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The Risks of Over Training: Listen to Your Aching Body, it's Telling You Something!

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As a semi-serious athlete, I suppose I could be accused on occasion of over-training. In the past 20 years, I have probably missed about five days of working out. I am either seriously dedicated or, as my doctor has delicately phrased it, “a drug addict,” addicted to the endorphins and related “runner’s high.” He’s right. I am. Even when my body is begging me to take a day off, I still get out there and train. I would make a horrible coach. After all, everyone needs to take a day off from exercising every now and again. I’ve been told that when you do take a day of rest, your workout the following day is enhanced. Maybe one of these days, when I am brave enough to forgo a day of running, I will discover that joy!

When you over train and work out excessively, you may think you are doing your body a favor by giving it the physical exercise it needs, but your efforts can be counter-productive. Your sleep can become disrupted. Your immune system can crash. You may even lose your appetite.

And it’s not just hard-core athletes who are at risk. Those who run for fun and recreation are equally at risk, when you factor in all of the other grinding demands of life – work, chores, errands, and family. When you are stressed, tired, and overworked, recovering from rigorous exercise is infinitely more challenging.

There are a few indicators that will alert you to take a deserved day off. (And perhaps the author of this article will take note!)

If your body weight drops from yesterday to today, indicating a loss of fluid, you probably did not hydrate sufficiently and are therefore at risk of compromising the quality of your next workout.

If your resting heart rate is elevated, that is a sign of stress. Check your pulse when you first awaken in the morning to discover your normal rate. If you notice that your heart rate is higher than it normally has been, you probably need a day of rest.

Do you toss and turn at night? Over-training can inhibit a good night’s rest. If you sleep poorly for several nights in a row, you will decrease your reaction time, and compromise your immune system, your motor skills, and your cognitive functions. When these are disrupted, they do not allow for a beneficial work out.

Do you feel run down or generally fatigued? If you have consistently low levels of energy, you need to listen to your body, not your mind that may be preaching, “Push through it!”

I tend to fall under this next category. If you are cranky and irritable, that’s a good sign you are stressed. When your body becomes overwhelmed by consistent and demanding conditioning, the hormone cortisol is released which can cause mood swings. If you are feeling crankier than normal, don’t feel guilty heading over to the couch for a nap.

If you over-train while you are sick, your immune system will require even more fuel, not only for what the training requires, but to fight off the illness. Don’t give your body a double-whammy of stress!

If you are injured and sore, working out more will only agitate that condition. It takes energy to repair your body, so let your body do its job so you can then get back out there when you are feeling better.

Make sure you are staying hydrated. The color of your urine is a good indicator of hydration levels. The darker the color, the less fluid you have in your body. Grab a bottle of water to rehydrate and to recover. (This is probably not a good time to ask me about the half marathon I ran in the heat of summer last year, never stopping at any of the water stations as I wanted to beat my time of the previous year! Not a brilliant idea!)

You know what? I think I may just go sit out in the sun for a spell and only think about running. I am sure I can refrain from hitting the pavement for at least another hour!

(Information for this article was found in the June 2011 edition of Runner’s World, in an article contributed by Jayme Otto.)

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.