Given that we're currently in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are finding we have more time available to work out. Whether you're into running in the great outdoors or joining online fitness classes, we all know that getting regular exercise is important not only for physical health, but that it offers huge mental benefits, too.
But how do you know if you're doing too much exercise? And how often should we actually be working out? Well, according to the UK's NHS guidelines, everybody between the ages of 19 and 64 should partake in at least 150 minutes of medium intensity activity a week, or 75 minutes of high intensity activity a week.
Their guidelines also encourage the general public to be physically active every day, if possible, and to incorporate strengthening activities (that involve the major major muscles) at least twice a week.
To get some more advice on this topic, including the signs to look out for from you're body that show you're pushing yourself too hard on the exercise front, we asked personal trainer and nutritionist, Pennie Vavarides.
Is there such a thing as working out too much?
Yes! Especially if you're bored, says Pennie. "The general rule of thumb to follow is do something everyday, but not something hard every day," she adds. "And if something doesn't feel right, don't push through." If you do, it could lead to an injury – the expression "no pain, no gain" definitely isn't always applicable.
So, what sort of signs should you be watching out for on the overdoing it front? "If you're doing a lot of running or HIIT, you might start to feel niggles in your knees, hips and ankles," says Pennie. "Impact compounds and what might feel fine on day one, might be a problem by day 20 or 30." Given that many of us are now turning our living rooms into HIIT studios and running because we're unsure what else we can do, it can be easy for joints to suffer. "Volume control matters. You need to build up slowly, sometimes painfully slowly. If you want to start running, don't go straight into doing a 5K, even if your friends do keep tagging you in challenges encouraging that."
Should you do a mix of exercises or workouts?
As we've already touched upon, getting in a variety of different fitness methods into your routine is super important. "I definitely wouldn't be doing HIIT every day—unless you've been doing that for a long time already and built up to it so your joints don't hate you," notes Pennie. "I also wouldn't be running every day (again, unless you've already built up a tolerance)."
Instead, she advises focussing on doing some kind of daily mobility practice, wherein you make sure you put your joints' full range into practice. "This could be through yoga, or an animal flow, or even be having a daily dance," Pennie advises. "Then, I'd say do some strength training three or four times a week (lifting weights or bodyweight work - think squats, deadlifts, push ups, pull ups etc). If you also want to do HIIT (which isn't mandatory), maybe try just 20 minutes once or twice a week."
If you're a runner, adding two strength sessions into your routine, alongside a couple of runs, will put you in good stead. "What your week looks like is up to you, but the key thing is that you're enjoying it." Whatever your go-tos are, vary the intensity and include strength training and mobility work in your week, so that your joints are always well prepared.
How many rest days should you have?
"You can definitely do something every day if you want to, it just shouldn't all be challenging," says Pennie, adding that rest days could mean focussing only on mobility, taking a gentle walk or going a bike ride. "You can obviously also spend a couple of days a week not doing anything at all, if you want to. But resting doesn't mean you have to sit still. You can recover from your training and still take a walk or move your body."
What are the risks of doing too much exercise?
First and foremost, injury. "It's a common story: person wants to do everything, rushes into doing more than they can handle, gets hurt," says Pennie, who once injured her knees by running more than she could handle. "It happens to the best of us."
Ego causes a lot of problems, she adds. "Your tendons and ligaments take longer to grow than your muscles do, so it can feel frustrating taking it easier than you want to, when you know that you could probably do something in the moment – but if you feel any pain in your joints the next day, you know it was too much and you should listen to that and adjust." If you ignore signs from your body and keep pushing too hard, you could end up causing a far greater problem further down the road.
In extreme cases, your period could also be effected by overtraining, by a condition called amenorrhea. "Periods can stop due to insufficient energy," Pennie explains. "If you train too much and don't eat enough, your body responds by shutting down essential functions to save energy. Your reproductive system is one of those things, as you wouldn't be able to grow a healthy baby at the moment anyway." It's often combined with under eating or disordered eating.
While not having a period might not sound like the worst thing in the world, it can lead to all sorts of other problems, such as mood swings, sleeping problems and issues with cognition. There's also a huge knock on effect to bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis.
Pennie runs daily online mobility classes at 12.15pm, see her Instagram for more details.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.