For real though. I’m on day 7 without any exercise aside from walking. In all fairness, I ‘ve been walking a lot so I’ve still been moving. But it’s not even close to being as awesome as finishing a long run or playing with some heavy shit in the gym. Not. Even. Close.
So why did I decide to take a week off? I’d like to say it’s because I like to challenge myself to try new things to see how my body responds. And while that is true, that’s not the case this time. This was more out of necessity. For a little over a month I’d been telling myself I should take a “de-load” week. No heavy leg days, no high intensity circuits, and no sprints on my long runs. I was starting to feel a little more tired than usual and a little less motivated. I know the dangers of over-training and I know the benefits of taking it down a notch every so often, but things kept happening. I had someone to run with, I had someone to workout with, there was something new I wanted to try. Excuses excuses!
It finally caught up with me. Last week I found myself too tired to walk up stairs, exhausted when I was only halfway done my shift at work, and an emotional wreck. I should point out that being an emotional wreck is not so “out-there” for me. I get stressed out easily and it doesn’t take much to make me cry. But it was definitely amplified last week and I was much more moody and irritable than usual (believe it or not 😉 )
Over-training can have some seriously negative long-term implications if the warning signs are ignored. In a nutshell, over-training occurs when an individual has been training at a high intensity for an extended period of time (this will vary from person to person), so much so that regular rest days aren’t adequate for the body to fully recover. As it struggles to recover from the last workout and you push yourself into another one, it has even more to work to recover from. The body begins to release cortisol, inhibiting muscle growth and increasing the amount of fat that’s stored and held onto. Many view this as a sign they are not working hard enough, and they up the intensity even more, thus making it even harder for the body to get a chance to even attempt to recover.
When the body goes into this state, recovery can take weeks, months, or even years. I’ve heard stories of adrenal fatigue that required a 6-month hiatus from exercise, as well as an extreme case where an elite marathon runner was warned to either stop running or risk having his heart stop functioning. Now these are obviously rare and extreme cases, but it goes to show that there really can be too much of a good thing. We keep our workouts frequent and intensities high for many reasons; maybe we love the rush, maybe we’re pushing for a new PR, or maybe we’re desperate to get that “perfect” bikini bod (which, by the way, does not exist!) before a vacation. But by ignoring the signs of over-training we put ourselves at risk of putting our goals on hold while we cut all physical activity to give our bodies a break. Less than ideal, no?
It’s important not to forget why we exercise in the first place. The underlying reason of it all, regardless of our goals, is to feel good. When it stops feeling good and starts feeling like a chore or prevents you from doing other things you love, it’s time to take it down a notch. I found myself driving to work more and using the elevator more when I got there. Kinda defeats the purpose of being in shape, doesn’t it?
So here I am, a week with no exercise. I’m not going to lie, I was kind of scared. I envisioned myself gaining a bunch of weight or completely losing all motivation to workout and giving it up. I also thought it would be much more of a mental struggle. I had a fun weekend planned, but that was only 3 out of the 7 days. I still had 4 days to occupy myself during my free time. I thought for sure I’d cave at some point. On the second-to-last day I thought about cutting it short and going for my long run today, but a friend talked me out of it. (Thanks, K 🙂 )
Now did any of that happen? No. But here’s a quick rundown of what did happen:
- I had a great weekend with friends and my man
- I ate some food I normally wouldn’t eat – ever dipped a pretzel in Ranch dressing? Well I now have, and I can tell you that it’s fucking delicious
- Tried out a bunch of delicious new recipes (all from the vegan Oh She Glows, my current blog obsession)
- Spent a lot of time suntanning
- Stretched and foam-rolled infront of the TV
- Shaved my legs – you’d think this would happen more often than it does because my legs are often exposed in capris or shorts, but no
- Visited the dentist TWICE. This is a huge deal because I usually see the dentist once every five years
- Sat on my ass and did nothing
And it was awesome.
Did I gain 10 pounds? No. Does my stomach look like it did 3 years ago? No. Have I lost all motivation and completely given up on the fit life? No. In fact I feel more motivated. I cannot wait to get my Sauconys on tomorrow and get outside for a run! I’m super excited to get back into the gym on Saturday. And my eating has actually been better the past couple days with less cravings for junk. It seems like I not only needed a physical break, but I needed a mental break as well.
When you immerse yourself in the fitness culture, it can be tough to look past the “train dirty”, “EVERY. DAMN. DAY”, #TeamNoDaysOff, or “NO EXCUSES!” and listen to what your body needs. I’m all for pushing your body to its limits; if you don’t, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. But it’s important to give both your body and your mind a break every once awhile so you can continue to push yourself. And over the long-term one rest day per week ain’t likely gonna cut it. I now plan to include a de-load week every 4 weeks or so and a full rest week around every 8 weeks. I’m also going to try to stick to at least one full rest day per week and one active rest day. Active rest includes activities like leisurely bike rides, a relatively easy hike, or stretching and rolling. Things that keep you moving, but things that are fun and easy as well. Also, if you’re a calorie-counter or a macro-tracker, try avoiding this for part of or all of your rest week as well. The goal is to remove as many stressors as possible so your body can fully relax.
If you’re concerned about over-training, here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Decrease in or total loss of motivation to exercise (when you used to really enjoy it!)
- Stalled weight loss, even with proper diet and exercise
- Increased weight loss even though you’re trying to gain
- Feeling tired, sluggish, and exhausted at various times throughout the day
- Constant aches in muscles and joints
- Increased irritability
- Decreased immune system
If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms and can’t think of any reason why, try cutting back on the exercise for a bit. Even just cooling down the intensity for a week may do the trick if you catch it early enough. After a solid rest I’m sure you’ll be ready and pumped to get back to doin’ what you do.
What’s your favourite way to give yourself a physical and mental rest?