Hitting the snooze button more? Having a lot of off days at the gym? If you exercise seven days a week without any rest, you might be exhibiting signs of overtraining. Trying to power through your workouts when you're not feeling right can sabotage your fitness goals and lead to more serious problems.
Here, Geoff Tripp, CSCS, certified personal trainer and head of fitness at Trainiac, shares five reasons you shouldn't be working out every day, plus how often you should hit the gym for optimal results and overall health.
1. You Stop Performing Your Best
If you train without recovery days, you're likely to encounter a sharp decline in adaptation, or your body's ability to absorb the training load, Tripp says. When this happens, you'll usually experience exhaustion, weakness, and "excessive soreness that lingers for days," he says.
And when you feel like crap and can't perform your best, you're more prone to hurting yourself. Going beast mode 24/7 and not following a proper recovery protocol can result in overuse injuries like tendinitis or stress fractures, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What's more, pushing too hard all the time can also throw your hormones into chaos. Overtraining can lead to problems with your adrenal glands and hormonal imbalances that cause chronic fatigue, per a February 2013 review in the Journal of Novel Physiotherapies.
2. Your Weight Loss Grinds to a Halt
"Just like we can see a stall in physical adaptation, we can also see a slowing of weight loss due to overtraining," Tripp says. Exercise taxes your body, and working out too hard and too much can increase stress hormones like cortisol. And persistently elevated cortisol levels are associated with obesity and a larger waist circumference, according to a February 2017 study published in Obesity.
To make matters worse, chronic stress can increase your appetite and cravings for foods high in fat and sugar, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Conversely, some people may lose the desire to eat when overstressed due to overtraining, Tripp says. Under-eating forces your body to shift into conservation mode, he says. That is to say, it protects itself from starving, and, in doing so, stops weight loss in its tracks.
3. Your Stress Response Goes Into Overdrive
A big drop or steady decline in heart rate variability (HRV) is a telltale sign of stress that someone's been burning the fitness candle at both ends, Tripp says. HRV — a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat — is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's fight-or-flight and relaxation responses, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
An HRV on the low end — which happens when you overtrain — indicates that your system is operating in fight-or-flight state whereas a higher HRV signifies a more relaxed condition. In other words, when you regularly overdo it at the gym, your body's stress mode remains turned on. Prolonged stress can increase your risk for a range of health problems, from heart disease to digestive issues and cognitive impairment, per the Mayo Clinic.
Read more: 8 Ways to Beat Stress-Induced Belly Fat
4. Your Mood Dips
Can't drag yourself off the couch? Lack of motivation is another big red flag when it comes to overtraining, Tripp says. Turns out, pushing yourself too much not only exhausts you physically, but also mentally and emotionally. In fact, overtraining has been associated with depressive feelings, according to a March 2012 review published in Sports Health.
"If you begin to experience sluggish workouts, general tiredness and little enthusiasm for exercise, it's time to take a few rest days — or even a full week — for recovery," Tripp says. "A recovery week can focus on light cardio activities, mobility activities, clean nutrition and sleep."
5. Your Sleep Suffers
Struggling to roll out of bed in the morning? Sleep is essential for repairing, growing and strengthening your muscles. That's because working out — especially weight-lifting — creates microscopic tears in your muscles, and you need rest to heal and rebuild them.
"If you're experiencing restless sleep after a string of very active weeks, you could be teetering on the edge of overtraining," Tripp says. And, unfortunately, the stress that results from overdoing it at the gym isn't improving your sleep quality. Case in point, a November 2015 review in Sleep Science linked high levels of the stress hormone cortisol with insomnia.
So, How Often Should You Work Out?
That depends on your fitness level and health goals, Tripp says. The current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity cardio or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, plus muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity two or more days a week.
But "rest days should be a part of everyone's weekly workout schedule too," Tripp says. "Generally, when you have an overtraining issue, it's a combination of too many intense efforts in a row and not enough easy days."
The main takeaway? Don't go full throttle every day, and when you do have a particularly tough sweat session, offset it with a rest day or active recovery. Go on an easy hike, take a yoga class or focus on breathing and meditation, Tripp says.
Always listen to your body. Everyone has off days, but if you feel like every workout is a struggle, it's time to take a break.
- Sports Health: “Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide”
- Mayo Clinic: “Overuse injury: How to prevent training injuries.”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Heart rate variability: A new way to track well-being.”
- Mayo Clinic: “Chronic stress puts your health at risk.”
- Obesity: “Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population‐based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years.”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Why stress causes people to overeat.”
- Sleep Science: “Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions.”
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Summary.