Every fitness journey is as unique as the individuals embarking on them. But I like to think that you and I (and anyone else who's breaking a sweat on the reg) share a common goal: to better our bodies — not to work them into the ground. Eventually, however, the thrill of being able to lift heavy, heavier, and heavier still, or sprinting on a treadmill to make it to three miles in under 15 minutes is going to make you feel invincible. This is all well and good, but be on the lookout for the signs your workout is too intense, because if you’re anything like me, that invincibility will motivate you to start pushing your body to new limits. Ergo, you have to keep in mind that while breaking a sweat and surpassing your personal best can be so satisfying, injury and fatigue are anything but.
When it comes to anything physical, it’s important to know your limits. It’s also crucial to know when to test them, and when to backtrack a little bit (or, you know, a lot a bit). Granted, this is sometimes easier said than done, because let’s face it: When you’re on a roll, you want to keep that ball rolling.
Sleep science and wearable tech expert Will Ahmed, the CEO and founder of leading human performance company, WHOOP, puts it this way: Overtraining runs your body down, and while it’s OK to go hard for a day or two, continuously overtraining puts your body at risk for injury.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about doing one intense workout, and from a psychological standpoint, I think it’s good for you to be able to overcome periods where your body feels like it wants to stop, but you can overcome it,” Ahmed tells Elite Daily. Pushing your body to extremes on a daily basis, however, isn’t such a great idea.
So how can you tell the difference between a workout that challenges you, and a workout that pushes you too hard? Here are some of the most obvious signs, according to experts.
1. You’re Feeling The Wrong Kind Of Burn
You know that age-old saying, "If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen"? Well, if you're body's feeling the wrong type of burn, it's time to reevaluate your workout.
What's the difference between normal soreness and legitimate pain? Physical therapist Dr. Karena Wu tells Elite Daily over email that if you'd describe the pain you're feeling as sharp, intense, or lingering, or if it "gives you pause to think about if that is normal," it's not.
Adding to Wu's point, Marka Health owner and therapist, Lindsay McGraw PT, DPT, OCS, CEAS, RYT explains that, typically, delayed onset of muscle soreness comes on anywhere between 24 to 48 hours after a workout. If you're sore immediately after a workout or within hours afterward, "you probably pushed it more than necessary."
2. Your Form Is Way Off
When a workout is too intense, that's usually a sign that it's also too advanced for your skill set. If the moves you're performing are outside your comfort zone, it'll show in the strain on your face and through your incorrect form.
“If you fatigue quickly during exercise, you will not be able to stabilize (control motion) and work multiple muscle groups," Wu tells Elite Daily. In other words, if you tire quickly because the exercise is too intense for you, your muscles won't have control over the situation. This will ultimately lead to poor form, Wu adds, and the "recruitment of synergistic muscles which are not the primary movers of that motion." The end result? Incorrect movements, stances, and potential injury.
3. You’re Over-Exercising A Specific Muscle Group
Keep in mind that too much of anything is never a good thing — especially when it comes to exercise. There are certain styles of exercise that, if done on a regular basis, will no doubt lead to a state of physical exhaustion. The golden rule of thumb, says Trammell Logan — master SoulCycle instructor, founder of East Side Dance Company as well as #MoveWithMell at Bandier’s Studio B — is to not work one specific muscle group more than once a week.
"For example, doing weight lift training multiple times a day or for consecutive days straight on biceps will exhaust the muscles, compromise your body's healing time, and deplete muscle growth.” Logan tells Elite Daily. Therefore, instead of going all in on one specific body part, in order to make your workout less intense, make a conscious effort to mix things up.
4. The Recovery Process Is Longer Between Workouts
Listen, I love a rest day just as much as the next person, and if you don't feel like working out today, tomorrow, or the next day, then do you, boo. But if your workout is too intense, rest days become a necessity — not a luxury. And in order to fully recover, you might benefit from a few extra days of rest and relaxation.
"If your workout is too intense, it will require additional resources for healing, taking longer time to recover (ie sore for many days) and/or divert energy from other body systems," McGraw tells Elite Daily. "So it is not unreasonable to say that an intense workout may result in a change in mood, appetite, or confidence, as you may not have the energy to give to those systems."
5. Your Immune System Is Shot
Feeling under the weather? Your workout might have something to do with it. That might sound contradictory, considering one of the many benefits of exercising on the reg is to build up your immunity. However, Eric Bowling, a NASM- certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance Los Angeles tells Elite Daily that the more you work out, and the harder you work out, the more difficult it is for your body to repair itself, thus resulting in some negative side effects, like a weakened immune system.
“The more you work out, the greater your needs for protein, as your body requires more nutrients than the average lay person in order to repair the damage that was done during the workout," Bowling explains. And if you aren't meeting your body's minimum needs for certain nutrients, but are still undergoing these intense workouts, your immune system will be in trouble.
"Increasing activity, while not hitting your body’s minimum needs for things such as protein, can have a negative impact on the immune system by keeping cortisol levels elevated for too long, and suppressing antibodies such as immunoglobulin, which helps to fight off diseases and infections," Bowling says. Translation: Too intense of a workout and too little nutrients can cause some major health issues.
6. You’re Tired AF Outside Of The Gym
Listen, if you're working hard at the gym, you'll be a little sore and you'll feel a little tired. That's totally normal. What isn't normal is if you feel so completely wiped out that even the most mundane of tasks feel like an uphill battle.
“If you are noticing that in everyday situations you are more tired than usual, and day-to-day activities are being affected as a result of your exercise routine, then this could highlight that you are pushing too hard," Adnan Munye, a certified personal trainer, nutritionist, and founder of AMMFitness.co.uk, tells Elite Daily.
At that point, your first order of business is to take a nap. The second, reevaluate your workout schedule for the sake of your sleep health, but also for the sake of everything that's affected by your sleep health.
"Working out too hard for too long without resting [aka sleep] can translate to a sickness that you just cant kick," Reid Eichelberger, the head trainer at EverybodyFights in Philadelphia tells Elite Daily. "Irritability, depression and even insomnia are often a sign as well," he adds, so it's critical that you take the intensity down a notch.
7. You’re Literally Hangry
Personally, I'm hangry whether my workout was hella intense, or if I just haven't eaten in three hours. But according to Munye, that need-to-eat-now urgency is a tell-tale sign that your workouts are too intense, because your body's trying to refuel after expelling so much energy.
“If you are training too hard and not able to feed your body with enough — and the right — nutrients to support this, you will find that you're constantly hungrier than usual, which can also make you feel angry and agitated," Munye says. "Likewise, you will most likely feel fatigued most of the time, which will reduce your performance greatly.”