In the fitness world, there’s a subjectively thin line between what is lauded as a healthy relationship with health and fitness and what would be considered a dangerous obsession. And I don’t use the phrase “dangerous obsession” lightly, as I’ve witnessed firsthand the kind of damage that compulsory dieting and exercising can do to a person.
I’ve seen a competitive dancer and runner suffer from shins-down stress fractures all throughout her college career because she preferred to be fueled by diet pills, energy drinks and Lean Cuisines for fear that food, water and rest would derail her dancing dreams.
I’ve watched the painful recovery of a twenty-something CrossFitter whose patella snapped clean in half because her body — under-nourished, over-trained and extremely fatigued — had entered into a survival-based premenopausal state, causing her bones to become weak and brittle.
I’ve listened as friends bemoan endlessly about how their bodies can never recover from a workout, yet they refuse to rest or eat the necessary amount of food their bodies need in order to sustain their hyper active lifestyles. These are the same people who hit a progress plateau and then hop to the next gym, race or challenge to avoid confronting their pain — chalking it up to the type of sport they were practicing instead of listening to their depleted bodies.
The tough part about having a preoccupation with health and fitness is that it’s a sneaky snowball. What began as an honest hobby, slowly over time grew into a lifestyle, then devolved into an addiction. So, what are some signs that you or someone you know might be snowballing their way into stress fractures or snapped knee caps, and what can you do to help thwart physical and psychological damage? Grab an ergonomic chair and let’s discuss.
Before we get to the state of overtraining, there is something called overreaching. Overreaching is a temporary condition that occurs in response to heavy loads or high-intensity work performed more frequently (and longer) than appropriate and without adequate rest. Signs and symptoms of overreaching are things like poor sleep, generally feeling under the weather and moodiness. What makes overreaching tricky is that it often does not have any significant impact on athletic performance. So, if undetected or unaddressed, overreaching can quickly spiral into overtraining.
Overtraining is a chronic condition of extreme fatigue that can result in serious disorders involving the nervous and hormonal systems. Overtraining builds on overreaching and is induced by prolonged, high-volume, high-intensity exercise repeated, again, without adequate rest. Signs and symptoms of overtraining include poor sleep or insomnia, increased anxiety and/or depression, muscle and general fatigue, constantly being sick, loss of menstrual cycles in women, appetite loss and more.
Dr. Roman Fomin, a senior research scientist and associate professor of physiology, compared overreaching and overtraining to traffic lights: “If you see the yellow light, slow down and be alert. If you notice a red light, stop and help your body recover without delay.”
Say you’ve been unknowingly overreaching, and you’re on the brink of overtraining — how can you proactively and productively pause at the yellow light so a temporary condition doesn’t become chronic? Here are three action steps:
So, if right now you’re readying your nightly ibuprofen and popping the cups off your IT bands, going on day five in the gym and feeling generally unenthusiastic about your next workout — perhaps it’s time for a priority shift.
About the Author
Sadie Flynn is a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer and former collegiate athlete with a penchant for power lifts. As a new mom, Sadie is deeply passionate about pregnant and postpartum fitness and wellness, and she works hard to help women take care of their bodies before, during and after birth. When she’s not coaching at CrossFit Renew or forcing her 90s alternative music beliefs upon you, you can find her somewhere outside with a beer, her husband, two dogs and their rambunctious toddler.