While for most people getting themselves motivated enough to hit the gym is a real challenge, for some the struggle is to drag themselves out of the gym. You’ve got to believe me when I say this. Be it injury, fatigue, personal and social commitments, bad weather or ill health (of self or close ones), nothing can stop them from hitting the gym or going for that run. Instagram hashtags like #NoExcuses #TrainfortheKill #BeastMode seem exciting, cool and enviable, right? Hold your horses, I say.
Being a fitness enthusiast myself, I understand the psychology that governs ‘compulsive exercisers’. These are people who no longer ‘choose‘ to exercise but feel ‘compelled’ to do so and struggle with guilt and anxiety if not working out. While leading a physically active lifestyle is great, it can turn into an addition, taking precedence over everything else, almost hinging on being called Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD) which can be unhealthy, harmful and fatal at times.
Though it feels wonderful to be complemented by friends, family, and co-workers for your willpower and discipline around exercise, one must be alert enough to recognize the point that separates ‘being committed’ to ‘being fanatic’ about fitness.
So how often should you be working out?
More isn’t always better!
Commercially speaking CrossFit and killer boot camps are the USPs that gyms sell to attract subscribers and outdo the competition in the space they operate in. And there is nothing wrong in it. They have to do it to stay in business. The unfortunate part is when we go berserk and try to incorporate whatever form of workout is available in the market into our schedules without knowledge of form, intent or outcomes.
Overdoing is clearly the new fad.
The intensity and frequency of your workout is ultimately a function of your ability, goals, preferences, equipment available, physical condition, personal and professional commitments, and of course time at hand. Though there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, there definitely are principles and guidelines to ensure you have a balanced, effective, safe and optimized workout regime.
Multiple pieces of research have established that training four or five times a week is ideal to maximize the benefits unless of course, you are a pro-athlete competing in your sport, then obviously your goals are different.
According to Holly Parker, a certified personal trainer, and Professor at Harvard University, hitting the gym without interval, rest and recovery could make you less fit and can even lead to a few extra pounds.
How long should you work out?
Most benefits of exercise happen at a moderate level—30 to 60 minutes a day. Mayo Clinic’s Department of Health and Human Services exercise guidelines says:
- Aerobic activity – Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week.
- Strength training – Do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions.
Experts suggest that you can make sustainable, real and visible progress by working out for 45 minutes to an hour each day for 4-5 days a week, which must include 10 minutes warming up, 30-40 minutes weight training/intense cardio, and five-10 minutes cooling down and stretching.
However, if your fitness goals are higher, you may take it up to a maximum of 300-350 minutes a week, with adequate rest of course (I cannot stop emphasizing the importance of rest and recovery!)
11 signs that yell (and tell) you are the classic “Overdoer”
It is easy for all fitness freaks to slip into overtraining mode in enthusiasm. And that’s the reason we must constantly assess our training needs, fitness goals, and practices and be alert to signs of overtraining.
- You do not include adequate rest into your routine: You are governed by the mindset that taking a day off means being lazy. You tire yourself out each day of the week doing multiple and sometimes back to back sessions of Spinning, Zumba, Bootcamp, Tabata, running, swimming, cycling, weight training and some more in a day, and still curse yourself for not doing enough!
- You find it difficult to handle guilt: On missing a planned day of workout for some reason, you are ridden with guilt and self-shaming for the rest of the day and are grumpy and starve yourself as punishment to deal with the guilt.
- You put quantity over quality: Instead of mastering form and notching up your daily workout you become obsessed with cramming in ‘more’ in a day.
- You frequently reschedule or cut social and personal commitments: While being committed to a healthy lifestyle is commendable, pushing everything else in life to corners is not. The biggest trait that distinguishes healthy enthusiasts from ‘unhealthy exercise addicts’ is that healthy exercisers organize their exercise around their lives, whereas ‘exercise maniacs’ organize their lives around their exercise.
