Can exercise get too hard?

Can exercise get too hard?

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A great question from a client a few weeks ago.

Marilyn was keen to start a routine to manage her blood pressure, increasing waist line and pesky knee pain.

She was concerned and apprehensive (as many of my clients are initially).

What would I suggest? What would I "make" her do?

Marilyn shared that she had found it difficult to consistently exercise in the past. She had tried a few different gyms, and had also tried a few different group sessions over the years. On reflection, she reported that often not long after she started to exercise, she was left feeling sore and exhausted after her sessions.

"No pain, no gain" she had told herself.

"This pain must be getting me results.." she thought.

However, continuing to push through her discomfort in these instances just led to her feeling worse and worse. Her knee pain didn't settle down, and she was often feeling just generally sore and uncomfortable after her gym sessions. The motivation to keep pushing through her pain dwindled away.

"I guess I'm just lazy" she had said.

This presents a reasonably common conundrum.

Like Marilyn, many people find that starting an exercise regime is far from a pleasant experience. Now, I'm not saying exercise is meant to be all unicorns and rainbows and a degree of discomfort can be expected when starting anything new! But there can be instances where the type, intensity or duration of the exercise performed can make someone feel pretty rubbish. With motivation very closley linked to our degree of "comfort" and also to whether we feel we are achieving the desired outcomes from our actions, it is no surprise that Marilyn didn't feel capable of continuing her exercise regime in the past.

Despite all the great benefits we know that regular exercise can deliver, below are some potential warning signs that your program isn't quite right.

  • Muscle soreness that lasts for >72 hours

Feeling like you have pushed yourself in a session is great, but if your soreness or that general heaviness in your muscles lasts more than a couple of days post exercise session, then you are likely pushing too hard. Our muscles need rest as well as good nutrition and hydration to adequately recover from exercise. If recovery is remaining elusive or non-existant, it's worth looking at what you are doing and potentially scaling things back.

  • You start feeling tired or irritable most of the time

Exercise definitely gets us using energy and one can expect to sleep pretty soundly after a challenging session. On the flip side, if you find that your sleep routine or general energy levels are worse after commencing an exercise program, this may also be a sign that your body isn't responding well to your new effort levels. There can also be subtle changes to your mood which may be hard to detect yourself, but can often be picked up by your partner or work collegues!

  • An increase in headaches, neck or back pain

Extra tension can be carried in these areas when we are learning new things or pushing our limits. Muscles around our neck can also get overused if we are low in confidence or anxious about how we are doing something. It's important that strengthening exercises in particluar are performed with good technique and with the appropriate amount of weight to avoid placing excessive loads through your back and neck.

So back to Marilyn.

After listening to her concerns and previous exercise attempts, I realised that we would need to start SLOW. As motivated as Marilyn was, I explained to her that pacing her activity and building up gradually was going to help ensure her success. I explained to Marilyn that a program done consistently that is progressed in small increments over time tends to achieve more sustainable results than her previous all or nothing approach. My clients and collegues get sick of me talking about pacing, but it seriously works!! Starting slow and building up gradually can really help avoid some of the detrimental effects that exercise can induce.

In addition to our pacing strategies, we really focused on her exercise technique. Any of the strength exercises I asked Marilyn to do, we performed together in the clinic. I used an I-pad to video her movements to help ensure she understood how to do them correctly. We also now give our clients their exercise regime in video format so we can allow them the best chance of performing their routine well when they are at home or the gym.

I hope this approach serves Marilyn well. Although it's still early days, she is so far consistent in performing her routine without the previous levels of pain she had come to expect with training.

So remember, movement should leave you feeling pretty good! And although a degree of muscle pain and stiffness is completely normal when starting out, no-one should be feeling significantly worse off after commencing an exercise program. It's important to find a good coach, EP or PT who is happy to listen to your body and is willing to work with you to achieve your goals. 

As always we are here to help! Let us know if you aren't sure about your current regime. 

Happy training!


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