Exercise Overkill

beached freak
Creative Commons License photo credit: IntangibleArts 

~ This is the time of year that people try to erase the sins of the past and many try to do so on the first day! One of my friends, who’d taken time off from working out and resolved to get back in shape, announced that she did 3 full workouts… on Monday!  Most were impressed, but I couldn’t help think otherwise, having seen people make this mistake time and again.

But I’ll be the first to admit, it’s hard not to do it.  When you know how you used to workout, it’s tempting to let your motivation carry you into exercise overkill in an effort to make up for lost time.  If the brain has the will, and the muscles have the memory, it’s easy to push yourself from 0 to 90 in nothing flat. 

It takes weeks to get in shape, but can take only 7 to 10 days to lose a significant amount of conditioning.  The good news is that the fitter you are, the faster you will get it back – as long as you don’t sit around for too long.  If returning after 2 weeks or into months of no exercise, you really should resist the temptation to over-do it on the workouts when you start back.

Those that know that strength training can help with weight loss should be cautious of doing too much too soon after an extended break.  A study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine reported nearly a 50% increase in injuries related to strength training over an 18 year period:

Injuries were most prevalent among males (82%) and among youths aged 13–24 years (47%) and were typically sustained while using free weights. Common diagnoses included sprains and strains and soft-tissue injuries; 65% of them resulted from a free weight dropping on a person. People aged 45 and older had the highest increase in injuries during the 18-year span. Those aged 55 and older typically sustained injuries from overexertion while using machines. Females also experienced an increase in injury rates.  (See Strength Training -Related Injuries on the Rise at www.ideafit.com )

It’s worth noting that the referenced study’s time period coincides with overall participation in strength training, particularly with females and in older populations.  Someone new to strength training should seek guidance to avoid injury, but those who have taken an extended break from training can also be at risk.

At the very least, be mindful that inactivity not only leads to decreased strength, it also leads to a lack of flexibility, making connective tissue particularly susceptible to injury.  In addition, secondary stabilizers and relatively weaker links will weaken further, so it may be a necessary to initially return to strength training with support and in isolation – preferably on machines.  

Inactivity, especially sitting, tends to overstretch and weaken certain muscle groups (upper back, rear shoulders), and other areas tend to shorten or tighten (front shoulders and chest, hip flexors and hamstrings) and this type of imbalance can lead to injury.   After a period of re-strengthening all primary muscles with isolation training and focus on regaining flexibility, especially in the over-tight areas, you can safely return to free weight training in multiple planes and work on the joint stabilizers.  To regain your core stability, isolated supine curls on a mat or ball for abs and low back can help strengthen what can be weak links prior to engaging in more advanced standing stability and integrated training.

Remember that atrophy is quick and easy, but hypertrophy takes time.  It can be hard for the person who used to be able to knock out full plank push-ups to go back to an isolated chest press, but to avoid a complete set-back with an injury, allow your body to, once again, gradually adapt and strengthen overtime.

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