It is an accepted fact that exercise is essential for a healthy body and mind. However, is it possible to get too much exercise'

Yes, when a person pushes the body too hard or too long and does not give it a chance to recover with adequate time, rest and nutrition, it can result in overtraining.

Overtraining can occur with aerobic exercises such as running, biking or swimming, and with resistance exercises such as weightlifting. The condition of overtraining occurs when either exercise volume or intensity exceeds what a person should be doing for an extended period of time.

Training volume can be excessive if more exercises are added, additional repetitions or sets are performed, or the frequency of the exercise is increased for too long. In contrast, overtraining due to excessive intensity occurs when too heavy a resistance is used for an extended time. These principles apply to elite athletes as well as to individuals that exercise for general health and fitness.

So how does a person know when they are doing more than they should'

Regular exercise and physical training are healthy habits that should make a person feel better, not worse. If a person is experiencing overtraining signs and symptoms, he or she may be pushing too hard. It is important to understand that the signs and symptoms of overtraining may not all be present, and the presence of some symptoms does not necessarily mean a person is overtraining. The true test of whether overtraining is taking place is whether performance is impaired or plateaued.

Some of the frequent signs of overtraining cited by the American College of Sports Medicine are these:
- Decreased performance in strength, power, muscle endurance or cardiovascular endurance.
- Decreased training tolerance and increased recovery requirements.
- Decreased coordination, reaction time or speed.
- Altered resting heart rate, blood pressure and respiration patterns.
- Decreased body fat and post-exercise body weight.
- Increased basal metabolic rate.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Sleep disorders.
- Decreased appetite and weight loss.
- Menstrual disruption.
- Headaches or gastrointestinal distress.
- Muscle, joint and tendon aches and stiffness.
- Decreased rate of healing and increased occurrence of illness.

What should a person do if overtraining has occurred' There are several simple steps that can be taken to alleviate and correct this condition:
- Add one or more recovery days to each training week.
- Include periodized exercise programs that gradually alter the training variables over time to allow the body to progress in stages and have adequate recovery.
- Ensure that training volume and exercise intensity are inversely related.
- Avoid monotonous exercise by increasing training variety.
- Avoid doing too high a number of exercises, sets and/or repetitions.
- Avoid performing every set of every exercise of every session to absolute failure (for resistance training).
- Take into account the cumulative training effect of different kinds of exercise.

Exercise is a health habit that has many advantages. Be sure that your exercise program includes regular periods of recovery and that you reassess and adjust your training often. Done properly, exercise can bring life-long benefit to mind and body.

Resources for physical activity and exercise include the following:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/index.html
- American College of Sports Medicine, http://www.acsm.org/

Page last updated Mon January 3rd, 2011 at 10:42