Overtraining is one of my biggest downfalls. At least once a year, I find myself working out too long, or too often, and/or too intensely. My weight loss stalls and sometimes starts to reverse, and I feel awful. Because I’m me, I tend to push and push, thinking that this is a wall that I’ll eventually get through. It takes me forever to realize that I need to rest.
I attribute this particular blindspot to my adolescent days as a competitive swimmer. For five years, I was exercising around 12 hours per week for ten months of the year. (Everyone got off for March and August, between long and short course seasons, for our bodies to completely REST.) For me, long intense exercise almost every day is what my brain associates with a good exercise habit. But here’s the thing: I’m not training to be a competitive athlete. Back then, I wasn’t eating at a calorie deficit (ha! I was eating like eight times a day trying to get in enough calories!) or trying to lose weight, and I still had 1-2 rest days per week. Our workouts were designed by experts to balance all the different things our bodies needed. That’s not the situation I’m in right now, and I’m not very good at remembering this.
I’m not sure exactly why I decided to try to exercise every single day in December. I mostly succeeded, taking only three break days. That continued into January, and I went nine weeks of exercise with only seven total rest days. At one point, I went fifteen days in a row without a break. Not only is this particularly bad for me (I do well when I exercise on 65-75% of my days, not 90%), but I made it worse by continuing to ramp up how long I was exercising, too. In December, I was averaging four hours per week. In January, that upped to 5.5 hours weekly. (My body does best with 4 to 4.5 hours weekly.)
Now, I tend to do okay on a more intense schedule like this for a few weeks – I lost over 4 lbs in December, which was awesome! – but then I crash. Despite continuing my rigorous schedule and keeping up a constant calorie deficit, I didn’t lose an ounce for most of January because my body was holding on to every spare calorie. I forced myself to take walks and do yoga but hated both. I wasn’t enjoying the exercise I normally love! I was exhausted, with full-body muscle fatigue. I had to talk myself into showering and getting dressed, not because of any mental health reasons, but because the effort to do these things was more than I could contemplate. With a few days left of the month, I could feel myself moving toward binge territory and decided to take a few days off completely to reset. It didn’t take long to feel better. My sleep improved. I started to have energy again. My body didn’t feel like I’d been punched all over. I could shower without giving myself a pep talk first. Heh.
So. Lesson learned. Again. Giving it your all is great…but maybe let’s not give your all every day for weeks on end without ever letting yourself rest. Okay, Manda?