The Superwoman Syndrome: Dangers of Over-Training

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Right before my pelvic injury, I was doing lots of cross training. My treadmill has a 2-mile Army Fitness Test where you run as fast as you can for 2 miles and then it gives you a score out of 100.

Being competitive by nature, and also having past experience with short distance races, I jumped at the chance to do an Army Fitness Test. It was all the motivation I needed.

I was also commuting into Toronto everyday for work and was pressed for time in the mornings. A quick, breathless two miles seemed like the perfect compromise on certain mornings when I was pressed for time.

I ran 3 Army Fitness tests before my injury (two in late December one in January)

Army test #1, Army test #2, Army test #3

When someone tells me to run 2 miles as fast as I can, I take it very seriously. I pushed myself hard. If only I had known how hard speed work like this can be on the body. Because I had never been injured before, and I was a beginner, I was a bit ignorant to it all.

On top of this intense training, I was also doing the 30-Day Shred and I had also just introduced yoga into my life. I was trying to do everything all at once!

For those of you who have done the 30-Day Shred, you know how hard the plyometrics moves can be on your body. There are tons of jumping squats and lunges, and I was frequently sore after each Shred.

I have also been documenting my daily training since about December 2008. This is what the week prior to my injury looked like:

Monday Jan. 5, 2009: 2 mile Army Fitness test + 1 mile easy run
Tuesday Jan. 6, 2009: Cross-training: Jillian Michaels 30-day shred, Level 2, 7.5 lb weights
Wednesday Jan. 7, 2009: 4 mile tempo run (1 m 6.0 mph, 2 m 7.0 mph, 1 m 6.0)
Thursday Jan. 8, 2009: OFF
Friday Jan. 9, 2009: 5 mile easy run (1 m 6.0 mph; 4 miles 6.5 mph) + 30-40 mins. yoga
Saturday Jan. 10, 2009: Cross-training: 30-Day Shred (Level 1) + 50 mins. yoga
Sunday Jan. 11, 2009: 8 mile long run, 6.0 mph, incline 2% (Pelvic area was sore after this run)
Monday Jan. 12, 2009: Cross-Training: 15 mins. Yoga (I think I further aggravated my pelvic area with strenuous yoga moves)
Tuesday Jan. 13, 2009: 3 mile tempo run (6.5-7.0 mph, incline 3%) [Note: I ran these 3 miles when my pelvic area was already sore! Bad, bad idea. Don’t do this!]

So as you can see, it is not too surprising that I got injured!

After Jan 13th’s run, I didn’t do one ounce of exercise- not a lick- for 2 months. That is how bad my injury was. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t cause my pelvic muscle pull to worsen or cause myself a stress fracture. Caitlin called me ‘A physiotherapist’s dream patient’, referring to how well I stayed off exercise during my injury.

In all honesty, my injury scared the crap out of me. I had never been injured before and always assumed that more equaled better. The more I run, the more fit I will be. The more I can bend in yoga, the better it will work. The more frequently I do the 30-Day Shred, the more toned I will be.

However, just like I am learning from blogging, quality trumps quantity any day. The more exercise I did, the more vulnerable my body actually became.

Last winter, all of the blogs were buzzing with 30-Day Shred and yoga. I think I got caught up in the excitement. I wanted to do the Shred, I wanted to do yoga, and I wanted to run a marathon. Instead of approaching all three with a sane and moderate game plan, I attacked each one with all that I could give. Why do 15 minutes of yoga when I got do 60 minutes? Why do the Shred once a week when I could do it 3-4? It is a dangerous trap to fall into.

My injury taught me many lessons. One of which was that exercise is best approached in a slow and steady manner. Had I not dived into the Shred and yoga with such intensity, I probably would still be doing it right now. But I stopped because it was overwhelming.

I have also learned to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day (cliché, I know) and we shouldn’t expect our own bodies to transform over night. Doing 20 minutes of yoga each week over 1 year is much better than doing it for 3 hours a week for 1 month.

