Are you getting too much exercise?
Health experts recommend moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week. So, you may be surprised to learn that you can get too much exercise. If you exercise often and find that you are often tired, or your performance suffers, it may be time to back off for a bit.
Learn the signs that you may be exercising too much. Find out how to keep your competitive edge without overdoing it.
How too Much Exercise can Hurt
To get stronger and faster, you need to push your body. But you also need to rest.
Rest is an important part of training. It allows your body to recover for your next workout. When you do not get enough rest, it can lead to poor performance and health problems.
Pushing too hard for too long can backfire. Here are some symptoms of too much exercise:
- Being unable to perform at the same level
- Needing longer periods of rest
- Feeling tired
- Being depressed
- Having mood swings or irritability
- Having trouble sleeping
- Feeling sore muscles or heavy limbs
- Getting overuse injuries
- Losing motivation
- Getting more colds
- Losing weight
- Feeling anxiety
If you have been exercising a lot and have any of these symptoms, cut back on exercise or rest completely for 1 or 2 weeks. Often, this is all it takes to recover.
If you are still tired after 1 or 2 weeks of rest, see your health care provider. You may need to keep resting or dial back your workouts for a month or longer. Your provider can help you decide how and when it is safe to start exercising again.
How to Avoid Overtraining
You can avoid overdoing it by listening to your body and getting enough rest. Here are some other ways to make sure you are not overdoing it:
- Eat enough calories for your level of exercise.
- Decrease your workouts before a competition.
- Drink enough water when you exercise.
- Aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Do not exercise in extreme heat or cold.
- Cut back or stop exercising when you don't feel well or are under a lot of stress.
- Rest for at least 6 hours in between periods of exercise. Take a full day off every week.
For some people, exercise can become a compulsion. This is when exercise is no longer something you choose to do, but something you feel like you have to do. Here are some signs to look for:
- You feel guilty or anxious if you do not exercise.
- You continue to exercise, even if you are injured or sick.
- Friends, family, or your provider are worried about how much you exercise.
- Exercise is no longer fun.
- You skip work, school, or social events to exercise.
- You stop having periods (women).
Compulsive exercise may be associated with eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. It can cause problems with your heart, bones, muscles, and nervous system.
When to Call a Medical Professional
Contact your provider if you:
- Have signs of overtraining after 1 or 2 weeks of rest
- Have signs of being a compulsive exerciser
- Feel out of control about how much you exercise
- Feel out of control about how much you eat
Your provider may recommend that you see a counselor who treats compulsive exercise or eating disorders. Your provider or counselor may use one or more of these treatments:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Antidepressant medicines
- Support groups
Howard TM, O'Connor FG. Overtraining. In: Madden CC, Putukian M, McCarty EC, Young CC, eds.. Netter's Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 28.
Hryvniak D, Wilder RP, Jenkins J, Statuta SM. Therapeutic exercise. In: Cifu DX, ed. Braddom's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 15.
Last reviewed on: 8/15/2022
Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.