Listen. Slow down. Rest.

My body has been telling me to slow down and rest. But my mind is fighting it – NO! I have difficulty with doing nothing – both physically and mentally. As my favorite surgeon noted, I am a “Go go go girl.” (Not to be confused with a go go girl.)

My back hurts.

My hip hurts.

My hands hurts, with small blisters beneath my calluses.

My foot hurts.

My knee has been popping (not a good sign).

There is a pinching pain between my shoulder blades.

My head hurts, pulling from my shoulder blades.

And yet, my mind does not want to slow down. I share this, not to complain, or to whine, or for sympathy. But to show that I understand and that I too fall into the trap. The trap of habitual exercise and not wanting to stop – for fear that you will not start again.

Slowing down and resting is something that I have actually gotten better at these last few years. Each of my injuries forced me to slow down – each of them designed for the function of forcing me to slow down (there is a reason for everything, isn’t there?). I have since become more in-tune with my body. I listen to it. While I am pretty good at slowing down or cutting back,  I am not so good at resting completely. I go a little bit stir crazy on rest days (although I force myself to take at least 1 rest day a week).

Avoid overtraining

Some individuals may suspect I am overtraining. I am not overtraining – simply managing a chronic, mysterious condition (narrowed down to being autoimmune). Most of my pain has nothing to do with my workouts. However, minor aches and pains can be good indicators to slow down and avoid overtraining. Has your body been sore for too many days in a row? Rest. Are you getting adequate sleep but still fatigued? Rest.

Avoid Injury

If your body is fatigued or you are experiencing some pain, there is a good chance that you will workout, compensate with other areas, and incur more pain or injury. Another injury does not appeal to me – I do not think it is worth the risk.

The bottomline

Listen to your body. Slow down when it needs it. Rest when it needs it. When it doubt, if you have been working out hard, rest.

Rest —

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Super Woman is not real!

I know a lot of women whom I have never seen in the same room as Super Woman. Okay, so I have never seen Super Woman (she’s not real), but that is besides the point. What I have noticed is that these women put too much pressure on themselves. I admit, I am likely one of these women – and this is probably why we are such great friends and have such immense love for one another. But lately, I have been hearing a lot of negativity, hurt, and pain. Having self expectations are good up until the point when they becoming self harming.

For some women I know, I would attribute some of the negativity to physical and emotional burnout. Others, physical overtraining and burnout. You know who you are and yes I am writing to you! I hear: 

I am a bad mom!

I am a bad friend!

I do not have time for me! or anything!

I do not workout enough! or I did not run far enough! or I do not run often enough!

And what I am hearing are all of the things that she did not do and I am hearing nothing about all of the things that she DID do!

There are no Super Women

Super Woman was a comic book hero – she is not real. There are no real Super Women – hiding capes. You may sometimes feel like the world, your family, and your friends are asking you to be Super Woman, but they are not. More often than not – everyone would appreciate seeing that you are human. So breathe. Take time to enjoy the day. And do not put so much pressure on yourself to be everything to everyone all of the time.

It is okay to miss a workout – No one ever died from an acute lack of exercise. However, individuals have died as the result of excessive exercise. Use that as food for thought.

Teenage children –– will ‘hate’ you regardless. Do not worry about bending over backwards to be the ‘best’ mother in their eyes.

Maintain boundaries – Most women I know need to practice using the response, “NO!” This is easier said than done. However, the more we say it, the easier it becomes. And ultimately, we will gain more respect from others when doing so.

Social support – More than anything, we need support. Spouses, running pals, mentors, mental health professionals, book clubs – wherever you may get it. We all need someone to simply listen at times – not necessarily provide feedback or advice. Have a safe social support system in your back pocket.

Some of my closest friends are the women I run with. We became amazingly close after a 200-mile relay adventure in 2011. Each year the group grows – and our support grows. While I hate running, I love my Fit Chix with Quick Stix! At times, I believe that each one of these woman are Super Woman – business owners, cancer survivor, mothers, coaches, educators, chefs, bakers, crafters, shoppers, chauffeurs, singers, stupid human tricksters, etc. But I know better — Super Woman is not real.

The bottomline

I initially thought this post would be about ways to avoid burnout. But we know how – we have heard it all a million times. The hard part is applying it. So my final thought is simply this – be kind to yourself. And remember all the things that you have done and do and focus less on what you have not done.

I wish that I had something super enlightening to share with you, but I do not. But to all my ‘Super Woman’ out there – you inspire me daily!

 

How frequently should you workout?

How frequently should I workout? Can I work the same muscles two days in a row? Can I do the same exercises every day or should I mix it up? These are some common questioned I hear on any given day. The answers are: it depends on your fitness goals. This post is an appendage to the overtraining post, giving you more details to help you plan and succeed.

Do you partake in the same workouts week in and week out? Are you making progress towards your goals? Doing the same thing over and over might work for someone looking to maintain a current condition, but if you want to change – your workouts must change! Doing the same group fitness class over and over puts you at significant risk of overuse injuries. You will plateau more frequently – leading to frustration, burnout, and eventually a desire to give up.

If your goal is to build muscle (hypertrophy), training utilizing a typical linear model – or what is commonly referred to as bodybuilding splits – may be best. However, if you want to increase strength, undulating periodized training will help you achieve optimal results. Let me explain the science to you.

