The perils of overtraining

THE rule of thumb on exercise says you should exercise for 30 minutes daily, at medium to high intensity.

Another rule says you should do at least one session of strength training per week.

To give perspective, walking is considered a low intensity activity, and so is gardening, or even washing a car.

Then again, depending on age and obesity status, these may be considered medium intensity for some.

If you live in a cosmopolitan city like London or New York, walking as a form of transportation is very much a culture. So is cycling.

In our part of the world, neither walking nor cycling is part of our lifestyle, and that has contributed to us becoming the No.1 obese country in Southeast Asia.

Well, it is not really our fault, as we live a mere centimetre from the equator, and it can get pretty stuffy under the collar just walking for a few minutes outdoors.

Fortunately, some of us do try our best to maintain our physical health, and sometimes, that dedication can get obsessive.

The goal of exercise is to stress the body's muscles enough to make them stronger.

However, as with most things in life, excessive exercise can be harmful if your body is not given adequate time to heal itself.

Every day, thousands of people put themselves in harm's way by exercising just a little too much.

They hit the track, gym, court, or pool with such determination that they hurt themselves, or burn out.

Overtraining in this way can lead to injuries, and may cause physical, mental, and psychological damage, and even lead to death in some extreme cases.

The need to be constantly in training is also considered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

And don't just think that this affects overenthusiastic newbies. Overtraining is just as big a risk for seasoned athletes.

Keep in mind that overtraining takes more than just a single, extra tough workout session.

It is a pattern of repeated, excessive exercise, without proper rest intervals, performed until the body breaks. It can just easily be called under-recovering.

I like to think that it's just over exercising.

If you are wondering whether you are currently overtraining/under-recovering, obvious signs are abrupt injuries like a tweaking spasm in the spine, knee, or ankle joint.

Most important of all, you find that you are making no progress in your fitness level, and getting no results even after an extended period of exercise.

If these signs hit a little too close to home, you should ensure that getting proper rest and recuperation be part your training.

Here are some insightful strategies to "treating" overtraining:

Change your routine. Getting more rest is good, but you can also reduce some portions of your exercise routine – number of days/ degree of intensity/weight/distance/ reps.

Add some variety. Playing the same sports, using the same machines, and never changing your exercise routine, can overstress some muscles and leave others at risk of injury.

Strengthen all your muscle groups by doing more compound exercises, and vary your weekly exercise routine to maintain a sense of challenge.

Try alternate activities. Hiking, rock climbing, and dancing are fun, yet challenging activities that work wonders for the mind and body.

Don't be afraid to try new sports. For example, if you are a runner, spend some time biking or swimming.

Above all, don't place unreasonable demands on your body to the point of over exercising. Why?

Because it is not just your muscles that need to rest and recover, it's your body as a whole, from your joints to your tendons, to your central nervous system. And this is a point most people miss completely, or just ignore altogether.

Jonathan Tan is the Club Manager of the Sports Toto Fitness Centre at Berjaya Times Square. He can be contacted at