Regular workouts are, naturally, good for your health. As the University of Michigan’s Health Service points out, the benefits of a regular exercise program include everything from reduction in stress, anxiety, tension, fatigue and depression to weight maintenance to improved self-esteem. However, too much of any good thing can be the opposite of good — and this is especially true when it comes to exercise.
As fitness culture increasingly dominates our social feeds, there’s growing pressure (whether real or perceived) to work out more often and more intensely than is actually advantageous to our bodies, personal trainer Corey Berger pointed out to Health Digest.
The result? We’re seeing more and more people overexercising (aka overtraining), which Berger defined as working out so often and/or so intensely that the body does not have the chance to recover in between workouts. The result is, in a word, stress. And that stress plays out on one’s body, mind, and emotional well-being. Here’s a look at what could happen if you work out too much.
When you work out too much, you risk becoming dehydrated
The problem with thirst is that we don’t actually feel it until were way past thirsty. In fact, we only start to feel thirsty when we are already technically dehydrated, which means that the body has lost more water than has been replaced. According to the Merck Manual, adults should drink at least six glasses of fluids per day. However, that intake should be increased in the event of prolonged exercise. Our body’s need for water also increases in hot weather, when our own temperature is elevated, and when we’re following an eating plan that discourages the eating of fruits, such as the keto diet.
It’s normal to be thirsty after a workout, but if you’re working out excessively and not drinking enough, especially if you’re following the keto diet, it could lead to a chronic state of dehydration, certified personal trainer Carol Michaels told Health Digest. Chronic dehydration can harm the kidneys and lead to other problems like hypertension and even dementia.
You could get injured if you work out too much
Working out too often, too intensely, or with too much emphasis on one muscle group is a set-up for physical injury, which can happen in various ways, according to physical therapist Heather Jeffcoat. For example, there’s acute injury, such as a sudden muscle tear while exercising. Acute injuries can happen for any number of reasons that relate to overtraining, including fatigue. There is also cumulative injury, which occurs over time as a result of repetition. An example is a stress fracture, which is a small break in a bone (oftentimes the foot) that results from the application of repetitive force.
Training certain muscle groups to the exclusion of others can increase your risk for both cumulative and acute injuries. Among Jeffcoat’s patients that work out too much, tendinitis is common. Tendinitis is an inflammation of the tissue connecting muscle to bone. It’s a classic sign of doing “too much too soon,” Jeffcoat told Health Digest, which is to say exercising more than your own body can handle at any given time.
Working out too much could prevent results
Ironically, when you work out too much, you risk seeing your returns diminish over time, certified personal trainer Anna Em told Health Digest. In the short term, overtraining can lead to persistent muscle soreness and fatigue. In some cases, it can even lead even to “adrenal insufficiency,” a hormonal condition associated with fatigue and muscle weakness, among other symptoms. In either case, the quality of the workout diminishes until the body is finally rewarded with some much deserved rest.
Overtraining can be counterproductive in the long term as well. Em noted that overtraining often leads to a period of days, weeks, or even months during which it becomes seemingly impossible to muster the strength to even show up for a workout, let alone perform at the level needed to continue to see gains.
The result is, at best, a plateau. More likely, there will be some degree of loss of results previously gained. What follows is often an overzealous return to exercise following an all-too-brief rest. Unfortunately, the markers for overtraining appear only after the damage has already been done, which means the best way to avoid it is to ensure you give yourself adequate rest and time to recover between workouts.