Is anyone else intrigued by our new obsession with extreme fitness? Is anyone else concerned that we may be taking it too far, putting ourselves at risk of overtraining and injury? I am.
This past decade has seen an explosion the popularity of elite fitness for non-elite people. In the past few years, thousands of high-intensity program gyms have spread across the US, from urban warehouses to suburban strip malls. "Regular" people are now training with the intensity and intention of paid, professional athletes. Weekend warriors are doing clean-and-jerks, kettle bell swings and box jumps like it's as normal as family breakfast on a Sunday morning.
But why we are doing this to ourselves? Is this level of training necessary or desirable for the average individual, or is it just a passing craze that we'll look back on with bewilderment? Only time will tell whether writhing upside down against a wall, attempting handstand pushups was a legitimate workout or a ridiculous anomaly.
Yet the movement continues to strengthen.
As I bike around New York City these days, it strikes me just how much a part of modern metropolitan culture this extreme fitness craze is.
While I welcome any fitness movements that motivates people to push themselves and get fit, I do fear for people who take extreme fitness to the extreme. Fitness addiction is real. Overtraining and injuries are becoming big problems in the world of amateur elite fitness.
Too many of my friends are smashing themselves at the gym with reckless abandon and then complaining to me that their body composition isn't improving or they're getting sick all the time. Niggling injuries are worsening but they just can't give up their workout fix.
The paradox is that for the average person just wanting to be healthy and look fit, the volume and intensity of doing extreme training programs five or six days a week may be hindering them achieving such goals.
Systemic inflammation, sympathetic nervous system dominance, endocrine dysfunction, excessive cortisol, fatigue, infection and malaise can all stem from overtraining, making it very difficult to achieve a healthy body composition, robust immune system and overall well-being.
If you truly desire or require elite fitness or if you are able to thrive on such a brutal workout routine, good for you. But if you, like the friends I speak of, have been swept up in an extreme fitness movement but fear it may be too much for you, please listen to your gut and your body. You may need to re-think your exercise regimen.
So what can be done? Ultimately it's up to you to monitor your own training. Here are nine signs that you may be overtraining:
- Your performance has plateaued.
- You start to dread your workouts or come up with excuses to skip them.
- Your sleep starts to worsen. You find it more difficult to get to sleep or you are waking up exhausted.
- You are becoming moody. You're are more easily agitated, anxious, emotional or depressed than you used to be.
- You get sick more often and the symptoms stick around for longer than they used to.
- You crave sugary junk food and always seem hungry, especially after a workout.
- Your libido decreases.
- You only feel good or energized after your workout. The rest of day, your energy flatlines.
- You start getting more obsessed with training. Missing a session makes your feel anxious or like a failure.
- You start to prioritize training over living. You favor going to the gym over catching a movie with your loved one or having an after-work drink. You consistently show up late to social events because you had to make your favorite class.
If you can associate with some or most of these signs, chances are you're overdoing it at the gym. Try taking a week off and then really cut down the volume and intensity. You may be surprised just how little training the average person needs to achieve their health and fitness goals.
The ethos of "more is better" has pervaded the fitness industry, putting some people at risk of overtraining and/or injury. We need to remember that for some of us mere mortals, less is more.
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