Rest assured: Your body needs it

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, Certified Health Coach, is a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center. She is also a member of the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

By Cathleen Kronemer

Many avid gym-goers exercise because they enjoy it.  Some even love it!  There, I said it, and yes, it’s quite true.  There are individuals in the world who wake up anticipating the day’s workout, and whose last thought as eyes are closing and head hits the pillow, is “What shall I train tomorrow?”

If you’re currently hitting the gym approximately five hours a week, congratulations!  You probably feel terrific! However, if five hours a week begins to edge closer to six, then seven, and eventually exercising twice a day, you have quite possibly crossed into the somewhat addictive, and often dangerous, zone of overtraining.

When an athlete is caught up in the cycle of overtraining, it is often difficult to recognize the warning signs, especially in yourself. Certainly sore muscles begin to present themselves in a more profound manner, and this is to be expected.  But there are other, more subtle cues that your body may be trying to give you.

An increased resting heart rate and insatiable thirst are two of the earliest signs of overtraining.  The heartbeat may be the result of the body attempting to meet the increased metabolic rate, which has come about due to the physical demands being placed upon the musculoskeletal system. Overtraining also tends to put the body in a muscle-wasting, catabolic state, and dehydration will naturally accompany this condition. 

By now you may be thinking that the adage “more is better” just might be a fallacy. If insomnia has become a frequent problem, training too hard or too often might be the culprit. A combination of an overloaded nervous system and hormonal system creates the perfect storm that keeps you from catching enough ZZZ’s. Taking a refreshing catnap during the day may sound appealing, but unfortunately it is not a panacea. The body requires physical restoration, and this occurs in the sleep phase most often attained between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.  Since the muscles regenerate and grow while you are at rest, adequate sleep is a necessity.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why do I train, anyway?”  Understanding your true motive behind taking that spin class, or bench-pressing all that weight can help stave off overtraining.  Once the gym becomes a daunting conquest or an insurmountable challenge – and yet you keep doing it, day after day – depression will eventually set in, with lowered self-esteem closing in on its heels.  Rather than admiring the physique you have sculpted when you look in the mirror, body image becomes an obsession in the wake of overtraining…and not in a healthy way.  This can lead to irritability, which then causes insomnia, and the cycle becomes self-perpetuating.

Ideally, the human body benefits greatly from taking an occasional week off from your regular exercise routine.  Knowing how psychologically difficult this can be for one in an over-trained state, just cutting back to three or four hours the first few days is a step in the right direction. Ease out of the gym gradually, culminating with one or two days of rest.  You may be surprised at the leap of progress you make in all aspects of your health!