4 Signs You're Overexercising: A Certified Trainer Weighs In
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4 Signs You're Overexercising: A Certified Trainer Weighs In

Jul 23, 2023

The prevalent "No pain, no gain" mentality might not always hold true.

Adam Meyer is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist and 100% plant-based athlete. In addition to EatingWell, his work has been featured on The Beet, Verywell Fit, The Healthy, Livestrong, Alive, Best Life and others. He graduated from the NutraPhoria School of Holistic Nutrition in 2019 and has since founded Pillars Nutrition.

Maria Laura is EatingWell's senior nutrition & news editor. As part of the nutrition team, she edits and assigns nutrition-related content and provides nutrition reviews for articles. Maria Laura is a trained dietitian, almond butter lover and food enthusiast with over seven years of experience in nutrition counseling.

You've undoubtedly heard the age-old fitness adage, "No pain, no gain," encouraging active individuals to physically push themselves to the breaking point—even when their bodies are telling them otherwise. While this mindset is admirable, does it do more harm than good? And how do you know if you're working out too hard (or too much)?

In this article, we've teamed up with fitness expert TJ Mentus, CPT, a certified personal trainer at Garage Gym Reviews, who reveals four common red flags of overexercising. Read on to learn more to keep working toward your fitness goals without jeopardizing your well-being.

Pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion and ignoring your body's warning signs may put your long-term health at risk. According to a small 2019 study published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, overexercising without adequate rest periods can lead to overtraining syndrome, characterized by burnout, injuries, exhaustion and poor physical performance. Additionally, another study published in 2023 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health revealed that overtraining syndrome can even put your life at risk due to extreme fatigue.

We believe in a more balanced approach to fitness—one that prioritizes listening to your body, respecting its limits, and recognizing that sustainable gains come from well-planned, progressive training. It's time to debunk this myth and embrace a healthier, more sustainable fitness routine.

Effective exercise doesn't always have to involve extreme discomfort. Be mindful of these four signs that may indicate you're overexercising.

According to a 2021 study published in Frontiers in Network Physiology, poor physical performance is a common sign of overexercising. "One of the first signs of overexercising is when your workout performance worsens," says Mentus. "For example, you may not be able to lift as heavy, are getting fatigued quickly at lower intensities, or need longer rests to recover during a workout. Having one bad workout is not much to worry about, as several factors could cause that on a given day. But if you notice that you have been struggling for a week or longer, it may be time to switch things up."

Some research, such as a small 2019 study in PLOS One, suggests that excessive strenuous exercise can put your heart health at risk. "When the heart rate has trouble coming down to calm and resting levels, it can be a sign that the nervous system is overtaxed due to prolonged stress like overexercising," states Mentus. "Stress hormones stay elevated, which keeps the sympathetic nervous system in fight-or-flight mode, preventing the parasympathetic nervous system from calming the heart rate and breathing down in the body."

A 2018 opinion article in Frontiers in Physiology, which examined current research, found that overtrained athletes experienced reduced quantity and quality of sleep compared to those who didn't.

Mentus explains: "If your sleep is suddenly interrupted, it could be a sign of elevated stress levels, and if you have been exercising significantly hard for a while, that may be the cause. Heightened stress hormones keep the body alert, making rest difficult even though your body may desperately need it."

According to a 2017 study published in Nutrients, athletes who engaged in intense, high-volume exercise regularly experienced appetite loss. "When the sympathetic nervous system is on, it slows down the body's ability to digest food as it diverts energy to deal with the perceived danger. A loss of appetite can worsen the symptoms of overexercising as now the body is not receiving enough nutrients for its essential functions, making it more stressed," explains Mentus.

The most effective exercise varies widely based on your personal goals and preferences. However, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is known for its efficiency in burning calories and improving cardiovascular fitness, while strength training builds muscle and boosts metabolism.

The healthiest exercise combines cardiovascular activities, strength training and flexibility exercises. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g., jogging, cycling, brisk walking) and two days of strength training weekly.

It's essential to perform exercises with proper form to minimize your injury risk and maximize results. Additionally, gradually increasing intensity and allowing sufficient rest and recovery are key elements of a safe and effective exercise routine.

Targeted exercises alone won't spot-reduce belly fat. Instead, a combination of a balanced diet, regular cardio exercise, strength training and eating in a calorie deficit will support overall fat loss. Also, compound movements like squats, deadlifts and planks, along with aerobic exercises like running or cycling, can help tone your core and reduce belly fat.

Recognizing the signs of overexercising is essential for optimizing your overall health and fitness. The prevalent "No pain, no gain" mentality might not always hold true, as pushing yourself too hard can negatively affect your body. Signs of overexercising include decreased physical performance, elevated resting heart rate, sleep disturbances and appetite loss. Instead, exercise smarter by listening to your body, setting achievable goals, incorporating variety, prioritizing recovery, working with a trainer, focusing on nutrition and tracking your progress. Follow these tips and adopt a sustainable approach to help you continue working toward your fitness goals without compromising your well-being.

Listen to your body:Set realistic goals:Incorporate variety:Warm up and cool down:Prioritize recovery:Get professional guidance:Be mindful of nutrition:Track your progress: