Last week I wrote about the destructive effects of overtraining. I recognized that I was pushing myself too hard and not allowing enough rest in between workouts and this was actually hampering my progress.
In my last post, I put together a new weekly schedule for working out 5 hours a week with scheduled rests. This is what that looked like:
Tuesday: yoga class (1 hour)
Wednesday: calisthenics/leg and core toning (squats, lunges, crunches, etc) or upper body and core toning (planks, push-ups, crunches, etc) at home (1 hour)
Friday: riding lesson (1 hour)
Saturday: cycling class/upper body weight machines (45 mins /15 mins=total 1 hour)
Sunday: treadmill intervals/lower body weight machines (30 mins / 30 mins= total 1 hour)
Well, none of that happened.
I was actually so shot from overtraining that I ended up taking the entire week off.
The body is so adaptable that it’s very easy to miss subtle signs, or to mischaracterize them. But there were things beyond “normal” tiredness that made me see that I needed a break. Like going up more than one flight of stairs made my thigh muscles feel as exhausted as doing several sets of squats.
So what did I do on my week off? Pretty much nothing. I did some stretching before bed, took some strolls around the park, but that was about it for physical activity. I also made some changes to how I’m eating, cutting sugar (almost) entirely out and adding more lean proteins and vegetables.
The surprising thing is that during that week off, I felt better than when I was working out. I mean “better” in the sense that my body felt leaner, lighter, and tighter–all the things I was aiming for with working out so hard. Towards the end of the week I noticed visual evidence of this as well. The lesson here: the body gets stronger during recovery. Rest is essential.
This is just another part of what I’ve realized is basically my life’s work for myself: finding balance. I’ve written before about my difficulty in finding balance in how hard I push myself physically; between perfectionism and a more lackadaisical approach.
I think where this comes from is a lack of self-knowledge; I don’t honestly know my own limits. Having never tried before to really be an athlete, to make my body the best it can be, I don’t know when I’m pushing myself too hard. I don’t know what is definitively beyond my capabilities and what is simply something I need to build up to. Exercise can be deceptive because in the moment it feels like you can do something and only later when you feel the consequences do you know that you overdid it. Hunter S. Thompson put it best:
The Edge…there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.
After this week off, I see that my body was clearly telling me that I’d “gone over” with overtraining. But where? Exactly how much was too much? Now the only thing to do is slowly wade back into working out and patiently, systematically, try to find that edge so that from there I can find balance–the place where I am training only as much as I need to for performance to be optimal.