even quicker if we are actively ignoring the signs because we’re loving the strength gains we’re making.
“Everyone used to talk about cortisol or adrenal fatigue when it came to overdoing it in the gym,” says Bryan Smith, a certified personal trainer based out of Gym on Locke in Hamilton, Ont. “The more basic terms of fatigue are a general feeling of exhaustion, or if you find yourself constantly sore when you lift.”
And your brain can be affected too. A 2023 review published in Sports Medicine – Open found that endurance athletes who overtrained also saw a reduction in their cognitive performance—not ideal when you’re training for your goals.
Quitting Becomes Tempting
Jacque Crockford, DHSc, an ACE-certified personal trainer and performance coach, knows all too well the negative effects of overtraining, and not just by observing her clients: she is a former Kansas State University rowing team member and a current triathlete. According to her, diving headfirst into a routine can be detrimental to longevity.
“If exercise intensity, duration or volume progress too quickly, it may result in injury or overtraining,” she explains. And while this sounds bad enough, it can get worse. She adds, “This can cause exercisers to lose motivation and discontinue an exercise program altogether.” It makes sense—why would you want to continue with a plan if it’s causing you pain, sapping your energy and taking up all your time? This is another reason to enter a new routine slowly.
“When someone comes in to see me for a consultation, they are usually incredibly motivated to make a change,” says Smith. “We go through the assessment, and then as we go through our first workout, the question I hear more often than not is, ‘That’s it?’” But as an expert, he knows that going from zero to 60 isn’t good for anyone—even those looking towards lofty goals.
Your Results May Slow
Even if you are operating at the peak of your fitness, diet and mindfulness game, everyone—you included—needs a break. Recovery is as important as the time you put in at the gym, in the kitchen, or on the mat, if not more so.
“What people don’t realize is that changes happen when you are recovering, sleeping, eating proper meals, etc.,” says Smith. “As a general rule, if you do plan on going to the gym every day, there are a few things that you can do to promote growth and to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your sessions.”
Bryan suggests following the rule of five days of resistance training and two days of cardio, mobility work, or foam rolling. And switch it up: try two days flexing, one day cardio-only, three days lifting (working different body parts on successive days, push-pull splits, or functional full-body workouts) followed by another day of cardio or active recovery. This should allow you to keep getting that adrenaline high without getting burnt out.
Though it’s not glamourous, easing your body into a new exercise or wellness routine and taking regular breaks is just as important as pushing yourself during the time you exercise. As Crockford notes, “Balance is important in life, and physical activity and wellness are no exception. If something that is intended to make you happier, healthier and ‘more well’ is no longer doing those things, it is likely time to consider adjusting the routine to better align with a balanced lifestyle.”
Four Warning Signs of Overtraining
Worried you’re overdoing it? Here’s how to tell if it’s time to switch to a “less is more” mindset.
- You’re feeling guilty. “The gym should be a place for you to relieve stress, not create more if you don’t go for a day or two,” says Smith.
- You can’t sleep or eat as you used to. “Overtraining can lead to physical changes that can affect other aspects of your life,” says Crockford, “leading to poor sleep, difficulty recovering, elevated resting heart rate, and decreased appetite.”
- Your demeanour changes. According to Crockford, “Overtraining can be identified by several emotional and physiological changes, including decreased motivation, low energy and poor mood.”
- You are consumed by your routine. “If it’s becoming something that you aren’t necessarily looking forward to, it’s too much,” says Smith. “Fitness should bring benefit to your life so that it’s a positive habit, not overdone in a way where it becomes an obsession.”
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