So, you've finally learned to love the gym.
The front desk greets you by name, and you've mastered avoiding that old sweaty guy who never stops talking to you.
In fact, if you skip a day of working out, you feel off-balance.
This is the perfect place to be, but don't let your love for toning and tightening become the reason you stop seeing results and — even worse — gain back the fat you once lost.
I know you're thinking, “The more I work out, the more weight I will lose. So stop with your lies, devil woman!”
And you are mostly right, especially the devil woman part. But if you are hitting a plateau, it could be because you're overstressing your body.
Before we move forward, I want to make sure you won't let this article be an excuse to stop pumping iron completely.
Sweating it out is a great way to get a lean, fit body, while also releasing the natural happy chemicals in our brains, which are way more healthy and legal than drugs.
If you make it to the gym two to three times a week, this is most likely not a problem you need to worry about.
But if you are pushing your body to the limit five times a week, it may be time for you to take a step back and consider these three points:
1. Working out harder for longer isn't better.
I've been taking the same boxing class every Monday for three years, and I'd always wondered why the people who stayed to do a second class weren't in better shape than me.
Often times, people have a goal weight and want to get there fast, so they add another hour to their routine. I commend anyone for that level of dedication because I know when my timer hits that 60-minute mark, I'm in the shower by minute 60.02.
In theory, working out longer to burn more calories is the right way to go, but if you're not giving your body time to recover, it could cause stress which activates the hormone cortisol. Those who are familiar with cortisol know it's can cause stubborn belly fat also known as adipose tissue.
Let's say you have a crazy, eight-hour day at work, and then you run to the gym and do an intense, two-hour workout.
By the time you get home, you've just spent 10 hours in fight or flight mode, and there has been non-stop cortisol flood running through your veins.
Times that by five days a week, and you have yourself a fatigue cocktail (sadly without the benefits of alcohol).
On top of that, research shows that continuous, intense workouts without the proper recovery can cause your body to start eating up your muscles for fuel.
So now, your body is not only storing adipose tissue, but it's also eating away at the muscles you worked so hard to gain, possibly leaving you with a high body fat percentage.
2. Going HAM at the gym can mean being lazy everywhere else.
The gym is not the only place you burn calories. You burn calories by doing regular, everyday activities, even like reading this article. (You're welcome.)
Studies have found that people who work out intensely tend to sit and lie down more often throughout the day afterward, which means they're missing out on opportunities to burn the calories they would on a normal day.
Why is that? Because our bodies are always looking out for us.
Muscle soreness for an extended period of time can cause lack of motivation. Our brains recognize when we need a break, and they force us to slow down.
So if you are working really hard at the gym, but then sitting around all day, it's likely you're coming out even on the amount of calories burned in comparison to a moderate workout day involving regular, daily activities.
If you are doing this several days in a row, you will start to notice you have less motivation.
3. You'll overcompensate with food.
If inflammation from sore muscles or becoming a sloth hasn't caused you to gain weight, then eating to compensate for lack of energy just might.
When I'm exhausted and stressed, I crave a huge, juicy cheeseburger. And it's natural for you to crave more nutrients and calories after burning a ton of them because physical activity increases the hunger hormone ghrelin.
It's very important to fuel your body with well-rounded meals, but what if you are working out to the point of exhaustion?
If you're too tired to make healthy, home-cooked meals, it could lead to binging on greasy comfort foods.
But so what if you're eating greasy food? You'll work it off because your going HAM at the gym, right? Not really.
Recent studies have revealed that stress can slow down your metabolism. So even if it's healthy food that you're shoveling in your mouth to help your muscles recover, it won't be properly metabolized and distributed.
Rest up, buttercup.
Overtraining happens when there is too much intensity back to back with no recovery.
Athletes put their bodies to the ultimate test on a regular basis, so why isn't it backfiring for them?
They continually vary between low, moderate and high intensity training, while also making recovery a priority.
If your goal is just to stay fit and live long, there is no need to workout two hours a day for five days a week. There are plenty of personal trainers who say that 30-minute workouts can be just as effective as one hour sessions.
Have fun spicing up your routine with a light jog, yoga class or leisurely bike ride between fierce workouts.
Don't forget working that bod is supposed to reduce stress, not cause it.