There is nothing like that feeling at the end of a workout, when you’ve smashed your session, your adrenalin is pumping and you’re flying high on endorphins. But it’s easy for that feeling to become addictive and all of a sudden your training regime has crept up to 7 times a week or more, giving your body no time at all to repair and recover.
If that’s the case, then it is time to re-assess your goals and routine; too much exercise + too little recovery = the burnout zone. Simple as. Any exercise programme requires a balance between overload and recovery and if the overload stimulus exceeds the body’s ability to adapt to it this can result in over-training and the risk of full-on burnout in both the body and mind.
Burn-out can appear in many forms including being prone to illness, injury, physical and mental exhaustion, having problems concentrating and sleeping, losing your sex drive, irritability and sensitivity from hormonal disruptions notably excess cortisol in the body resulting from overtraining, hitting a training plateau, lack of motivation and boredom.
So the ‘no pain no gain’ mentality stops right here. Rest is in the program of a hip and healthy life and there are some easy steps you can take to avoid burnout and keep your workouts on the up.
- Don’t take on too much too soon
Initial gains are a brilliant motivator to spur you on to a full-on commitment to a healthy, active lifestyle. However, be mindful that you aren’t taking on too much too soon or overloading your body by too much as this can quite easily lead to burnout and even abandoning your programme altogether. Making gradual gains over time and having both short, mid and long-term goals ensure you are continually progressing in a way that is realistic, sustainable and motivating.
- Have a rest day and listen to your body
The best advice I have ever been given is to listen to your body. In fact, giving your body a break from exercise is essential to your fitness journey and progression so your muscles have the time they need to fully repair and prepare. Of course there are those workouts when you have made brilliant gains, pushing yourself beyond your usual point of maximum resistance. However, if you have been training hard, your muscles feel sore and your body feels tired, give it a rest. After all, it probably deserves it. One rest day is not going to lose all your gains and neglecting recovery may even lead to regression in your performance. During exercise the body undergoes intense stress. Exercise stimulates the breakdown, repair and growth of muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones to build a more resilient and stronger body and therefore the repair and growth period during this process is just as important as the training itself. The time your body needs to effectively recover is usually determined by the volume and type of exercise you have been doing, your current fitness level and other influencing factors such as quality of sleep and diet.
- Refuel your body in the right way
80% of the way your body looks, feels and performs is down to optimum nutrition. Refuelling properly post-workout with the necessary protein, carbohydrate, sugar, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and hydration are key to maximising the impact your workout has had on the body. Supplements are also beneficial; taking amino acids, magnesium and creatine (the chemical compound stored and made in the body as creatine phosphate which makes up the body’s energy currency ATP) all help to speed up recovery and build muscle.
- Take active recovery
To promote recovery in your muscles, light activity on rest days will help loosen them up and make them feel better, encouraging blood flow to those sore areas. Active recovery includes light exercise like walking, light swimming or riding a bike, which can also enhance mental recovery and relaxation. Dynamic and passive stretching will also aid muscle repair and increase your flexibility, which, over time will enhance your performance by increasing your range of motion.
Performing a cool down at the end of every exercise session is a form of active recovery. This will help to prevent muscle soreness post-workout, speed up the removal of lactic acid from the muscles and decrease the time it takes for overall recovery.
- Get some good quality sleep
Sleep is crucial to how we perform both in daily life and when we are exercising. During sleep, our brains recharge and growth hormone is naturally released to aid muscle regeneration and replacement of aging and dead cells. Alongside this, protein synthesis occurs, using the high quality food we have eaten during the day to more efficiently build muscle. Ensuring that you get 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night will promote these processes as well as general wellbeing. Without sufficient sleep, recovery is compromised.
- Cut down your workouts
If you suspect that you might be nearing the over-training mark but really can’t stop yourself from exercising there are still strategies that you can employ to reduce stress on the body. Increasing the rest periods between exercises, reducing the length of your sessions, adjusting from high impact to low impact activities, reducing the heart-rate work level and decreasing the resistance and complexity of exercises are all ways you can reduce your workout and therefore the effects it has on the body.
- Switch up your routine and intensity to keep it interesting
Cross-training by integrating a range of activity and types of exercise into your training will not only prevent you from getting bored of the same routine, but will keep your body guessing and improve its performance as it will never have a chance to adapt to one type of training.
Varying the intensity when you workout will also help to avoid overtraining and work the muscles in different ways for added benefit. For instance, it isn’t realistic or good for your body long-term to push to your max in every training session. Try mixing up your HIT training with lower intensity steady state training (which should last between 30-60 minutes) such as jogging as well as a variety of resistance training across endurance, hypertrophy and strength sessions.
- Keep a balance
Being good 80-90 % of the time is a great way to ensure that you maintain your health and fitness goals. Allowing yourself a cheat meal or a couple of glasses of wine a week boosts the metabolism and helps to obtain consistent results long-term. Being sociable, spending time with friends, enjoying new experiences and going to events are important ways that you can maintain a healthy life balance and promote your inner happiness. Don’t let your training govern your life – let it simply be a brilliant part of it.
Words by Sophie Heywood
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