Burnout: Taking Fitness Too Far
Exercise experts spend much of their time exhorting sedentary
people to move, move, move.
Sound advice, when you consider
that about 30 percent of the adult population is inactive, federal
officials say, despite a constant bombardment of public health
messages about the value of physical activity.
But sometimes the exercise gurus
must turn their attention to those who've taken the physical fitness
gospel too far. They are the committed exercisers who overtrain
to the point of burnout -- even injury. Or well-intentioned couch
potatoes who embrace a workout program too aggressively, only
to fall victim to injury.
While burnout is difficult to describe,
experts know it when they see it, says Cedric X. Bryant, chief
exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, a
San Diego-based organization that certifies instructors nationwide
and educates the public about the value of exercise.
Overtraining is "exercise
beyond the body's ability," Bryant says. "It's when
training intensity, duration or volume really surpasses the recuperation
time being offered to the body."
For instance, a long-distance runner
who goes out and runs hard every day, perhaps for several hours,
and allows no recuperation time is probably overtraining, Bryant
"Recuperation doesn't mean
total rest, but active rest," he says. That might mean following
a hard day of running with an easy jog the next.
If you don't allow recovery time,
Bryant says, you'll soon see a decrease in performance -- a point
of diminishing returns.
This can be hard for many people
to grasp; they figure that if some exercise is good, more must
Besides a decline in physical performance,
common signs and symptoms of overtraining include dwindling enthusiasm
for working out; increases in resting heart rate and resting blood
pressure; muscle or joint soreness that won't go away; increased
incidence of colds and infection; a decrease in appetite and weight;
disturbed sleep, and increased irritability, anxiety or depression,
"Most people aren't adept
at recognizing it in themselves," he says. Often a physician,
a coach or a spouse might point it out.
And the person may deny it.
Bryant estimates that about 10
percent of the American adult population falls into the overtraining
"You tend to see overtraining
occurring in certain sports," says Dr. P.Z. Pearce, a sports
medicine physician in Spokane, Wash., who has published on the
topic in medical literature.
These sports include gymnastics,
figure skating, marathon running and body building, says Pearce,
who also serves as team physician for pro football's Seattle Seahawks
and medical director of the Iron Man triathalon in Coeur d'Alene,
While athletes and dedicated exercisers
are most vulnerable to overtraining, health experts say weekend
warriors or those kicking off an exercise program frequently run
Both groups need help, the experts
Escaping the overtraining trap
can be as hard as giving up cigarettes or alcohol, Pearce says.
"It seriously is like any other addiction. Usually it takes
an injury to convince them they have to slow down," he adds.
Pearce remembers a marathon runner
who was forced by an injury to throttle back on her training schedule
right before a race. The result: She ran her best marathon ever.
The healing that took place during her slack period was the secret,
Pearce says, and convinced her that more isn't always better.
Adds Bryant: "The gains [in
performance and skill] are made during the recovery process. What
happens is that when you are stressing the various systems, challenging
them to perform at a higher level, during the recovery process,
adaptation occurs. Muscles increase in their strength and size."
And performance improves.
So how can you avoid the overtraining
The key, Bryant and Pearce say,
is to listen to your body. If you feel more exhausted than energized
despite your best exercise efforts, it's probably time to scale
back your regimen.
And finally, practice moderation.
As the American Council on Exercise notes: "Don't expect
to exercise an hour every day simply because your fit friend does.
The body needs time to adjust, adapt and recuperate. Exercising
to the point of overtraining is simply taking one step forward,
two steps back."
For details on the signs and causes
of overtraining, visit the American
Council on Exercise. The council also offers
examples of moderate activity.
Reference Source 101