Whenever I hear that voice inside my head telling me I’m not doing enough, I tell it where to go. ;)

Some tips on avoiding over-training:

1) Redefine superwoman

  • As women, we don’t need to do it all. Something will give, eventually. Whether that be an injury or physical/mental burn out. Being a superwoman does not mean you have to do everything. I’m super, you’re super, and we’re women. Capiche?

2) Be A Good Listener

  • When your body cries out in pain, give it rest. No ifs or buts about it.

3) Be true to you

  • Try not to fall into the comparison trap, online or offline. Do what works for you and you only. If you hate running, pilates, or zumba, don’t do it. And let go of that guilt while you are at it.

4) Tackle one thing at a time

  • Since I have been training for my half marathon (on Sept 27th), I have realized that my training doesn’t leave me much time for other fitness goals. And that is ok! One thing at a time done well, is much better than several things done with an empty tank.

~~~~~~~

Do you ever get caught up in over-training and the mentality that you need to do more and more?

Has over-training ever resulted in an injury for you? What did you change as a result?

Do you feel pressure to ‘do it all’?

angela signature thumb55   The Superwoman Syndrome: Dangers of Over Training

You can do anything, but not everything.

—David Allen

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{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam (Highway to Health) August 24, 2009

I feel a ton of pressure to do everything! I also feel like I need to run further and faster than I should be able to at this point in my training. I am trying to take it slow to avoid injury but it’s so hard when you see other people doing everything!!

Great post!

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Help Meghan Run August 24, 2009

*Love* this post! It is so easy to get caught up in the “more is automatically better” trap. My foot is sore right now and I don’t think it’s from overtraining, but I’m still freaked out. :/

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angieinatlanta August 24, 2009

Great post! Isn’t so typical of women to overextend ourselves, no matter what we do!?

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Cat August 24, 2009

Not particularly the type of overtraining you’re talking about, but up until a year or so ago, every time I started up exercise I would tell myself I HAD to exercise every day. And of course I would start amazingly well for a couple of weeks and then start to feel guilty when I didn’t exercise every day. Eventually the guilt would become greater than the happiness/achievement I felt when I actually did exercise. When I changed my mindset so that I was ‘allowed’ to exercise as much as I liked, whether that was 6 days a week or one day, exercise became a lot more enjoyable and sustainable.

I think a lot of people feel like you did, that it’s either all or nothing. Moderation is emphasised a lot both on these blogs and elsewhere, but I know I personally found it hard to separate what is good for ‘everyone’ versus what I thought I was worth. We don’t all have to be the fastest, or the strongest, or the most flexible.

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Lisa August 24, 2009

This is such a great post! I also fell into the trap of overtraining (last year). I wanted to try my hand at my first half marathon and I thought that the more I increased my miles, then the more prepared and stronger I would be. Wow, I was so wrong. I developed a stress fracture in my foot from building up mileage too quickly. Like you, that injury made me very scared. I rested and didn’t run for 6 months. Now this year, I’m trying again at the half marathon training (which is on Oct. 4) and so far so good! I haven’t gotten injured and I’ve learned to build up my mileage slowly. I’ve really learned to give my body a day of rest if my muscles are tight or if my legs are sore. This really is such a great post.

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Kristine August 24, 2009

Dear Ange,
I love this post. Thank you.
Love,
Kristine

:)

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ReinventingSandyB August 24, 2009

Angela, great hot topic! I’ve been a yoga and fitness instructor for the last nine years and see clients and participants over do it all the time. Yep, you can even over do it with something like yoga. Go figure. That said, I’ve been down that road myself a few times. Whether it’s getting into that pose to quickly, holding it too long or even taking a class back-to-back, the do-it-all-be-it-all pressures from work or home life can (and does) trickle into our fitness and health regime, no doubt! What works for me is deciding BEFORE I hit the gym or the mat that the next little while is all about me – no clocks, no “goals”, no pressure. Just me. It’s taken practice, but doing this has actually helped me feel better about my training all around. Keep it up Angela!

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Erin August 24, 2009

Angela, I love this post. Love, love, love. So true!

