I have been on my health and fitness journey for just over three years now and to say I have fallen in love with the lifestyle would be a massive understatement. I honestly look forward to waking up working out, fueling my body with nutritious foods, and prioritizing my health and well-being each and every day. Three years ago I set out to lose ten pounds. That was my one and only goal. What I had no idea of at the time was that in the process of losing the weight I would gain so much more.
I gained my health back, but not only my physical health, maybe more importantly my mental health. I gained my self-confidence back. I gained a purpose in life that I didn’t have before. I gained an overwhelming desire to push myself, to never stop learning and growing and to keep setting and knocking down bigger and better goals for myself each and every day. In short, I lost the weight and gained a version of me that I could not be more proud of today.
The one and only problem I have run into with this new version of myself is my “off-switch” sometimes seems to be broken. I am SO in love with this lifestyle and the benefits I reap from living it, I don’t want to let up for even just one day. I want to workout everyday. I want to push myself to lift heavier, run further, bike harder terrain, eat more vegetables, drink more protein shakes, so on and so forth that even when I know I need to take a day off, I have a really hard time doing it.
Maybe I’m addicted to the endorphins. Maybe I am addicted to the feeling of pride that comes with accomplishing things I never thought I would be able to do. Maybe it’s a little bit of both those things mixed with the fact that I have found workout programs (check them out here) that are actually fun, challenging, and offer so much variety that I never get bored. Whatever it is, I am here to admit today that I recently found out what skipping too many of those rest days can get you…hint: it is nothing good! And let me tell you folks, I learned a valuable lesson and I learned it the hard way.
I won’t go into all the down and dirty details but I will tell you that a few months back, I was pushing myself especially hard. I was soaking up the last of the beautiful fall weather and getting out on my mountain bike as much as I possibly could, running on the days I wasn’t biking and of course hitting those home lifting and HIIT style workouts that I love so much in between. I was more than overdoing it and I was overdoing it seven days a week. For a while I felt great. I was noticing more muscle forming, my endurance increasing and my over all fitness levels skyrocketing. Again, I felt great…until suddenly I didn’t.
It seemed to come out of nowhere. I went from getting stronger and faster, to getting slower and weaker. Seemingly out of the blue I could barely run a mile without huffing and puffing and feeling like I was having a heart attack. I suddenly had no desire to pick up my weights and press play on my favorite workouts. And what was probably the final straw that forced me to sit up and take notice was my anxiety was through the roof. I mean, full blown panic attacks the likes of which I hadn’t experienced in years!
Of course, thinking I was stricken with some terrible disease, I googled all my symptoms and spent days obsessing over what they could possibly mean. I went as far as to see my doctor, get a chest xray done, try a variety of allergy medications to rule out a particularly bad reaction to the apparently high levels of ragweed we were experiencing at the time, all to no avail. The doctor didn’t have any answers for me, the Xray came back clear and the allergy medication didn’t even make a dent in the way I was feeling.
Frustrated, a little scared but unwilling to give up, I researched more. I again tried plugging in all my symptoms to a search bar and amongst a whole host of crazy diseases most of which I couldn’t even pronounce, there it was. The last thing I would have come up with on my own but probably the most obvious cause of my then current affliction, I was overtraining. At first, I thought no way. I am smarter than that. I know my body better than that. I am a lean, mean, in-tune with myself, fitness machine. There is no way that I feel so terrible just because I hadn’t taken enough rest days. Then I really seriously thought about it. Not only had I not, not taken enough rest days, I hadn’t actually taken one at all in so long I couldn’t even remember when the last one was.
I had all the classic symptoms:
- I was finding normally easy workouts to be hard, and hard workouts to be impossible – Decreased performance is like the most predominant sign you have overtrained, and this sign hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember starting out what I had planned to be about a 3-4 mile run and after making it only about a half of a mile feeling like I was literally having a heart attack. I couldn’t catch my breath, I was having pains in my chest and I sincerely thought I might have to call someone to come pick me up and drive me back to my house because my legs felt that heavy. This exact same thing happened a second time to me about a week later but instead of happening when I was running it happened when I set out on a bike ride, one that I had done countless times before. Again, I got a few minutes into the workout and all the same things started happening. I had to turn the bike around and actually walk it all the way back to my car because I couldn’t even pedal the mile or so back.
