“Come on, you can do better than that!”
“Give me one more rep!”
“Show me your 100%!”
These are all things our PTs, sport coaches or group fitness instructors have said to us at one point or another. And most of the time, they’re right—we can go that little bit harder or smash out that extra burpee. During a workout sesh, our minds often give up well before our bodies do!
But is it possible to push yourself too hard during a workout? You betcha! In the CrossFit community, this is known as ‘red-lining’—getting to that point where you literally can’t do any more. While you may be able to do this a few times without consequence, it can eventually lead to a condition called rhabdomyolis (which not-so-coincidentally, is most common amongst CrossFit athletes.) This is where your muscle fibres break down, causing a substance called myoglobin to leak into the bloodstream—which can lead to kidney damage.
Obviously, that’s a pretty extreme scenario. But there are plenty of other negative effects of over-training, such as poor sleep, injury (which can keep you out of the gym for weeks, months or even years) and difficulty losing weight. Personal trainers are specifically trained to look out for the signs of red-lining before you actually get to that point. But at the end of the day, they’re not mind-readers and you know your body better than anybody else. Plus, if you work out solo, it can be really hard to know when you’ve crossed that fine line.
Here are 5 signs that you’re pushing yourself too hard during your workouts.
Your heart rate monitor says so
Heart rate monitors are a really valuable tool for cardio workouts, like HIIT and running. When calibrated with your resting heart rate, they can tell you whether you’ve really hit that point of “ohmigod I’m going to die” or if it’s just in your head. However, they’re also a good way to know if you’re going too hard. Most heart rate monitors will tell you your maximum rate. Generally, between 80-90% of that rate is safe during a cardio workout, but you’ll want to consider dialing it back as you get closer to 100%.
You’re throwing up
If you haven’t just downed a huge smoothie right before your workout session, vomiting during your workout is a pretty strong sign that you’re going too hard. This happens because you’re working out so intensely that the body can’t get enough oxygen to fuel its muscles, leading to a build-up of the waste product lactate. Vomiting during your workouts can also be an early sign of the dreaded rhabdomyolis—and we know there ain’t a good thing! While some people think of training so hard you throw up as a weird kind of badge of honour, there’s really no reason for the average person to get to that point.
Your form is suffering
It’s great to attempt that extra pull-up or stack that extra 5kg on the bench-press bar—that’s how you get stronger. But if your form is compromised or you feel like you need to ‘cheat’ with your technique, it’s an indicator that you be pushing yourself too hard. This is where injury happens, so it’s important to listen to your body and not attempt to go harder without a ‘spotter’ or your PT.
You’re in pain
That “I don’t know how I’m going to walk up the stairs” feeling is normal the day after a mammoth legs session. As is that weird ‘lactic acid’ sensation during your workouts. After all, there’s a reason they say ‘no pain, no gain!’ However, feeling severe pain in your muscles and joints while you’re working out is definitely cause for concern. “If you ever feel pain in your joints, stop what you are doing immediately. You should never feel pain in your joints while exercising,” say sports medicine physician Dr. Jordan Metzl, via Shape.
It takes you ages to catch your breath
We’ve all found ourselves panting like a dog in a hot car between stations in a HIIT circuit. It’s totally normal to need to take a few moments to catch your breath (and regain your composure!) But according to Jim Pivarnik, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University — if after a few minutes of rest you’re still struggling to breathe, it could be a sign that something is off.