One of the biggest problems our society faces is not enough people excercise regularly. We are increasingly sedentary and have all but eliminated every bit of movement and physical work from most of our regular activities. So working out, or just being active at the least, is a pretty good thing. Usually, the more people work out the better they feel. To a point that is. Like most things we have the habit to think if some is good then more is better and even more is best. Although many people have a hard time believing it, there’s an increasingly common occurrence these days: when working out starts working against you. With the rise in popularity of CrossFit, Orange Theory, P90x, Insanity, boot camps, spinning classes and countless other work till you drop modalities, there’s a rise in people investing a lot more time and energy than they are getting results in return. If it seems like you put in more effort than the progress you get, you have to work harder for the same results you used to get, you’re tired, dealing with nagging injuries, perpetually hungry, irritated or simply have force yourself to work out then listen up because this wolf’s for you.
Here Comes The Big Bad Wolf
Let’s get this out in the open right away: I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH WORKING OUT. It is good for most everyone most of the time. I help people work out every day. This is not an argument against working out in general. This is also not meant for the professional athlete or the random genetic freak. This is for the other 99% of humans, which is you.
There. Now onto the point…
Can you work out too much? Absolutely. You can do anything too much. Working out, although how well intentioned, is no different.
When is working out not good?
When it’s too often, long, intense or repetitive, happens without adequate rest and recovery, or is simply not appropriate for your situation.
Working out is a form of stress, which is needed for the body to be broken down and realize insignificant ability, which signals recovery and adaptation which usually equals fitness improvement. You challenge your body and it recovers and rebuilds as a stronger more adept body… as long as you let it recover by resting and nourishing it properly.
This is the important piece. If you don’t respect the recovery and rebuilding aspect in relation to the stress you go through, then you are digging a whole you’ll never get out of.
Think about your house. If the big bad wolf comes and blows your house down that’s, in essence, a big workout. Your house just got challenged. There was a stress and challenge to the strength of your structure. The bigger/more intense/new the workout, the more damage there was to your house. It takes time to rebuild and hopefully you rebuild it a little stronger so the next time the big bad wolf comes around your house can withstand the hairy bully and all his huffin’ and puffin’.
The more he destroys your house the more time and energy it takes to recover and rebuild. The recovery from a workout is the same as a house. There’s the simple recovery phase from the stress which is like the clean up of all the debris and the assessment of the damage and then there’s the rebuild phase which is the actual cellular and muscle fiber repair and energy replenishment and storage.
Usually it takes at least a day or two to get a house ready for the next battle. That’s if you eat well, rest well and aren’t too stressed from other stuff. If you don’t then it’s likely not ready for the next visit from the wolf for a few days if not several.
What happens when the big bad wolf shows up the next day? The house isn’t ready. And the damage can go deeper.
What happens if he shows up day after day? Even if he’s not blowing fierce every day, you never make real progress. You might hang in there for a while or even make progress as you learn how to get better at the recovery process and expedite rebuilding but the more you let the wolf in the gates the more likely your progress phase is coming to an end and your survival phase is beginning. You get really good at just getting the house rebuilt to where it was before the last attack. You get really good at the physiological equivalent of duct taping things or throwing chicken wire and glue everywhere. You get really good at working out, instead of having the workouts make you really good.
Or you make “fake” progress: temporary progress that appears strong on the outside while the inside suffers. The muscles start holding more energy in them but the body starts breaking down inside to make that happen. There starts to be some deep internal setbacks that you can’t control and many of these are hormone related, which is a road most of us need to be very careful going down. One of the most prevalent is resource hoarding. If your body is getting hammered all the time you’ll start to get really good at storing fat to deal with the attacks. Fat is like throwing wet plaster all over the house to deter the effects of the wind. It helps to be more resilient to the house being blown down but is pretty terrible at setting the right stage to placing 2x4s and anchoring joints that actually make the structure stronger. It treats the symptom, which often makes the root cause get worse.
Bottom line: If you work out too much, you get better at storing fat. This is what you need to remember. If you are constantly stressing your body, it’s only choice is to get better at storing energy for the next stress. Even if you think you are under eating, it can still shift more into energy storage to keep up with the demands you are putting it through.
Tame The Wolf
How do we avoid this? Two options: either ease up on the ferocity of the wolf you let in the gates or don’t let the wolf in so often. Give yourself the time to recover and actually build back stronger. If you have a big workout, think about going a little easier the next day. If you have two big workouts for a couple days, give yourself a day or two off. You get better when you recover from workouts, not during them.
Your house gets rebuilt after the wolf leaves, not during the attack. It doesn’t get better if he’s blowing multiple hours a day, multiple days a week. You are not training for the Olympics or a paycheck (if you are then you still need to keep this in mind, which the smart ones are, but your variables are shifted and quite a bit different).
Also, don’t be fooled by the wolf in disguise: a workout is still a workout even if it’s dressed up as a sweet old lady (just a little run). If you’re working, then the house is being blown on. If you house is being blown on then you’re not rebuilding very well or at all.
A good rule of thumb: if you’re huffin’ and puffin’ then so’s the wolf.
Still not sure if the wolf’s coming around too much? Read 9 Signs Of Overtraining and What You Should Do About It and see if you can relate.
You’ll be surprised at how much more resilient you are and how much better you can fight off all that hot air if you have the opportunity to be prepared.
The way to getting stronger without making a bunch of compensations is to have the wolf come around on a regular basis but not every day. Let him and huff and puff and blow so you get challenged and see what needs to be reinforced. Then let yourself rebuild and let him blow again and eventually you’ll end up with that brick house. The key is giving yourself time to lay the bricks, which can’t happen well if you’re never free from the big bad wolf.
Thanks for reading, have a great recovery day!
P.S. Steroids are like having a extreme home makeover crew come in and help you rebuild after each attack.