- You refuse to slow down even in injury: You imagine yourself as a warrior and feel pain is not only integral but is the only and a real indicator of making progress. You believe in ‘no pain-no gain’ and think pushing yourself in pain is your hallmark as a fitness freak. Someone has stolen the word ‘recovery’ from your dictionary.
- You snap at anyone who shows you the mirror: When a close friend, a knowledgeable trainer or spouse tells you that you are overdoing it, you snap at them and take offense. Basically, you shut yourself to sources of new information that conflicts with your belief.
- You exercise without a pattern, schedule or goal: Though you may be doing more, most of your exercise is about ‘more’ than being focused or targeted. Your knowledge of specific muscle groups and form is limited and you do not follow any specific routine. All you care for is doing ‘MORE’!
- You suffer from insomnia: Due to over-training, your body is in constant stress and in a hyperactive state leading to insomnia and sleep deprivation.
- Your self-esteem is maintained by how ‘much’ you exercise: You attach your self-worth to the ‘amount of time’ you spend in the gym or doing that nerve-wrenching intense workout six days a week. You feel like a loser in life if you don’t work out as much to feed your perceived self-worth.
- You talk, eat, sleep and live exercise: Your beast mode is on even when you are not exercising. You absolutely don’t have anything else apart from exercising in your realm of things. You may not realize that you have already been branded as ‘insane’ by many. Your social circle is limited to gym buddies or activity partners.
- You are not in a ‘happy’ mode: Overtraining can make you feel exhausted, depressed, worried, stressed and irritable at all times. Instead of feeling energized and happy you feel worse, unhappy and inadequate even after tiring yourself out.
How can you come out of the #365X24/7Beast mode?
Exercising, and doing it in a balanced form, is a therapeutic and fulfilling experience. It not only leaves you with energy and a sense of euphoria but also makes you more focused, organized and positive person. It is not a competition or race to pack in more hours at the gym or outdo someone else.
Instead of burning yourself out, gather knowledge and or consult with a qualified/experienced trainer to devise a workout plan that takes into account your fitness goals, time available, health conditions etc. The smartest workout plan you can have is alternating intense days with moderate ones intercepting it with some well-deserved rest days when your body and mind can recover, rebuild and get stronger in the right meaning.
Develop a hobby, take a break or vacation, join a non-fitness related activity class, learn a new language, add a new professional skill or make friends who have varied interests. Unless you open your mind and life to new and richer experiences, you will see only one facet of life which in time, you may regret.
Make a conscious effort not to attach your self-worth with your perceived body-image. It is a symbol of a weak mind and weaker construct. This will help you not to fall into the cycle of believing that if you let a day go by without logging a workout, you’ll get fat or fall out of shape almost instantly.
Overtraining could be a symptom, while the real problem could be something else.
You may be using ‘exercise’ to escape darker realities such as dysfunctional relationships, complexes, feelings of inadequacy, workplace-related stress or low self-esteem. You prefer sweating it out at the gym or park instead of dealing with the ‘real issues’ that threaten your self-worth. Understand and address the real issue instead of ripping your muscles without mercy.
Overtraining (when triggered by underlying psychological trauma) may at times be accompanied by other compulsive behaviors, such as eating disorders, obsessive thoughts about body-image, excessive shopping or even depression, in extreme cases. Such disruptive behaviors feed on each other, trapping the individual in a downward spiral of a negative self-image and low self-esteem. In some worst and advanced cases, one may need psychological and clinical support to treat exercise addiction to develop a sense of worth and a positive self-concept.
Exercising must nourish your body and soul, making you a happier and healthier person inside out, giving you a new perspective on life events and enriching your life in more ways than just having a ‘lean body’. If you are not experiencing these ‘positive side-effects’ of exercising, it’s about time to stop for a while, reassess your schedule and align it with your goals to maximize outcomes, both physical as well as psychological.
‘Packing in more’ is a poor way of staying fit. Instead, workout smart!