If you have ever seen a commercial trying to sell you a pair of sneakers, or a sports drink, then you have seen someone engaged in what most would consider to be “extreme cardiovascular exercise”. Ignoring the fact that it took an entire production, lighting and makeup crew to make someone look even remotely attractive when sweating that much, these ads have done something else that might be a little more deceptive. They have normalized the look and activity level of someone near exhaustion. Gyms and local running tracks are full of people picturing the commercials they saw, or the highly stylized gym posters, or the magazine ads for some fitness product or other. Trying to match the output of the people in fitness related images is misguided at best, and harmful at worst.
Yes, it is entirely possible to overdo it when it comes to cardio. Something that is never quite explained in those ads (and also something that may not be intuitive if you are new to working out) is the importance of pushing yourself without exhausting yourself. There is a bit of a razor’s edge there, but you can find your perfect workout zone by listening to what your body is trying to tell you. Something that is never mentioned in those ads is the importance of rest days. The people you see pulling off these incredible feats of human endurance are not doing it because they worked out every day. They’re doing it because they found the correct balance of training and rest to allow them to make ability gains. Let’s take a look at some signs that you may be over training, and engaging in too much cardio.
You Suddenly Can’t Stay Awake
Now, everyone sits through a boring meeting or class once in a while, and feels their eyelids getting heavy. That is not really what I am talking about. This is more of a fundamental change in your personality. Are you having trouble working because you are in a permanent, mental fog? Are you suddenly completely unable to stay awake through your favorite evening TV shows? Are you spending your lunch breaks sneaking out to the car to catch 20 minutes of sleep? You may be over training.
Your body is asking you – begging you – to pump the brakes a little. Step back and consider how much cardio you have been doing lately. Is it every day? Is it for more than one hour at a time? While it is true that there are many athletes who operate on similar schedules, they only do that sometimes. Even they have rest cycles and cycles of lower training to allow for their bodies to catch up.
You Have Actually Gotten Worse at Your Workouts, Not Better
Practice makes perfect. We have all heard that saying. Sometimes, we extrapolate that to mean that the more frequently we do something, the better we will be. It makes sense, right? Yet here you stand, staring at the readout on your treadmill or your smartphone, and it’s telling you that you have been slowing down. Wait, what? It’s true, and it can happen suddenly. Sometimes you may hear athletes or people in training referring to the “bottom falling out” of their workouts.
Your physical health is actually made up of several important aspects, only one of which is exercise. Part of the reason your workout performance may be going down is that you are not seeing to those other aspects. Are you sleeping at least 8 hours per night? Are you eating enough to sustain the amount of activity you are doing? So often, people jump into a workout routine for the first time, while also restricting their calories to a level below what they need in a day. If this calorie deficit is too great, or if you are not prioritizing sleep like you should, your body crashes and runs out of fuel. If you see this happening in your workouts, it’s time to reevaluate.
Those Annoying Aches and Pains Just Won’t Go Away
You’re in the middle of a great run when, in an effort to avoid a pile of wet leaves or a pothole in the road, you make an awkward turn and “tweak” a muscle in your thigh. We have all done it. Maybe you weren’t even running; maybe you just overextended your reach for something on the floor, or “slept weird”, and now have a stiff neck. These are the day to day complaints everyone suffers regardless of physical health. The key thing here is that they should go away.
If these pains are lingering for days without improving, or are stacking up on top of one another (“My knee hurts, my shoulder hurts, my back hurts and my hips hurt!”), you should take a serious look at what could be causing this. Over training in cardio is one possible culprit. You have worn yourself out so much, that your body can’t repair all the things it needs to. Obviously, rest is paramount here, but there are a few other things you could try. Foam rolling can help those sore muscles begin to improve. Swap out a few cardio sessions for a great yoga session. It might help relax and stretch you gently, allowing your body to focus on what it needs to.
You Are Getting Sick
It’s the middle of July, and you are the only person you know with a cold. In fact, this is the third time you’ve been sick this summer, and that is totally out of character. Your body could be having trouble keeping up your immunity if you are over training in cardio.
Listen to your body, and see your doctor if you have concerns. Repeat injuries, insomnia, recurring illness and amenorrhea (your period has stopped) in women, while all possible signs of over training, could also be signs of something else. It is always safer to get checked out.
If you truly are feeling burnt out from cardio, maybe try something gentler for a while, like Tai Chi.