Working out could be wearing you down

Too much of a good thing could be damaging.

While good health is heavily promoted to encourage being active and maintaining a healthy weight, there has not been much awareness of those who work out in excess, and how it can potentially cause negative effects on the body.

Amanda Ebner, a personal trainer for six years, based in the West Los Angeles area with credentials from the American Council on Exercise as well as the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, has had her fair share of experience on the subject.

“I did have a client that had an extremely low body mass index," said Ebner. "Eighteen point five is considered the lowest healthy BMI. This individual was at 17."

Ebner explained how the woman became obsessed with lowering her body weight and would work out for an hour on the treadmill before her scheduled sessions. She maintained an extremely restrictive diet and would often arrive at the gym dizzy, weak, or tired from her low-calorie intake.

Eventually, Ebner decided to part ways since she “felt unable to train the woman in good faith, knowing that she was engaging in self-destructive behaviors."

Oftentimes, it is an athlete who may fall under the category of over-exercising, and that can possibly cause injury.

Santa Monica College head football coach, Gifford Lindheim, who received his Bachelor of Arts in Kinesiology, has been coaching at SMC for four of his eighteen-year coaching career.

“We believe that at a certain point, there is a point of diminishing returns on your work,” said Lindheim.

Lindheim stressed that more is not always better. A person can set themselves up for physical fatigue which can lead to injury, mental fatigue and sometimes dehydration.

Ebner said the most common exercise-induced injuries are those resulting from overuse.

“Think shin splints, runner's knee, tennis elbow," she said. "Too much exercise can also lead to muscle tightness and misalignment, particularly if the individual is not using proper alignment or technique while exercising."

Ebner said that the signs on the surface of over exercising can be seen in brittle hair, dry skin and discolored nails.

Ardell Gipson, a student-athletic trainer at Santa Monica College, said that some of the problems with over-exercising may lie with student athletes who play multiple sports.

Some football quarterbacks may also be baseball pitchers.

“They have that strong arm and accuracy,” said Gipson. “Some kickers on football teams will be soccer players.”

Ebner said that exercising once a day is enough for an individual. Most clients do not need any more than that unless they have specific training needs that would require more. Those training needs include practice for events such as the Ironman Triathlon, a 24-hour relay race, or a mountain ascent or climb.

“I recommend even my very fit clients take at least one day off, totaling six days per week maximum, with one of those days dedicated to active rest like yoga or walking,” said Ebner.

For new clients, Ebner said she starts them off with three times per week, later moving to four times per week after six weeks of consistent exercise.

Eating habits also play a major factor in exercise and workouts.

“I have had to send clients home who did not eat enough in a particular day to actually undertake vigorous exercise,” said Ebner. “Think about those on a juice cleanse trying to attend an hour-long boot camp.”

Lindheim said that short and vigorous workouts seem to work better for his athletes. He believes it helps them stay mentally sharper and physically healthier.

“We think the longer you go, the more you risk injury and lose enthusiasm,” he said.

However, the amount of time to work out does vary between sports.

SMC cross country head coach Eric Barron said his distance-runners' workouts, which include warm-up, drills, the workout itself, a cool down, and then the core work, last 90 minutes to two hours.

“After that point, depending on what the work is, cortisol levels or lactic acid levels may build to the point where more hard work becomes counterproductive,” said Barron.

There are often warning signs that will tell when someone has been working out in excess.

Gipson said that too much strain on a particular part of the body could cause major injury later on.

“They do a lot of running and a lot of abdominal workouts,” he said. “Some even do weight training when they don’t need to."

“Somebody who is working out too much, will sometimes develop tendonitis and sometimes have nagging injuries that don't go away,” said Lindheim. "That's the body's way of telling you to rest."

Injuries as well as other physical problems such as insomnia and rapid heart rate as well as psychological problems such as irritability, moodiness and depression will show up over time, said Barron.

As a personal trainer, Ebner said she looks out for the person she is training and will advise them to stop if she notices signs of fatigue which includes breakdown of form, loss of color in the face, shaky hands, or loss of eye contact or balance.

Lindheim said he believes there is an old school mentality where more and longer is better. If he and his coaching staff see an athlete struggling physically, they try to emphasize that less is more.

In Gipson's experience, over-exercising was a symptom of reaching for excellence.

“They were striving for perfection,” said Gipson. “Trying to achieve it when it was already there, they just had to notice it was in them. They needed to take a step back and look at the bigger picture."