I was overtraining this spring, and while I was in very good shape, I wasn’t letting my body rest at all. I was tired! I was sore all the time! It wasn’t fun because I didn’t enjoy it – I just wanted to lose weight and tone. It wasn’t until I hurt myself (similarities!) in a non-fitness related activity that I had to stop. And it’s taken me this long to build back my fitness, but I’m enjoying the journey this time. This time I run and lift because I LOVE IT, not because I think that I have to do it. Really makes you change your perspective, doesn’t it.

I want to run a half-marathon next May and I know that I’ll have to start seriously training – but if my body isn’t ready for it, then it’s not ready.

“I’m super, you’re super, and we’re women. Capiche?” Amazing!!

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Sana August 24, 2009

Story of my life! Thanks for posting this :)

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Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) August 24, 2009

I try to be Superwoman every single day. Wife, mother, blogger, cook, friend, yoga teacher, personal fitness goals…yeah, not just in fitness endeavors do I overtrain. I do it in all aspects of my life. Yoga has helped me to let go a bit and to try to be more roll with it, and less control it. But my innate nature is so type A so it’s hard to know when to say when, but I do. I also need to be careful not to overtrain in order to not injure myself. I hear you there! Thanks for the reminder to just chill out sometimes. Most people need to a reminder to get off the couch and get goin’…but I think your readers probably need to be reminded to just chill out a bit sometimes :)

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Diana August 24, 2009

I’m right in the middle of an injury from overtraining. Like you, I push myself till I can’t push any more (in most things I do: work, blog, zumba, etc). I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so everything always has to be better and better and is never good enough. I’m learning with age just how hard I can be on myself sometimes. Anywho, I’ve been working on becoming a zumba instructor and have been trying so hard to impress the instructors where I want to teach that I think I just pushed myself too far. I think I’ve pulled my groin…at least that’s what the dr thinks. Like you, also, I’ve never had many injuries, even though I’ve done athletic things most of my life, so I’m definitely bummed about having to take a break from zumba and even exercise altogether. For now, I’m trying to learn to take more “me time” and to RELAX (which I’m not so good at) and to rest up so I can get better. I’m hoping to go back to exercising and paying more attention to staying in a more reasonable workout level going forward. Thanks for the reminder…great post!

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Jolene August 24, 2009

I tried the shred once and could barely make it through – I had no idea it was going to be that hard! I must be really out of shape!

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Allie (Live Laugh Eat) August 24, 2009

I love your writing, Angela. It’s not like overtraining has never been written about before but you somehow make it so relatable and interesting to read.

I used running as my anti-depressant after a break up and severe loneliness at school. I went from 0 to 40 miles per week in less than a month. Needless to say, I got a stress fracture in my shin! I had to take 3 months off…of course I wasn’t eating enough because I felt out of control not running and continued to elliptical my heart away. It finally healed and I went back to running about 20 miles a week. Then for some reason a couple of months later running just 6-10 miles a week was causing severe pain so I had to stop AGAIN.

Believe it or not (haha) I’m looking to get back into running again. I love it! But it’s been harder than I expected and I’m scared to get injured for the umpteenth time. We’ll see though! Thanks for the post.

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Lainie August 25, 2009

Another wonderful post. Overtraining is such a big issue these days – and it seems to be rather prevalent in the healthfood blog world. I think it’s awesome you shed some light on the issue – go Angela!

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Marissa August 25, 2009

Great post! I ran everyday and developed runner’s knee last year. Then I was over doing it again and doing the 30 Day Shred and now I’m in PT for IT Band Pain.

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Kathy (Moving Beyond Perfection) August 25, 2009

This was a wonderful post, thanks so much for writing it! :) I love the blogging community.. and I love, love, love reading blogs, but every now and then I have to pull myself away from them because I am also competitive by nature and find myself wanting to try everything being written about in the blogging world. Or, I would find myself jealous of bloggers being able to do things that I can’t (ie. there would be no room in my dorm room for the 30 day shred or yoga). I have to remind myself that I should be doing what is best for MY body, and what *I* love to do because not everything is for everyone. Moderation is always key!

