January 20, 2019

Is Your Exercise Program Breaking You?

This week, I’ve spoken up about the concept when exercise “breaks” you. When too much, too soon, too “all at once” leaves your body feeling weathered, weak, and unhappy.

Exercise is a stress.

Remind yourself of this fact. While there are hundreds of benefits to exercising, please keep in mind your own personal responses to exercise.

You, your exercise history and personal neurological make up will determine what your response to exercise is.

Much of the positive benefits advertised via exercise, e.g. improved mood, improved strength, happiness, productivity, escaped me for much of 2010-2014. I ignored the signs that every time I went to the gym, my body literally felt like it was crumbling underneath me.

So what if you’re in the same boat?

What if anytime you head to the gym for a workout, go on a run, or even walk up a flight of stairs your body screams for help? Your pain skyrockets through the roof, you experience mood crashes, cravings are insatiable, and weight climbs.

What are you left to do?

In this blog, I will discuss the dangers of exercising on an unsteady foundation, what an unsteady foundation is, and subsequent steps to keep in mind to allow you body the time to heal, rest and recover.

What creates an unsteady foundation?

Choosing when to workout and when to rest can often times be challenging, especially when we’re working through our own internal dialogue and personal belief systems surrounding exercise. You know, the “no pain, no gain” mentality marketed to us daily or the fears surround what taking a day off may do to our bodies, our status, our mind.

These thoughts can often be so powerful, so consuming we become disillusioned to the fact that we haven’t gotten a full night’s rest since last Thursday because of noisy neighbors, we’ve been combating a sore throat, and work has been a chaotic mess, causing us to feel emotionally exhausted.

Below are the top areas I often see create compromised movements when I see my clients (aka “unsteadiness” and reasons why I would encourage time to rest)

*Note, I use gait (walking) as a movement assessment tool. Gait, is a great lens to get a snapshot of how someone is feeling in their body.

  1. Lack of sleep

  2. Lack of quality sleep

  3. Too much blue light exposure, which typically equates to long hours spent on the screen being sedentary

  4. Higher stress job (deadlines, negative working environment, travel schedule)

  5. Stressful relationship (feeling unappreciated, unloved, unheard etc)

  6. Poor diet for their body (foods that irritate their GI and cause inflammation)

  7. Lack of adequate hydration

  8. Not enough food

  9. Lack of movement

  10. Not living in alignment with their values

  11. Lack of genuine connections

  12. Financial strain

  13. Compromised breathing

Personal exercise history can create an additional layer on top of this. Meaning, if someone has had surgery(s), sports trauma, emotional trauma, sprained a joint, broken a bone etc. without going through rehabilitation, they may experience more daily stress. Making the wrong exercise program, potentially more stressful.

What happens when we workout on an unsteady foundation?

Most likely in the beginning you’ll be okay. Meaning, nothing too significant will happen to prevent you from keeping up with your weekly crossfit class. However, over time, let’s say about 4 weeks, you may start to notice more nagging chatter by your body. Randomly your elbow starts to bother you, then you notice compliance with your new diet plan slowly diminish, and your more irritable and less productive at work.

Your brain is constantly talking to your body. Constantly taking in input and deciphering the level of safety.

Below are some of the consistent patterns I see when exercise is having the reverse effects on health:

  1. Feeling more fatigued (It’s challenging to get up out of bed, you never feel fully rested)

  2. Body aches

  3. Getting sick

  4. Strength markers dip

  5. Motivation drops

  6. Increase in anxiety

  7. An increase in pain in one area or an increase number of areas you have pain

  8. Cravings increase

  9. Hunger is suppressed

  10. Increase in caffeine

  11. Losing menstrual cycle

  12. Increase in PMS symptoms

  13. Libido drops

  14. Social isolation

  15. In general, not feeling “like yourself”

  16. Weight gain (despite how much you’re following a plan or how “clean you’re eating”)

If any of the above is relatable to how you currently feel, you may want to consider what benefits you’re gaining from your exercise program, if any exist (it is not uncommon if none do).

So, what do we do?

In many scenarios, taking a recovery period to rest is number one. Your rest period can range from two days to months at a time.

But what happens?

If you’re coming from the mindset of “no days off” you’ll struggle the most mentally with accepting this new phase of resting. You may feel guilty about “skipping the gym”. You may feel anxious and uncertain. All of which, are typical responses.

Below are the following symptoms you may experience within the first phase of your recovery time (again, recovery time can range from a handful of days to months):

  1. Temporary increase in anxiousness with the new change

  2. Temporary increase in internal chatter and self talk

  3. Increase in body image thoughts

  4. Heightened awareness around food “Should I cut my intake if I’m not moving as much?” type of talk

  5. Increase in weight

  6. Increase in fatigue (yes, you may feel more tired before you start to feel better)

After this initial phase, you will turn the corner and should experience the following (*if you took adequate time to rest, implemented the right recovery tools, and had support):

  1. Improved mood (more optimistic)

  2. Less fatigue

  3. Less pain and more comfort in how your body feels daily

  4. Improved aesthetics (feeling more confident in your skin)

  5. Less cravings

So what should you do in place of exercise?

  1. Walk – one of the best ways the body can heal itself. It’s very low impact and allows the body to up-regulate the parasympathetic nervous system to destress.

  2. Revisit hobbies – Please view my blog “Why Hobbies Helped Kickstart Healing My Metabolism”

  3. Embrace slowing down (walk, meditate, nap, read, etc)

  4. Sleep in – Sleeping is the surest way to allow your body to adequately recover. Sleep, rest, nap.

  5. Eat – I cannot emphasize this part enough. Cutting calories while your body is resting will keep you feeling unwell longer than need be. This is the time to replenish your body.

  6. Breathing: Relearning how to breathe effectively is an important aspect of rehabbing your metabolism.

  7. Deliberate movement: I share a lot of these movements on my YouTube and Instagram pages.

  8. Negative Environment: Bring awareness to any toxic, negative environments that create stress. Remember the brain cannot compartmentalize stress. Stress is stress.

This blog is a snippet of what my work involves with many clients. If you’re struggling with your health and how you feel, it’s important to reach out and seek help, especially if you notice you feeling less and less like yourself.

While exercise can prove to be extremely beneficial for your health, please consider that it can also be the unhealthiest thing you can do if you are unwell.

Be sure your program is reflecting what stage your body is in (high or low stress) and what the current needs of your body are.

All too often, we push too hard too soon. Remember that there is power in the slow down.

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  1. Kate says:

    This article is SO powerful, like sitting by a refreshing pool of water for the mind and soul. There are times when my thyroid flares that my body feels like exercise is almost traumatic, but I long to be healthy again so I’ll just push through it because of the voices saying, ‘giving up is not an option’ but I see now how this could actually be hurting my recovery process. And honestly, it’s like I know it deep down but hearing it from a voice of authority like you confirming that feeling, makes a huge difference to confidence levels in actually trying a different approach. Thank you!

    • Alyssa Chang says:

      Thank you so much for your feedback Kate! And I’m so glad this has helped reassure you. Please keep me posted on how things steadily improve for you:)