Part 2: Are You Recovering From Your Workouts?

( [email protected] ) Apr 14, 2006 11:38 PM EDT

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Exercise is a good outlet for stress, but not when your body is fatigued and run-down. If you’re feeling this way, a time-out and a good night’s sleep may be just the remedy you need to cure some of the following symptoms:

• Insomnia

• General chronic fatigue whether you exercise or not

• Muscle soreness

• Headaches

• Increased susceptibility to illnesses

• Irritability, sadness and anxiety

To beat stress and to obtain the most benefits from your workouts, follow these guidelines:

1. Add variety to your workouts. Maybe you have been doing the same exercise routine for the past two to three months and you are bored and unmotivated. Performing the same exercises each workout can cause muscle imbalance and soreness. Alternate the days you exercise and the amount of weight, sets, reps and exercises you do. If you are used to doing a full body program, switch to a split program that divides muscle groups. If you are accustomed to doing cardio for 30 minutes followed by 30 weights, try and complete cardio and weights on separate days so that the workout isn’t as exhausting.

2. Go harder, not longer. This sounds like a weird one. Many people believe that they need to complete at least six to eight hours of exercise in a week to lost weight, get fit or maintain their weight. You don’t need to spend endless amount of hours riding a bike, walking on a treadmill or using the elliptical machine at a very low level of intensity. You can probably burn more calories, have a greater impact on your metabolism and fitness goals by bumping up the intensity and decreasing the duration of exercise.

3. You don’t have to work hard during each workout. One of the main reasons people overtrain is because they try to push themselves to a maximum level every time they exercise. The body needs time to rest and heal and lower intensity works which include exercising at a lower heart rate range, decreasing the amount of weights lifted and the sets performed will give your body and mind a much needed break. Taking a step back and exercising at a low intensity level will also the body pump nutrient-filled blood to the parts of the body that need it most.

4. Don’t forget to replenish your fuel. When you train you deplete your energy stores so you have to replenish them by eating a diet rich in carbohydrates, protein and fat. Immediately after a workout, the body will crave fuel so that it can start the healing process. Keep a light snack such as yogurt, protein drink, protein bar and/or a few pieces of fruit in your gym bag. Eat within an hour of finishing your workout to get the healing process started and continue to eat small meals throughout the day.

5. Take a break. If you are tired and frustrated, take a week off from working, or at the very least, stay active by doing activities that you normally omit from your workouts. Go for a long walk, exercise with some rubber bands or go swimming. Just give your body a break. Also, try and workout every other day to make sure your body has time to rest and heal. If you feel the need to exercise every day or two to three days in a row, try not to schedule more than two intense training days back to back. You can train intensely three to four times a week, but make sure you get ample rest between the workouts.

How about when stress is ruining your workouts and you are too tired to train?

First step, get some sleep and if possible, take some time off work. Second step, you don’t have to do any type of formal exercise. Instead, go for long walks or engage in some fun activities with your family. If you are set on exercising, keep every workout under 15 minutes; it should be short and intense. This is just enough time to rev-up your metabolism and to give you the stress release and surge of energy you need without depleting your energy stores or stressing the body too much. Sometimes less is more! Try a 15-minute circuit training workout or 15 minutes of cardio so that you can push yourself and feel the exhilaration of movement.

Looking for Clues of Overtraining

To assess your progress and your body’s response to training, keep a close eye on some of these signals of overtraining.

• You may choose to keep a diary of your heart rate first thing in the morning to help you determine whether you are training at an appropriate level. An increase in your resting heart rate over a two- or three-day period may be a sign that you are overtraining. It is important to remember, however, that stress and other variables can also cause an increase in both your morning heart rate and blood pressure.

• Another way to track your progress is to keep a training logbook. Write down how you feel immediately after a workout, after a few hours and after a few days have passed. Chronic muscle soreness and inflammation of the joints may be signs to decrease the amount and intensity of your training. Before changing your exercise regimen, however, try implementing a few recovery techniques following your workout. Stretching is a good way to decrease injuries, relax the body at the end of the workout and assist with the removal of substances such as lactic acid and muscle debris that accumulate during training and could be impeding your recovery. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and concentrate on relaxing the muscle. Performing stretches with a workout partner or trainer is an ideal way to fully stretch the muscles and to also relax while your workout partner does his/her stretching. Anecdotal evidence suggests that stretching decreases post-workout soreness and aids in recovery.

Ten minutes or less of light aerobic activity such as walking or cycling is a great way to regenerate the body following a workout. Enjoying a nice sauna or hot shower can also help muscles relax and heal following a strenuous workout.

Take-Home Message

Life can be stressful. Your workouts should help release stress, not add more! It is important to remember that stress can be detrimental to your health and well-being; it is up to you to note any changes in your mood or well-being and to adjust your exercise program accordingly. In other words, if you feel very tired on a certain day, lighten the load or perform fewer repetitions than usual. Try to avoid the cookbook approach to training – just because your program indicates that you should be training very hard that day does not mean that you cannot adjust the program if your body is not feeling strong enough. Sometimes less is more; rest is an integral aspect of overall fitness progress.

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