In the twelve years I have worked in the fitness industry, I guess you can say I’ve seen it all. From Tae Bo, to Adkins, from Zumba, to Cross Fit, I’ve certainly seen my share of trends come and go. One thing for sure, no matter what the fad, the human component and the “some is good, more is better” mentality easily turn something healthy and fun into a complete obsession. In addition, our focus on working towards the perfect toned, lean body can become our detriment. No matter what fitness trend we decide to pursue, there are a couple of very serious concerns that we need to be aware of and do our best to prevent.
The first is of concern is overtraining. Basically, overtraining happens when you work out too much. It’s something that happens over time, not just after one workout. It usually is the result of exercising A LOT, and then not giving your body the time to recover from it. Overtraining has both physical and psychological symptoms, like decreased ability to perform physical challenges, inability to recover from workouts, weakened immune system, more injuries, depression, and an ability to sleep. Overtraining can be a show stopper, and can take you out of the game forever. I am a perfect example of overtraining. When I was a young athlete, I was a competitive synchronized swimmer. I swam 6 hours a day, 6 days a week. When entering my senior year of high school, I experienced persistent shoulder pain, decreased flexibility, and lessened strength. My performance was suffering, and it seemed that the more I worked, the worse my performance became. Figuring it was because I needed to train more, I increased my efforts at the pool, only to seriously injure both of shoulders, which forced me not to swim anymore. Knowing what I know now, I obviously was overtrained, and had no idea that all I needed to do was rest.
That’s right, the cure for overtraining is rest. Rest is one of those four letter words that athletes and fitness fanatics do not ever want to hear, but resting is the only way to cure and prevent overtraining. It allows the body to heal. Healing is what you need when you spend so much time beating your body up. Rest can be added into your program in many ways. If you feel over trained now, your best bet is to take a week or two off. If you are currently in training, add a complete day of rest into your training week and incorporate some cross training that is different from your normal activity. Also, working in a periodized training program will help prevent overtraining, too. Periodization breaks your training into seasons (pre-season, in-season, and post-season) in which each season has different goals. Professional athletes periodize. If they do it, then we know that it’s probably worth a shot.
The second concern for women who have the all or nothing approach is the Female Athlete Triad. Female Athlete Triad is a combination of things that create a vicious cycle of health problems. It happens when women don’t eat right, whether it’s restrictive dieting or disordered eating (1), which causes their body fat to drop and their periods to stop (2), which then causes the bones to get weak (3). With the current trend of women being very lean and “cut”, I would guess that this syndrome is more prevalent than any of us want to admit. The cycle of the triad begins when a woman starts restricting her diet (and exercising a lot) to the point that is causes her to lose a lot of body fat. Generally, she loses more body fat than her body can afford to lose, causing her estrogen levels to decrease. Women need 12-15% body fat in order to continue normal function (deemed “essential body fat”). Percentages lower than that will cause the decrease in estrogen levels, and thus cause the body to prioritize in order to survive. In doing so, it stops the menstrual cycle, figuring that since the body is starving, it can’t carry a baby right now anyway, so it might as well close down that department. Though many of us would be thrilled, the stoppage of our period (called amenorrhea) is a very bad thing. Besides the baby-making functions, estrogen helps our body move calcium into our bones. Without it, our bones degrade, causing osteoporosis. As a woman who participated in a sport that judged performance on appearance, I witnessed first-hand how the Triad can affect young athletes, and was fortunate not to ever have to deal with it.
The female athlete triad isn’t as easy to remedy as overtraining. The effects of the triad can leave a lifetime of problems for the young athlete or fitness fanatic. Rest does help with the triad, but so do proper eating and the understanding of a healthy self. Usually, one would need to see treatment from a nutritionist and a therapist, in addition to proper medical care to help remedy any damage done through the triad.
Remember, being fit doesn’t have to drive to you be unhealthy. It’s important to honor your body, and take care of it so that it will last for decades, maybe even a century!