Sore after hitting the gym? How to tell if you’re exercising too much

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Exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Working out boosts mood, promotes weight loss, reduces your risk of disease, and can even help you live longer.

But hitting the gym too often can do serious harm to your body and mind, said Amanda Thebe, a fitness and health trainer at Fit n’ Chips.

“When you overtrain, your body will send out some clear signals that you need to pull back,” Thebe told Global News. “These can range from excessive muscle soreness that doesn’t subside, to fatigue and lethargy on a physical level.”

Here are four signs you’re exercising too much.

You stop seeing progress

You might think the more you sweat, the better physical results you’ll see. But that’s not necessarily the case.

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“If you are exercising too hard, you will over-stress your body to the point that you will stop seeing progress,” Thebe said. “Your body requires stimulus in order to progress, and when you push too hard, your nervous system starts to adapt to the point that you may see your strength and fitness plateau — or get worse.”

Plus, doing the same exercises over and over again can also stall progress. Our bodies learn to adapt to exercises and become efficient, so even if you’re spinning every day, you might not see any changes in your weight or performance.

You’re getting injured

“When your body is too fatigued, [you] inherently cannot be as careful and diligent with exercises, which may result in injuries,” Thebe said.

This exhaustion can be dangerous for people who lift weights or do high-intensity workouts, as proper form is key to preventing injuries.

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You might also be prone to more injuries if you’re repeatedly doing the same movements, like running or doing a barre class every single day. Overtraining can cause stress on the body, and when you don’t take days off to rest, you’re not giving yourself time to properly recover.

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This lack of rest can make preexisting injuries worse, or lead to new ones.

You’re moody

Overexercising doesn’t just have physical repercussions; it has mental and emotional effects, too. According to Thebe, a clear sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard is a change in your emotional state.

“Are you grumpy and irritated? That might be a sign of stress indicating that you should take a break,” she said.

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You could also lose interest in exercise altogether, or have anxiety about when your next workout will be. “[Overtraining] can also be accompanied by emotional feelings such as fear of taking time off to rest,” Thebe added.

You feel exhausted all the time

Exercise is known to boost energy levels, but when you hit the gym 24/7, it can have the opposite effect.

“When you do not allow your body to actively recover, you will deplete your energy stores, in the form of glycogen, leaving you exhausted,” Thebe said. “This in turn will also raise your cortisol levels and your heart rate, so your body remains in a state of high stress.”

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Thebe said this process prevents muscles from recovering properly, which in turn ups your chances of burnout. “If you are very sore and still fatigued from working out and it is not subsiding, then it’s time to take some active rest,” she said.

Why your body needs rest to recover

Our bodies aren’t designed to only work in the gym. When we exercise, we create tiny tears in our muscle fibres, and this process is what ultimately builds strength. These muscle tears repair when we rest, which makes recovery essential to changing our bodies.

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Apart from the fact that our bodies need downtime to recover, resting allows us to spend time doing other activities outside the gym. If your workout tendencies have become such that you turn down social outings so you can hit the gym, rest days can help you have more balance in your life.

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So how often should you work out?

Thebe recommends doing between three to four strength-based workouts that are metabolically challenging a week. The remaining days of the week should be rest days.

If you’re someone who really likes to move, Thebe said you can still be active on your rest days, your exercises just need to be gentler on your body.

“You can use these [rest] days to do yoga, walk, or swim so that your body is still moving, but is not being overly stressed,” she explained. “These types of activities can help get blood and nutrients to the muscles to aid with recovery.”

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But if you’re really tired and feel like having a legitimate rest, listen to your body.

“If you are very fatigued and really don’t have the energy to do light movement, then it’s OK to take enough time off until you feel energized again,” Thebe said.

“The body is cleverer than you, [and] it’s always sending you signals.”

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