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Lauren B August 25, 2009

Wow, this post came at the exact right moment in my life: I’m currently sitting in bed with a heating pad on my back because I think I might have strained my lower back muscle (not sure what that’s called – on my right side…??) by working out too hard this week. I was actually contemplating whether or not I should do my regular workout tomorrow morning and just push through it…and because of this post – I think I’ll take the day off and see how it feels later :) I forget sometimes in my effort to get back into shape that moderation – giving my body some time to rest – is JUST as important as working out! Thanks so much Angela!

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simpledaisy August 25, 2009

How true you are:)
I started training for a century this summer and during that time I started doing p90x 5x a week and I was still trying to do yoga and run once in awhile!! I got super burned out and ended up taking a week and a half off of riding and felt so much better when I came back to it! It’s really hard to have moderation when you’re a type A personality who wants to do it all!!! Have a great day~

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Susan August 25, 2009

I had a similar thing happen to me this past spring. I was trying to train for a 10k AND a triathlon, during my last semester of university. It was madness. My injury happened on my first “long” run (5.6 miles), which fell during exam week. I was spending my days sitting, not sleeping, and stressed to the max. So my body was not prepared for the long run at all. I ended up getting a hip injury that kept me from running for two months, cycling for a month, and any sort of lower body weight lifting for a month. Basically, I was swimming and walking during my key training period for the triathlon.

Anyways, lesson learned! Don’t push my body when it’s not ready to. Way more important to ease into activities than think I can just jump into it all at once!

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caitlin August 25, 2009

hahah you are a PT’s dream patient.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) August 25, 2009

I want a medal! haha

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Michelle August 25, 2009

This is a great post! I often don’t START exercising regularly because I think I’ll have to do so much (yoga and the shred and running) all at once if I want to see any difference in my body and I get discouraged and don’t do any of it. But it’s true what you say, 20 minutes of yoga is easier (physically and mentally) than 60, and better I do 20 mins a week than to plan and never do 60 minutes 3 or 4 times a week.

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Jess (Fit Chick in the City) August 25, 2009

The pressure to do it all is high in my life as a personal trainer. For example yesterday I ran 14 miles due to training for a marathon, but I also had to teach a BOSU boot camp class as part of my job. Avoiding overtraining is a constant challenge in my life.

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Lizzie August 25, 2009

I had just started with my trainer when I injured my foot running (still not sure if it was plantar fascitis (or however you spell it!) or whether I bruised it running on uneven brick). I insisted it was fine (even though it hurt like crazy just to walk on it) and was all set to do a 5K – until I was walking to the subway to go to the race and realized how upset my trainer would be if she knew what I was doing (not to mention my husband, former cross country runner in h.s) so I stopped, turned around, went home, called her freaking out. She reinforced the idea that it was OK for me to take some time out and insisted on no running for two weeks, massage every night etc. Two weeks later I was much better and haven’t had any problems since. Before I started with her I didn’t want to rest and felt guilty if I didn’t work out in some form. Now I appreciate the benefits of a rest day and also stretching (which I know you have mentioned numerous times) and how I have actually improved because of those things.

Great topic to post on!

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Kimberly Lee August 25, 2009

I am a classic Type A personality and a perfectionist, so I always feel pressured to do everything – to be everything to everybody. Up until 12 weeks ago, I was working out 7 days a week – 4 day of high impact aerobics classes, 3 days of regular cardio workouts (i.e. elliptical trainer) and lifting 4 days a week. I was quickly headed to a burnout and/or serious injury. And then I discovered I was pregnant. Suddenly I did not have the energy to keep up my training schedule, and my doctor told me that I was doing too much and could put my pregnancy in jeporady.

Now I workout 4 times a week, under my doc’s supervision. I feel great! I am taking care of my body which in turn is growing a happy, healthy baby. I am glad that I learned the lesson about balance now, before baby arrives, so that after he/she is here I will have a better understanding of how to balance the needs of my family with my own.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) August 25, 2009

