Overtraining Does More Harm Than Good. So Get Your Rest Days In.

Health & Wellness

March 29, 2018

Whether you’re just starting an exercise regimen or you’re an avid athlete, lack of adequate rest days can cause fatigue, stress, injury, and possibly more serious health problems.

Contrary to some attitudes that pressure us into thinking we’re not pushing ourselves enough, there is such a thing as working out too much. Even professional athletes have rest days scheduled into their routine.

First, let me clarify that a rest day doesn’t mean a day on the couch. You do need to stay active, whether it’s basic stretching, keeping your steps up, or yoga. This can vary based on your main activity. For instance, if you are in strength training, cardiovascular activities (a brisk walk/run or time on an elliptical) are essential in maintaining an overall healthy physical condition. Runners can benefit from core strength activities.

Why take rest days?

Whatever your area of focus, those muscle and tendon groups need a chance to restore and regenerate. You cannot go full steam every day. Listen to your body and look for these three warning signs that you are overtraining:

• Physical fatigue and joint/muscle pain, strains, and injuries.

• More frequent sickness, including cold and flu.

• Decreased desire to work out, depression, anxiety, stress, and changes in waking heart rate.

A word about mental outlook: Anyone, from avid athletes to recreational enthusiasts, can get into a self-defeating cycle due to overtraining. A lack of rest days leads to decreased performance and fatigue. So they work out harder, which only exacerbates their deficit in performance, possibly resulting in injuries and requiring a forced “time out.” The only way to break or avoid that cycle is by taking adequate rest days.

How much rest?

That will depend on your age, health, and current level of abilities. A general rule of thumb is to take one rest day for every three days of your main sport. This amounts to more or less two rest days per week. Younger people in their teens through 30s may require fewer rest days, those in their 40s and beyond may require more.

A few more tips.

If you’re just starting out, it’s a good idea to speak with your physician first to see if you have any health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, that could predispose you to problems resulting from an exercise routine. Also consider enlisting the help of a trainer or workout partner who is more experienced. He or she can see that your form is appropriate, make sure you’re not overworking, and give you pointers on rest and nutrition.

Finally, no matter your level of ability or sport, flexibility is extremely important to your muscle health. Proper warm up and stretching of your hamstrings and IT bands (the ones that run from the outside of your hips down to your knees) can help avoid pain and injury. Other flexibility activities, such and yoga and Pilates, are beneficial for any type of athlete.

I encourage you to step back, take a breath, and plan rest days into your routine. If you need any guidance, please feel free to contact either your primary care physician or me. We are here to help.

Author of this article

Conan Chittick, MD, CAQSM, specializes in sports medicine. He is a guest columnist and located at IU Health Physicians Family Medicine, 1375 N. Green Street, Suite 100, in Brownsburg. He can be reached by calling the office at 317.852.2251.

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