On paper, losing weight seems simple: Eat less, move more. So why are most people not seeing results?
While there are many possible reasons or combination of reasons – people are stressed, only half-heartedly committed, short on money and time, or living with chronic medical conditions – one reason tends to be overlooked: Some people are working out too much.
In the past few years, I have seen a huge change in the fitness world and the way we work out. We have become obsessed with more exercise – more cardio, heavier weights, stricter diets and more classes. I’ve seen it with my clients and my students. It’s become an all-or-nothing way of thinking. Like an Olympic sprinter, they blast off from the starting block and give maximum effort with their focus on the finish line. Only this isn’t a 100-meter dash, and they aren’t Usain Bolt.
The problem? If you do three classes in one day or add an extra hour of cardio, slash your calorie intake, attend the most hyped class in your city and weigh and measure yourself weekly, at some point, you hit a wall. You gain weight, you slack off in your classes, you get discouraged, your life seems defined by how many classes you can do and you are out of control. And, guess what? You give up. It’s a cycle that ultimately leads nowhere.
So, put on the brakes, go for a (short, easy) jog and give yourself the opportunity to be successful. Ask yourself: Are your workouts really working?
First, consider how much energy you’re expending working out versus doing other activities like walking to work, taking the stairs, cleaning your house and mowing the lawn. All these things burn calories, too. Yes, taking two spin classes in a row torches calories, but what’s the point if you can barely keep your eyes open 30 minutes later? You end up telling yourself that it’s OK to put off cleaning the house or walking to the park, and you miss out on all the other ways to expend your energy.
Next, think about how you feel after long, intense workouts. Chances are you are famished. Fueling your body is crucial to aiding the recovery process, but after overtraining at a high intensity for too long, you are more likely to experience food cravings, decreased self-control and lower metabolism. In other words, you’re more likely to grab that piece of cake or finish a bag of your favorite potato chips – and quickly counteract any caloric deficit you worked so hard to achieve.
Finally, by approaching your workouts like a sprinter, you’re setting your body up for burnout. While you may feel fine at the beginning, eventually, your knees will start to ache, you won’t be able to get rid of your cold and you’ll end up spending more time in physical therapy than in the gym. That’s because without adequate recovery, your central nervous system sends out signals designed to protect your body. As a result, fatigue will set in, and your muscles will start to feel weak and tired. Instead of sprinting, you’ll be dragging yourself to the finish line.
So what do you do?
1. Listen to your body.
If you’re always feeling achy, tired and unmotivated, listen to what your body is telling you. Maybe it’s time to skip that second spin class or boot camp. Instead, schedule in some other activities that require energy. Take a long walk in the park, play with your kids or go out for a night of dancing. By listening to your body, you are helping yourself stay on track and giving yourself the opportunity to be happier while doing so.
2. Ask yourself why.
Ask yourself why you might have gotten into the habit of overtraining to begin with. If it makes you feel happy and gives you the high you crave, find something else that might make you happy like a massage, a tap class or a casual basketball game with friends. If you’re just a “go hard or go home” type of person, remember that going hard requires adequate recovery time. Treat yourself to a spa day or replace your workout with a day of stretching.
3. Know that less is sometimes more.
When it comes to being successful and reaching your goals, it’s important to find balance. It’s OK to have those intense days, as long as you balance them out with something that will challenge your body in a different way. Work out for short, intense periods, try a Pilates class or go for a swim. Remember, better health is a process that takes time. It’s not always easy, but with the right amount and intensity of exercise, a healthy diet and lifestyle, every day you will be a step closer to your goals.