When quarantine first began, it was easy to imagine your fitness goals going up in smoke. You decided to buck the trend and actually get into dance cardio Zooms for the first time in your life. Now, you feel weird if you don't get out for your five mile run. Even if you expected to fall behind with your workouts, you may well be exercising too much during quarantine.
"Because this time of quarantine can be stressful, it's easy to want to exercise harder in order to release stress," says Mecayla Froerer, a certified personal trainer and director of at-home personal training community iFit Training. "This can lead to too much exercise, which will leave you feeling drained and could potentially lead to injury."
Plenty of folks can safely exercise every day if they're getting enough sleep, fueling their body well, and minimizing outside stress in their lives. But minimizing outside stress might not be possible, between COVID, work stress, and the hypervisibility of police brutality. The higher your stress levels, the more likely it is that you'll accidentally slip into overtraining.
How can you tell if you're overdoing it with the virtual boot camp classes? Check in with yourself to see if the more you work out, the less rewards you seem to be getting. If part of you is all let's work out it'll make us feel better, but the rest of your mind and body are screaming not today, that might be a strong clue that you need to take a child's pose and rest. "If you find yourself experiencing any type of muscle or joint pain, sustained muscle soreness, extreme fatigue, elevated heart rate and blood pressure at rest, difficulty sleeping, decreased performance and strength, changes in your menstrual cycle, extreme loss of body weight, or lack of motivation, you may be working out too much," Froerer says.
If you're already prone to experiencing depression, overtraining can be hard to recognize. You might want to start an exercise journal to help you keep tabs on the workouts you're doing alongside how you're feeling. The more meticulous you are about tracking how much you're working out versus how much you're resting, the better you can understand what might be going on in your body.
"As a general rule, three days a week in a program should help maintain your fitness, and four days a week effects change," says Eric von Frohlich, certified trainer and founder of boutique fitness concept Row House. "Five to six days a week should be on a periodized program (alternating upper and lower body work, etc.) to help maximize results." Alternating your intensity levels and workout type will also help you avoid overtraining — think gentle yoga or a long walk instead of hard bike riding the day after an intense cardio kickboxing class.
If you want to maximize the mental health benefits of your quarantine workouts, prioritize rest rather than the next hardcore bout of exercise. "The body adapts to be stronger and faster not when exercising, but when resting," says David Roche, a coach for the running coaching community Some Work, All Play and running and cycling app Strava. "Combine that with food and sleep, and the body can adapt long-term. If you eat plenty, take some time off, and sleep, your body can do some amazing things with almost any workout you throw at it."
Even though working out can be a great coping mechanism, relying too much on your sweat sessions for your mental health isn't a replacement for actual therapy. If you're overtraining because you're trying to de-stress yourself, reaching out to a therapist might be a less risky way to help yourself feel better.
Your body can adapt to working out as much and as hard as you want it to, as long as you're increasing your training load gradually and you're getting enough sleep and food. A holistic approach to your exercise routine is going to be more sustainable for both your body and your mind, and you deserve that all-encompassing self-care.
Mecayla Froerer, certified personal trainer, director of iFit Training
David Roche, coach for Some Work, All Play and running coach for Strava