In our more-is-better world, it's easy to get caught in the overtraining trap. But when it comes to your workouts, it pays to do less. We're certainly not telling anyone to quit exercising, but your workout schedule should have built-in rest days (and even weeks sometimes!). Not convinced? Here are nine reasons why you shouldn't go to the gym every single day:
1. Your muscles grow when you rest. Lifting weights creates tiny tears in your muscles that can only repair during rest. This repair process is what makes your muscles stronger than before. While it's important to work your muscles (hard!) to stimulate muscle-building proteins, it's equally as important to give your body enough time to recover (usually until you're no longer sore).
2. Overtraining can cause a weight-loss plateau. You know that working out too often or too intensely can lead to too much weight loss, but most people don't realize that it can also have the opposite effect. Thanks to your body's built-in protective mechanisms, overtraining can cause a plateau in your weight loss or even weight gain (unrelated to increased muscle mass).
3. Overtraining can mess with your menstrual cycle and cause amenorrhea, the absence of menstruation. Aunt Flo may not be your favorite visitor, but think of your period as the canary in the coal mine. Its presence indicates that your body thinks it's in good shape to grow a baby and its absence signifies a problem, especially if it disappears for three months or more. The drop in estrogen can also cause premature bone loss, making you even weaker and more susceptible to injury.
4. Trouble sleeping? You might be overtraining. Needing excessive sleep to fuel your workouts or being unable to sleep, even when you're very tired, are both indicators that something is wrong.
5. Overtraining can cause mood problems. Exercise can be a potent anti-depressant—studies show it works just as well as medication for mild depression. And we can attest to the mood-boosting power of the runner's high. But too much exercise can have the opposite effect, causing anxiety over workout schedules and depression from being chronically run down.
6. More exercise = bigger appetite. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to notice the link between exercise and hunger. The more you train, the more energy your body needs to sustain that exertion and the hungrier you get. Women often fear that cutting back on their cardio will make them gain weight, but that's not how it works. Your hunger usually decreases in proportion with your lighter workout schedule, so you won't feel the need to feed your body nearly as much.
7. You'll feel exhausted… all the time! We all love the great energy burst we get from an awesome workout, but more exercise does not always mean more energy. If your workouts are regularly making you crash in the afternoon or drag through your day because you're so tired and sore you can barely move, then you're doing too much. Listen to your body. If it says, "I'm so sore that I dread sitting down to go the bathroom," the intense Kettlebell session you have planned is not what it needs.
8. Overtraining often leads to burnout. In the end, life is about balance. We all have limited resources—time, energy, money, physical reserves—and spending too much of them on exercise can lead to burnout. It's better to commit to a sane program that fits in with your schedule and goals than to go all out and want to quit after one month. Exercise is a lifelong pursuit, and it should make you happy. Find a balance that works for you—your body and your life.
9. It eats up your limited free time. Medical problems aside, hitting the gym for lengthy workouts every day is a big time commitment. It's important to make time for other quality-of-life boosters too, such as hanging out with friends and family, learning something new, treating yourself to manicure, or even catching up on your secret Real Housewives addiction (don't worry, we won't tell).