The research

Rhea, Ball, Phillips, and Burkett (2002) examined the effectiveness of the undulating periodization model (DUP) as compared with the linear model (LP). The goal of periodized programs is to ‘optimize overload’ by using planned variations, in this case eliciting strength and body mass improvements. Periodization can manipulate the:

  • number of sets, repetitions, or exercises performed;
  • amount of rest;
  • type of contractions performed; or
  • training frequency.

LP programs gradually increase intensity while decreasing training volume over weeks and months.

DUP programs make these same variations on a weekly or daily basis.

The results

The DUP group showed significantly greater strength increases from pre- to mid-testing. There was no significant difference in strength increases from mid- to post-testing. This led the researchers to discuss limitations of overtraining. In the last 3 weeks, LP participants reported extended muscle soreness and fatigue, when the DUP group did not.

There were no significant differences in body composition across groups. This led the researchers to propose that the greater strength increases in the DUP group were not due to body composition or hypertrophic changes; but rather, were related to greater adaptations of the neuromuscular system.

The results support use of DUP for maximizing strength over LP. DUP programs can be used for anyone looking to make strength increases, especially anyone who has been training for an extended period of time. Further, DUP programs may help avoid plateau effects.

The bottomline

What does this mean for you? First, there are no ‘cookie cutter’ workouts that will help you safely, effectively, and efficaciously achieve your fitness goals. Your standard group fitness workouts will only take you so far along your journey before you need something more. The lack of variety and program design with limit fitness and strength improvements significantly. If you are going to put in the time, do you not want to get the results? I will gladly customize a workout program for you and teach you along the way!

The average person certainly does not need to train like a bodybuilder (i.e., LP). Nor does an LP design optimize fat/weight loss. Following a properly designed DUP program will help you avoid overtraining, burnout, and plateaus – which ultimately lead to greater results, improved self-efficacy, and more!

Reference

Rhea, M. R., Ball, S. D., Phillips, W. T., and Burkett, L. N. (2002). A comparison of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated volume and intensity for strength. J. Strength Cond. Res. 16(2), 250–255.

Overtraining – More common than you think

Overtraining. It is far too common. It can be the result of all-or-nothing thinking – I have to do it all the time or I will not see results. It can result when we are highly motivated and determined to meet a goal. It can be a symptom of adrenaline addiction.

How to identify overtraining

One problem with overtraining is that it is ambiguous. It is more qualitative than it is quantitative. For individuals new to exercise, I would say that if you are exercising 7+ hours a week that you are likely overtraining. This is not the case for myself, nor is it true for most endurance athletes.

As a self-proclaimed adrenaline addict, how do I know when I am bordering overtraining? When my workouts are not what they should be. When I begin to see performance declines. For example, this morning I attempted headstand and handstand practice (working toward goals!). It was pathetic. My shoulders are shot from a week of intense barbell complexes. I did very little this morning before I knew that training would do more harm than good and I stopped. The best things for my body are rest and recovery.

Common signs of overtraining include 

  • Chronic muscle and joint pains
  • Excessive weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Bloating
  • Decreased physical performance
  • Increased fatigue
  • Insomnia; loss of sleep
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Frequent Illness
  • Decreased cognitive performance
  • Mood changes; depressed
  • Increased anger and irritability
  • Decreased desire to exercise
  • Frequent overuse injuries

Other signs of overtraining include otherwise unexplained plateaus, diminishing returns, and decreased absolute strength. If you are not seeing the results or gains you would like to see, you may need to cut back on your training. It is hard to believe, but it is true. Overtraining could also be the result of the inability to sleep for those of us who need to busy ourselves (Budgett, 2000).

Manage and avoid overtraining

There are several methods of achieving optimal training without overtraining. This includes implementing the following strategies:

  • Cut back on the intensity and/or duration of training
  • Set and enforce a bedtime
  • Practice mental relaxation techniques
  • Maintain hydration
  • Ensure muscle fueling and muscle tissue repair and rebuilding through proper nutrition for carefully programmed workouts.

Working with a good program, that includes education of the whys and why nots of training, can help prevent overtraining. I make a point of educating clients on the risks associated with overtraining, such as possible injury and/or loss of desire and motivation. A post to follow will outline program design research and elements for those who want additional know-how for avoidance.

I strongly encourage you to implement relaxation and other techniques that promote recovery and reduce overtraining (Peterson, 2005). Examples include meditation, relaxation exercises, massage, tapping, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), self-myofascial release, stretching, ice or cold baths, a sauna or steam room, and electric muscle stimulation.

The bottomline

How much physical activity is too much and how much is enough? The science is complicated. The answers are highly individual. One thing is certain, you can increase your physical activity level threshold with proper training, nutrition, and recovery. I workout every day — my program is carefully and mindfully designed to avoid overtraining. And I practice being body smart. Like today, I could feel the muscular fatigue and I made the body smart decision to skip my training. Your body does know best — we each just need to learn how to hear what it is saying. And what it is really saying – not what we want it to say or we think it is saying.

I do not recommend that most individuals workout daily – but it is truly dependent upon your goals. Not sure if you might be overtraining, seek assistance from a qualified fitness professional. And go forth!

References

Budgett. R. (2000). Overtraining and Chronic Fatigue: The Unexplained Underperformance Syndrome. International SportMed Journal, 1(3).

Peterson, K. (2005). Overtraining: Balancing practice and performance. In S. Murphy (Ed.), The sport psych handbook (pp. 49-70). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.