4 Signs You’re Overworking Yourself at the Gym

fEatness has long been filled with cheesy clichés that supposedly help motivate us to work harder. “Feel the glow.” “Go hard or go home.” “Pain is weakness that leaves the body.” The thinking is that if we put in more effort, we will see results faster.

But more is not always better, especially when it comes to exercise. Consistently engaging in rigorous workouts day after day or dialing the intensity too high can push our bodies over the edge.

Kevin M. According to Cronin, PT, ATC, JSCC, a physical therapist and owner of ARC Physical Therapy in Illinois, “exercise difficulty is when the body is doing more than it can handle without triggering its own protective fascial reflexes.” This can lead to any number of painful conditions, from mild and transient to chronic and severe, he adds.

When physical stress is not balanced with proper rest, injury and tissue breakdown can occur. Whether you’re lifting heavy weights or training for a triathlon, there are several telltale red flags that could indicate you’re overdoing it in the gym, says Karina Wu, DPT, OCS, a New York-based physical therapist. Here are four that sports therapists want you to keep an eye on—and some information on what you can do to help your body recover if you’ve taken things too far.

4 Signs You’re Overdoing It at the Gym

1. Burning pain

A burning pain (you know, more intense than what you normally feel when lifting heavy weights) can be an indicator of a possible muscle strain, says Dr. Cronin. Any painful type of burning, or pain that doesn’t go away with rest “could be tendinitis, or worse, an actual tear,” he says. He recommends stopping immediately the moment you start to feel any strain: whether in a joint or a muscle, uncomfortable pain is your body’s way of telling you the activity may be too intense.

2. Extreme sweating or excessively red cheeks

Profuse sweating, an unusually hot flushed face and increasingly poor coordination are all possible signs of heat exhaustion. “Drink water, and lie down with a cold pack or compress on the forehead and or back of the neck,” recommends Dr. Cronin.

3. Severe muscle cramps or pain

When too much lactic acid builds up in your muscles, it can reduce the tissues’ ability to contract, leading to fatigue and a feeling of heaviness in the limbs, Dr. Wu said. Lactic acid builds up as a result of high-intensity exercise, and occurs when muscles don’t have enough oxygen to break down lactate. This is the body’s way of telling us that it cannot physically continue exercising.

Severe overexertion can also lead to rhabdomyolysis, “where the muscle fibers break down and enter the bloodstream,” he adds. “There will be associated muscle pain, weakness, and brown or dark urine color.” With overexertion muscle soreness, you may feel the pain while working the stretched muscles, but with rhabdomyolysis, the pain is worse even at rest.

4. Mood and diarrhea

When the body has too much lactic acid, it can cause a metabolic imbalance, which can affect our mood, appetite, and even digestion, “which can lead to poor gastrointestinal tract and food processing,” says Dr. Wu.

What to do if you overdo it at the gym

1. Rest

If you’re not feeling 100 percent, the best you can do for your body is lay in some Netflix time and skip the gym until your body feels back to normal. Dr. Cronin recommends making the most of your recovery time by applying ice to any sore body parts after exercise and massaging sore muscles to improve blood flow.

2. Hydrate

It is essential to replenish the fluids you lose during exercise so that your body can begin the repair process. “The rule of thumb is one ounce of water a day for every two pounds of body weight,” says Dr. Cronin. For example, if a person weighs 150 pounds, he recommends drinking 75 ounces of water per day on non-exercise days, plus more during workouts.

3. Invest in bodywork from a professional

“If you engage in repetitive strenuous exercise such as triathlons or CrossFit competitions, it may be helpful to see an active release technique practitioner to help reduce the effects of scar tissue on the body from long-term abuse of such activities,” Dr. Cronin recommends. It might not be a relaxing massage, but you’ll feel better afterwards.

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