Are You Too Cocky with Your Training?
It can be difficult to consider pulling back on your workout routine, especially if you feel fantastic, look better than ever, and see results like you've never seen before. But it's right at that very moment when everything is going perfectly that many people need to forget about basking in the glory and reconsider what they're doing to get in shape.
That's because even if you think you know everything about exercise, your body has a funny way of reminding you that you're not as smart as you think you are. After all, it's when everything seems to be going perfectly that many people suddenly become saddled with an injury or ailment that leaves them sidelined and out of the game. However, if you ask yourself the right questions, you could prevent that from happening in the first place — so the results that you've been enjoying keep on coming.
Here are four questions you need to ask yourself. For each one you say yes to, chances are, you could be speeding towards bringing your workout results to a grinding halt—even if you feel stronger and fitter than ever right now.
Am I getting sick more often, or do I notice sudden changes in how alert I am?
Working out for long periods of time without giving your body adequate rest also has an effect on what lies below your muscles. Running full steam all the time imposes on your immune system, making the chronic exerciser more susceptible to colds, flus, and other ailments that can take their toll on stamina. Continuous intense exercise can also exhaust the adrenal glands, resulting in blood sugar imbalances that can cause your energy levels to ebb and flow in unpredictable ways.
Am I lifting weights more than five days a week?
Some people can exercise seven days a week and never overtrain, whereas others may burn out from just exercising a few days a week. But for the majority, training five days is a good indicator that you're probably pushing yourself harder than you should.
Your muscles need at least 48 to 72 hours of recovery time in order to heal and return to their usual level of performance. That means that if you're exercising five days or more weekly, you're most likely preventing that rest from occurring, leaving your muscles under a constant state of exhaustion. The cumulative effect of all this abuse not only prevents muscles from growing any further, it leaves them weaker than usual, a fatiguing effect that can be felt throughout the body both inside and outside the weight room.
Are there fewer than three stretches or "pre-hab" exercises in my routine?
Sure, it's a lot more exciting and impressive to bench press a lot of weight than attach a stretch cord to a door and use it to do some boring exercise to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles, or take the time to stretch your hamstrings and quadriceps after your leg routine.
But when it comes to doing the simple — but important — little exercises and stretches that you may care less about, it's either do them now (as a part of your workout), or do them later because you've injured yourself and can't work out. Making sure that you're doing a certain amount of "pre-hab" moves (meaning any therapeutic proactive exercise designed to prevent an injury by strengthening and stretching certain smaller muscle groups that tend to be the most vulnerable to injury when you exercise)can help you dodge pain by correcting any muscular imbalances and/or tightness that might develop from improper training and/or overworking certain muscle groups.
Do I always need to lift the same amount of weight, or need to lift a little bit more, every week?
The best routines — the ones designed not only to help you take two steps forward with your results, but prevent you from taking three steps back because of an injury — tend to have what is known as a "deload" week after three to five weeks of serious training. During that week, you may perform the same exercises you've been using in the routine, with the only difference being that you'll use less weight and perform them with less intensity. The reasoning is simple: Lifting heavy weights can tax your central nervous system considerably, especially if you're doing them at a high-intensity pace. Dialing back your efforts allows your body to recover — not just your muscles, but your central nervous system as well — so you avoid overtraining and lower your risk of injury.
So, did you answer no to all four? Or, are you like most people and said yes to at least one? Tell us, and, let us know if you've ever suffered in the past by being too cocky with your training. After all, your war stories may keep the next person from making the same mistake.
— Myatt Murphy, Fitness Reporter
Fitness expert Myatt Murphy, CSCS, is the author of the best-selling books Testosterone Transformation (Rodale, 2012), The Body You Want in the Time You Have (Rodale, 2005), The Men's Health Gym Bible (Rodale, 2006) and Men's Health's Ultimate Dumbbell Guide (Rodale, 2007). His work has appeared in innumerable magazines and online.