Congrats!

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Paige @ Running Around Normal August 25, 2009

Wonderful post, Ange! I especially like the tip about listening to your body. This is so important. I over did it this weekend, and usaully don’t take a rest day on Mondays, but my body was telling me not to work out, so I didn’t :) In the past, I’ve definitely been a victim of over-training, but the blog world has helped point out that rest is SO important for your body.

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leslie August 25, 2009

i love everything about this post. it’s such an important point to stress. i used to try to be perfect in exercise (well, in everything) – and i have a nagging injury because of it. but the result is that i’ve learned to hold back, listen to my body first, and do only the amount of exercise that feels right. sometimes that can be difficult when i read blogs where everyone seems to be running half and full marathons, but treating our bodies well means something different for everyone.

also your last sentence couldn’t be more true, no matter which aspect of life you’re talking about. i’d rather have one incredible accomplishment than 15 that are half-hearted. wise words, angela!

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Holly August 25, 2009

I’m going through this right now, actually!

Like you, I wanted to “join in” on the 30 day Shred Challenges that I saw everywhere, and started doing it 3-4 days/week. I was also training for a 1/2 marathon and doing yoga 1-2 times a week. Well, my knee didn’t like this too much and I’ve been struggling for 3 months trying to get it “back.” Lesson learned!

As much as we hear it, we DO need to listen to our bodies. I hear people say that, yet see them run through injuries. Or force themselves through a workout “just because.” I’ve definitely learned that I’m not Superwoman, and when I get back I plan to do it SLOWLY and truly listen this time! :-)

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Runeatrepeat August 25, 2009

I burnt myself out last winter with all the 30 Day and Yoga buzz too.

I have gotten an overuse injury and it really sucked. Now I swear by rest days. I learned my lesson! Rest Days are vital.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) August 25, 2009

They really are KEY…I have been taking about 3 a week and never felt better!

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Krystina August 25, 2009

Thank you for this post! It is well written and very informative. I’m not going to lie – it scares me to see how many injuries the fitness bloggers have sustained – whether its knee pain, hip injuries, IT band issues, and so forth. Sometimes it makes me wonder if I should push myself at all.

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Niki (The Vintage Artist) August 25, 2009

I love this post, I am so guilty of this. Trying to lose weight and get fit and healthy I am always pushing myself so hard to get there and it’s really hard to put the breaks on a little and pace myself. I love that quote at the end! xx

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Kerri August 25, 2009

I’ve gotten lucky in the past with my over-training, super woman complex…I haven’t ever OFFICIALLY injured myself.

I have, however, definitely burned myself out. I was running 50+ miles a week, at one point, and doing some serious weight training as well. No need…no need…

I just stumbled across this ad. I’ve never done it before but it looks like it could be a great idea for time-crunched women. At least worth a look, perhaps….http://www.amazon.com/Womens-Health-Total-Workout-Ten/dp/B000SM6FK4

Let me know if you get it, have heard anything about it, etc. I love Womens Health Mag. :)

-Kerri from Enzymatic Therapy

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vfuf August 25, 2009

i overtrained too!! i used to hop on the elliptical until it said i had burned 1000+ calories (even if i knew it wasn’t accurate) and then weight train for 45 mins and to end my workout i would run 5k in less than 25 minutes. I did that routine several times in a week, needless to say i was TIRED by the end of the week!

PS. you should try stuffing avocados!!!!! they turn out great! cut the in half and then stuff them with; little cubes of pineapple, 1 tbsp yogurt, any veggies you like, etc

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Eve August 25, 2009

This is a great post! You really need to listen to your body. I know from injuries — ran too hard in high school and developed bursitis in my hip that I still have today! Not good, now I know when to stop and when to push myself.

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Cait (Cait's Plate) August 25, 2009

Angela – I LOVED this post! (I know I say that about every single one of your posts, but it’s true!). I totally used to have this. If I set out to do a 5 miler, I’d end up doing a 10, if I set out for an easy run, I’d end up going an hour. Finally I reached a point where I TOTALLY burned out and was able to find that balance that’s so important. Once I cut down I found my body was recovering much faster and was feeling so much better all around :)

