Is even more exercise even better? Maybe. Maybe not.

Is even more exercise even better? Maybe. Maybe not.

“You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself.” – Arthur Ashe

As a long-time endurance athlete and coach, I’ve observed many inspiring stories tied to the benefits of exercise. I’ve seen friends lose unhealthy weight, cope with cancer or simplify get off the couch (and off medications) to a more healthier lifestyle.

In fact, research suggests that doing regular exercise can improve your life expectancy by 7 years versus doing nothing. Exercise is the best medicine.

However, too much of anythingeven exercise – can also be unhealthy. I’ll share my story.

In 2007, I had a fantastic year as a triathlete. I set a PR (personal record) at the Disney Marathon in January followed by a sub 9 hour finish at Challenge Roth (Ironman), an overall win at Vineman Full (Ironman) and another strong finish at Ironman Louisville a few weeks later. In between the Ironman races, I also directed four different triathlons. My life was in overdrive, but I was having success.

What I failed to recognize was the downward spiral I was making. I was exercising hard, working hard, staying up late for race director planning, drinking too much and then waking up early every morning to do it all over again. Rather than take a break after Ironman Louisville, I continued to push and push myself with the goal to set a new marathon PR in February. I failed to take any real downtime and continued to exercise, exercise and exercise.

The obvious warning signs were there:

  • excessive fatigue,
  • irritability,
  • constant muscle fatigue
  • nagging aches and pains that wouldn’t go away,
  • poor sleep, etc.

But I chose to ignore them.

The result? I tore my hamstring in early 2008 and fatigued my body to the point where I could not do a single push up. Mentally, I was a mess, too, and full of anxiety from my fear of not living up to my own expectations as an elite level triathlete.

Truthfully, it took me a few years to bounce back from the hole I had dug. Now, I practice (with a few exceptions) and preach moderations.

I see these same warning signs in endurance athletes quite a bit, especially with athletes training for longer events like Ironman triathlons and marathons.

My suggestion? Take care of yourself. Sleep in if needed. Skip a workout if you’re exhausted. A day or two or three off now may save you months of injury or burnout later.

Live life fully and without regret!

David

David B. Glover, MSE, MS, CSCS
President, ENDURANCEWORKS, LLC
Founder, School of Tri
Author of Full Time and Sub-Nine: Fitting Iron Distance Training into Everyday Life

…beyond what you knew you could do…

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this, David. In some ways, this issue is the dirty little secret of successful elite and pro triathletes, as well as the obsessed middle-of-the packer.

    But I think it is more than just an issue of over-training: especially for amateurs with multiple obligations other than triathlon (partner/spouse, kids, job), the time, energy and money that’s devoted training, racing, traveling to races, equipment, etc crosses over the line into an unhealthy, obsession. This takes a toll physically, emotionally, mentally (and in my opinion, socially) not only on the triathlete, but those who depend on them.

    Getting the balance right between too much and too little is the Golden Mean…I really admire the triathletes who can do it.

  2. Thank you, Burke – You bring up a good point that there are many factors involved in determining, “How much is too much?” One thing that I’ve learned and observed is that this fine line of balance can shift over time. What may be OK not, may be too much a few months from now. One of the many challenges in being a successful endurance athlete at any level!

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