Lacy Stodola, 22, calls her weekly routine a disease. Six days a week, Monday through Saturday, Stodola runs, lifts or kick boxes for two hours. She’s increased her workout since the summer after an ACL injury during her softball season.
Stodola also admits to being overweight prior to her fitness reformation.
“I used to not be able to run down my street and back,” the recent college graduate says. “Now, I do eight miles on a treadmill.
“Working out—it makes me happy, more confident.”
At 19, Jen Sackett trains with her college volleyball team in the program designed to increase her vertical jump and endurance through ply metrics and strength training. Outside of her team’s schedule, Monday thru Friday, excluding Wednesdays, Sacket will run long distance.
She notices a change in her stress level if she misses too many days.
“I start to feel like I have less energy and motivation to get my work done,” the college sophomore says. “I start to feel overwhelmed with school.”
The Bigger Picture–What Other Factors Might Be in Play
Dr. Louise Jeffrey, a health psychologist at The Nebraska Medical Center, says people who practice excessive exercise represent an important population whose actions need to be addressed.
“Unless it’s for a short period with a specific goal in mind like Hillary Swank preparing for her recent movie role,” Dr. Jeffrey says, “(It) usually happens for one of a couple reasons. Either the person doing the exercise has a lot of anxiety they are trying to control, or it is done to help, usually ineffectively, with body image concerns, as in the case with eating disorders, or body builders in search of the perfect body.”
Intensity and Volume
Working out everyday is not bad; it’s the intensity and volume that needs to be tracked. Creighton University Medical Center fourth-year doctor of physical therapy student, Matt Briggs, says that most people will not be able to sustain a three-hour, seven day workout for a long period of time.
Briggs’ credentials included licensed and certified athletic trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and a certified personal trainer through the NSCA.
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Average Person Work Out
“My recommendation for the average person would be to workout three to five times per week for at least 30 minutes at a moderate intensity,” he says. “Even the most elite athletes would not be able to keep that amount (three hour daily workouts) of volume at a high intensity of working out every day for a prolonged period of time and stay healthy.”
The risks increase as the volume and intensity grow exponentially, Briggs continues. Considering excessive exercise to be “overtraining,” he describes characteristics as having a decreased immune system, soreness, mood change and a “burnt out” feeling.
“Typical stress-related psychological, psychosomatic and physiological signs and symptoms are usually present in over trained individuals,” Briggs says. “For example, anger, fatigue, tension, loss of appetite, sexual dysfunction, sleep problems and persistent muscle fatigue may be present in milder cases.”
In more developed scenarios, menstrual irregularities, depression, long-term insomnia or even abnormal sense perceptions may occur.
“The detrimental effects from overtraining may be present for several months to years,” he says.
Dr. Jeffrey says that taken to extremes, excessive exercise results in psychological and social negatives.
“People who obsessively engage in any activity are in danger of becoming isolated from others,” Dr. Jeffrey says. “They can spend so much time planning for and engaging in the activity that it takes over their lives, literally keeping them from family, job and other aspects of normal life.”
The feeling after a strenuous workout can cause confusion. Briggs says that a little soreness and fatigue are common expectations.
“Typically during a workout one’s body suffers damage and deformation most notably to the muscles that were used, but also the tendons, ligaments and bone,” Briggs says. “The body needs time to repair and reinforce these damaged tissues, this is how one’s body becomes stronger and adapts to the workout stress.”
When the body isn’t allowed to recover, it actually becomes weaker and can lead to the afore mentioned scenarios.
“Just like if you have a scab and you keep picking the scab and do not give it time to heal,” he says. “It will never heal and in fact the scab may get bigger and or worse. The higher the volume and intensity of the workout the more rest is needed before the same workout is performed again.”
Briggs says one measuring tool is to wait 48-hours before using the same body region at the same intensity and volume again.
“It is one thing to enjoy working out and enjoy the feeling it gives you and to keep healthy doing it,” he says. “It is another thing to be continually obsessed and addicted to it, which can be just as destructive as any food disorder or self mutilation. I feel that it is very important to get across that there is no perfect body. Look at what the ideal perfect body was 200 years ago and compared to that now. They are different for both genders and it is different in different parts of the world and in different cultures.”
Treatment is available, Dr. Jeffrey adds.
“It would include realistic goal setting, the person may have lost focus for what is realistic,” she says. “And limiting the time spent in exercise, optimally by building in other enjoyable activities.”