Every January, the internet explodes with tips on how to make healthy New Year's resolutions and prevent yourself from becoming one of the 80 percent of people who've fallen off the wagon by February. But your boxing gloves gathering dust by Valentine's Day isn't necessarily the worst mistake you can make when it comes to your January gym goals.
"One of the biggest mistakes people make is going all in on the first week of the year," says Kris Cueva, CPT, master instructor at Burn 60 Studios. Being too committed to your New Year's fitness resolutions can actually backfire and lead to overtraining syndrome, the result of too much training with too little rest.
Overtraining syndrome can cause you to start underperforming, open the door to injury, and even have effects on your mood (hello, burnout). "It is almost impossible to maintain an extreme switch, and you'll be back to where you started before the first month is over," says Cueva. "When you overdo your workout schedules by either signing up for too many classes or struggling through a run when your body is actually exhausted, you chip away at your mental resolve."
While "new year, new gym goal" is an awesome mantra, too many extreme promises and not enough balanced thinking is a mistake, says Ashley Borden, CSCS. It's important to pay attention to your body. "If you feel like you can't move after a day of training, that's an indicator of overtraining," says Borden. A little soreness the next day is normal—after a kickass workout you should be around a 6 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. But extreme pain (a 9 or 10) where you can't move is not what you are aiming for, says Borden.
You can also keep tabs on overtraining during your workout by watching your heart rate and level of exertion: "If you can't hold a conversation while working out, that can be an issue," says Noam Tamir, CSCS, founder of TS Fitness in New York. Check your fitness tracker during your cooldown to make sure your heart rate is returning to normal.
To prevent a case of resolution-ruining overtraining syndrome, follow these five fitness rules when you hit the gym in January.
1. Pace yourself.
Don't go from zero to 60 on New Year's Day. "If you've barely worked out for the last six months and now think you're going to go five days a week nonstop, you are setting yourself up for failure," says Borden.
Setting realistic goals is a huge part of preventing injury and burnout—if you've never run more than a 5K, signing up for a half marathon in January isn't the best move. (Sometimes, setting lofty goals can work in your favor, but you need to play it smart.) "You lose confidence when you feel like you can't perform at your expected level," says Cueva. "But by setting up practical goals and a weekly workout game plan that's achievable and realistic, you set up confidence boosters." (Here: Your Guide to Resolution Goal-Setting)
2. Pay attention to form.
"If you don't move correctly, you won't see results and injury can be just around the corner," says Borden. If you're venturing into new gym territory, work with a trainer for your first session or watch trainer videos on YouTube to make sure you're not making rookie mistakes. (Like these common workout mistakes for even simple exercises.) Then, while you're adjusting to your new routine, "slow down your movements so you get a better connection to what body part is working," she says. (You can even use a slow-motion strength training routine to see bigger gains.)
3. Shake it up instead of going harder.
When you hit the gym in January, it can be tempting to just double down on your current routine—beefing up the pace on the treadmill, showing off with the heavier set of weights, or making your occasional morning runs a daily routine. But rather than going harder, which can lead to overtraining syndrome, get more creative. "Add variety to your training—strength training or weights one day and a HIIT or yoga class on another day," says Cueva. "Keeping your training fresh is a great way to keep you motivated and on track." (Need a plan? Here's a perfectly balanced week of workouts.)
4. Set a bedtime goal.
"Making sure to get enough sleep is huge for our nervous system and mental health," says Tamir. To prevent burnout, make healthy bedtime goals just as important as your gym goals. To get the most out of your workouts, shoot for six to eight hours a night. "Using yoga and meditation is another great way to aid in mental recovery," says Tamir. (This is how to do a rest day the right way for max benefits.)
5. Give yourself a workout review.
The best way to avoid overtraining syndrome is by evaluating your workout performance, says Cueva. "This means asking myself questions such as: Was I not able to lift as much weight today? Did my normal weight feel too heavy? Was I able to reach my average amount of reps? Did I need more recovery between sets?" If you're struggling to keep up a week into your New Year's routine, you're overdoing it. Back off, and you'll thank yourself later—specifically, three months down the road, when you're still grinding on that goal.