Exercise: Too Much of a Good Thing

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19 Dec 2016

Chanukah is coming and for those of us involved in health, fitness and weight loss, it usually means we can look forward to an increase in our client load after Chanukah.  After all, the overconsumption of high calorie foods like latkes and jelly donuts along with general overconsumption of food over the 8 days has to have a negative effect.  Besides having to get our good eating habits back on track, exercise will also play its part in helping restore our health and losing the extra weight we put on.  But how much is enough for our health, and how much will not only make us more like the Yevanim (Greeks) and their worship of the body but can actually cause harm? 

Exercise is only good for you.  So it stands to reason, the more the better, right?  WRONG! Riva loved to exercise and was careful to exercise on a daily basis.  She had been an exerciser for 15 years.  But as she was entering her 40s, she made an appointment to come see me because many days, exercising was becoming a physical struggle for her and now on many days, she didn’t have the mental fortitude to even go out and do her routine.  When I closely examined her routine, I quickly discovered that Riva was over-exercising and not giving herself time to recover between both her aerobic workouts and also her resistance training.  There was no question we were going to have to overhaul her routine.

Riva loved both power walking and swimming.  On days she power walked, she was doing an hour and 10 minutes and at a very fast pace.  In a typical week, there were 5 sessions of power walking.  But she was also swimming 4 days a week and that meant that on 2 days, she was doing both.  She also was doing resistance training daily, sometimes using weights, sometimes bands, some days she did a Pilates class and every day, she did a comprehensive routine of abdominal exercises.  She also stretched after every routine that she was doing.  If exercise is so great, then why was Riva feeling so lousy?

People who exercise too much and don’t allow for enough recovery can get into trouble.  Chelsea Bush is a journalist that writes about fitness and weight loss.  She interviewed exercise experts and found there are 10 signs that you might be overtraining:

1. Decreased performance. A drop in your workout performance is one of the earliest signs of overload, according to Jini Cicero, a conditioning specialist based in Los Angeles, Calif. Altered performance levels are often more apparent in endurance activities such as running, swimming and cycling, she says.

2. Disinterest in exercise. A significant decrease in motivation or enjoyment of the activity can be a major sign of burnout, Cicero says. This more often occurs in weight lifters, sprinters or soccer players who are driven by speed and power.

3. Mood changes. Depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and irritability are common when your body is overstressed physically. Those same stress hormones you release when you’re emotionally stressed are also released when you’re physically overloaded, Cicero explains.

4. Delayed recovery time. Persistent muscle soreness that lasts for hours or days after your workout is a sure sign you need more rest, according to Joseph Ciccone, a physical therapist in New York City.

5. Elevated resting heart rate. “When you put more stress on the heart, it has to work a lot harder,” Ciccone says. An increase in your normal resting heart rate, say, from 50 beats per minute to 65 beats per minute, could indicate that you’re placing excessive stress on your body.

6. Fatigue. Mental or physical grogginess is a hallmark sign of overtraining, says nutritional biochemist Shawn M., based on his research on over-stress patterns in professional athletes. “The knee-jerk reaction to sluggishness is to exercise for an energy boost, but it’s a catch-22,” he says. “Another workout might wake you up short-term, but you’ll be worse off later on.”

7. Insomnia. Being in a state of overload often comes with disrupted sleep patterns, so instead of getting that much-needed rest, Talbott says, “you become restless and can’t fall asleep.”

8. Diminished appetite. “A decrease in appetite can occur in the middle to later stages of overtraining, and goes hand in hand with feelings of fatigue and lack of motivation,” says Stenstrup. By slowing down bodily processes like metabolism, the body attempts to force a reduction in its workload.

9. Fat gain. If you’ve lost weight but noticed an increase in body fat, you could be in the later stages of exercise overload. The body responds to prolonged stress by elevating levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, Stenstrup says. Over time this will lead to increased storage of adipose tissue, as well as inhibit steroid-like hormones that normally help increase muscle. A decrease in muscle mass can cause you to shed a few pounds, but this isn’t a good thing since it means your body is less efficient at burning fat.

10. Weakened immune system. Don’t try to push through your exercise Talbott warns, “or you’ll keep sliding down—to a weakened immune system, inflammation, and outright injury.”  Overtraining can take weeks, even months, to recover from, and can put your health at risk. Chronic inflammation, for example, has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Nurture your body and give it a much-deserved break when it needs to rest after that tough workout.

Recovery is Important

If we examine the requirements for exercising for good health, we see that we should be doing aerobics (walking, jogging, swimming, biking, elliptical machines or any exercise that raises your heart rate) most days of the week for at least 30-40 minutes at a moderate intensity.  If you work out intensely, you can do less.  And as long as you have a day in between, you won’t get into trouble. But if you try to do multiple workouts in the same day, your body might not be able to recover properly. 

When it comes to doing resistance training, the type of exercise that builds muscle, we recommend a 48 hour recovery.  People at a higher level of fitness can get away with 24 hours but less than 24 hours will not bring a productive workout, will leave your muscles sore for long periods of time and will definitely fatigue your body. 

Stretching should be done daily. Holding each stretch for up to 30-35 seconds is acceptable, but never stretch on cold muscles. Overstretching can bring muscle soreness and can even cause strains and sprains in your joints.

Riva and I sat a couple times and we decided to take a week off where she only stretched daily.  Afterwards we decided to alternate her power walks and her swims.  I cut her walks down by 10 minutes.  We also developed two routines that did not overlap in working different muscle groups.  She was able to do each of them every other day and still have great results.  After 3 weeks on the new routine, she began getting her motivation back to work out, she stopped getting small colds and overall, she felt less fatigued and well.  She understood that more isn’t always better and the recovery is an integral part of having a productive exercise routine. 

Don’t rely on the Nissim that Hashem performed for us in the time of the Chashmonaim.  You are the one who needs to control your eating and by all means exercise.  But remember that we are exercising enough for our health and not for any other reason.  Make sure you have enough recovery time between your exercise sessions. Exercising enough for our health will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.” 


Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a BEHAVIORAL CHANGE and WELLNESS COACH with over 19 years of professional experience. Alan is the creator and director of the “10 Weeks to Health” program for weight loss. He is available for private coaching sessions, consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs both in his office and by telephone and skype. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at alan@alanfitness.com Check out the his web site –www.alanfitness.com US Line: 516-568-5027.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.