I don’t tink there’s anything wrong with going a little longer once in a while, but it’s when it starts to become constant that it’s a problem…

Anyway – loved your moral that quality trumps quantity. That applies to ALL things and couldn’t be more true! :)

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Alex August 25, 2009

Angela,

This is a fantastic post…this is a great example of the quality posts you provide when you give yourself the time to do it.

I also found myself in manic phase not too long ago that ended up with an injury.

However, the injury was not physical, it was mental.

After I graduated from University, I started working out HARD for about five months, going to the gym for many hours everyday. I considered “rest days” for the weak. The gym I worked out at even offered me a job as a personal trainer! (My degree is in Psychology!)

Then suddenly, I got so tired. At first it was a physical fatigue, but after I had taken a couple weeks off and the physical fatigue had worn off, I was still sick and tired emotionally of pushing so hard.

The thought of sticking to any intense workout schedule again just made my heart sink.

It took me a long time to be able to do any extra exercise again.

That was almost two years ago and I still feel the same way. I ride my bike everyday instead of taking the subway, I walk everywhere, and I do yoga whenever I feel like my body needs it, but I don’t think I’ll ever be a “gym bunny” again. The tought actually scares me! I feel like it’s an addiction I can be prone to attracting, so I have to stay away from it, much like an alcoholic has to stay away from alcohol.

I know I burned out big time back then…If I had gone slower maybe things would have progressed differently. However, I like my lifestyle now and I feel great about my body, and my mental state is tons better and more peaceful.

Anyway, that was a long story!

Thanks again for the post, it was a good opportunity for me to reflect on my recovery :)

Take care,
Alex

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Angela (Oh She Glows) August 25, 2009

Thank you for sharing your story!

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Suzanne August 25, 2009

This post was fabulous and exactly what I needed right now. Lately I’ve been really burnt out from work, studying for the LSATs, and training for this Saturday’s half marathon. Exercise used to be a great stress reliever for me, yet now I find myself wanting to skip my runs more and more. Yet instead of listening to my body, I’ve been pushing through that exhaustion and making myself go all out anyways. Your post reminded me that, like so many other things in life, quality trumps quantity, and when my body is screaming at me to relax, I need to listen to it. Thanks, Angela!

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Rebekah August 25, 2009

i had a bad stress fracture last fall (training for a marathon) and was on crutches for 5 weeks, it was awful. i’ve learned my lesson. and your treadmill incline workouts have inspired me. my legs are feeling a little ‘off’ after two really hard runs last week, so i decided to do 20 minutes on the treadmill (9% incline at a 4.5 speed) and MAN did that kick my butt. HAHA! but i liked it and my legs don’t feel so shredded up!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) August 25, 2009

Treadmill hill workouts have been my saving grace!

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Emmanuelle August 25, 2009

Hello Angela,

Great post, coming at the right moment for me. Thanks for this!

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Beth @ CrossBorderCravings August 25, 2009

Great post Angela!

This is something I have thought a lot about lately. Like you, for a long time I always assumed more is better when it comes to working-out. Recently I had been spending over an hour at the gym most days pushing myself as hard as I could. By the time I’d get into work each morning I’d feel like crap! I thought something might be wrong with me, like I needed to see a Doctor. What I needed to do is listen to my body and work-out less! I have modified my routine quite significantly the past few weeks, 3 mile runs or long walks is all I’m doing now and I feel SO MUCH BETTER! May not be for everyone, but it’s working for me.

Thanks for bringing this topic up :O)

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Marina August 25, 2009

I don’t think I over-train, and that’s my problem. I always think I “under-train”, and I have to workout more, every day, for at least an hour. I know that’s bad, and I’m trying to change that point of view. But I so want to be skinny, have great legs, and I’m constantly afraid that I’ll gain weight. I won’t admit to myself that my legs are nice (as much as they could be, I’m not a model after all), or that my gluteus maximus got better these past few months.
I hate that. I am afraid of gaining weight, fat, afraid that I’ll look ugly…..
I wish I could stop that and enjoy my exercises and my food without feeling guilty.

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