- I was incredibly sore – I mean sore to the point I could barely walk for several days after one particular leg day workout. I had done an 80 Day Obsession workout one afternoon that I had probably done at least five or six times before and woke up the next day with so much soreness I was almost in tears. For at least two full days I was barely able to walk, trying to sit down was borderline excruciating and living on the 3rd floor of a condo building with no elevators got really painful really quickly. I was sorer than I had been in as long as I could remember and what made no sense was I really didn’t do anything that extreme that should have warranted the kind of reaction my body was having. The soreness thankfully dissipated after about three days but it was definitely a warning sign my body needed a time out.
- I was having a lot of trouble sleeping – If any of you have trouble sleeping or are insomniacs you know how frustrating it is to be so tired but unable to get yourself to sleep! I would lay down to try to sleep but I would either not be able to fall asleep and just lay there and stare at the ceiling for hours or I would end up waking up like a zillion times during the night…or sometimes both! I wasn’t ever falling into that deep, REM sleep that is so important for our bodies to recover and repair themselves so I became like a walking zombie just going through the motions but not doing much else. This lack of sleep night after night started to accumulate which predictably led me to my next symptom….
- I was tired ALL the time – I mean that kind of tired where it is almost painful, I was so tired. Extreme fatigue is probably a better way of describing it. For days on end, I struggled to do anything and everything. My body was tired, the brain fog was real, and my crankiness levels were off the charts. Even thinking about doing anything was exhausting. I willed myself through the days by just putting one foot in front of the other, not really accomplishing anything, just sort of existing. This was a tough one for me because I am definitely one of those people who likes to be going and doing all the time. I hate sitting around. I barely ever watch TV and in my mind I am always thinking of the next things I want to get done. Not having the energy to get off the couch…talk about frustrating!!
- I was losing interest – My level of exhaustion coupled with how sore I was finding myself even after doing the lightest of workouts started to lead me down the path of not wanting to do the things I had previously loved doing so much just weeks before. The joy I once felt in being able to workout or get on my bike or set out on a run was replaced with dread because of how hard I knew even the lightest of workouts would be and the disappointment with myself that I was no longer able to perform at the levels I had so recently been capable of. I started getting really frustrated, even angry at myself, at my body, at the workouts themselves and for the first time in years doubted I would ever again be able to workout, and enjoy myself, like I had been.
- My anxiety was through the roof – I mentioned this one above but it was probably the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for me. After a particularly nasty panic attack one day I finally realized my entire system (mind and body) was at the breaking point. Having not had any real anxiety to speak of and certainly no panic attacks in close to two years, I was shocked that they had come back, and it forced me to deal with the fact I was not ok and could not continue down the road I was on. The day I had this panic attack was the day I decided to really try to figure out what as going on with me and the day that eventually led me to discovering how real a thing overtraining is.
Some other common and downright scary (if you ask me) symptoms of overtraining include increased headaches, irregular heart beats, increased incidence of injury, decreased appetite and/or weight loss and even reproductive issues in women! Bottom line you guys, overtraining is real, and while it can be really tough to recognize and often mistaken for a ton of much more serious problems, it is can be pretty easily dealt with and overcome.
In my case, I just took some time off. I rested, I ate healthy nutritious foods, I drank plenty of water and I waited until I felt better to resume any intense exercise. Just like everything else in life, exercise, especially intense exercise, should be done with a touch of moderation. Going full on beast mode, every single day, week in and week out, does your body and mind no favors. Rest is just as important to a fitness routine as training days. Don’t be like me and learn this lesson the hard, and somewhat painful way. Schedule in rest days, stick to them and continue to thrive and crush those New Year 2021 goals!