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 }

Dustie August 25, 2009

Are you peeking into my life? I am currently training for a marathon – my first full one at that. I am having IT BAND issues and this past saturday I ran 16 miles of pain. I cried when i reach the end because I hurt and was mentally fatigued from ignoring it. Today I go to the doctor and who knows what he will say – but I feel like I am watching this all slip away from me. I only have 5 weeks left before the big day and now is not the time to rest, but I have no choice. The best answer is to back out….but I don’t even want to think that! I jumped in too soon and am paying for it – physically and emotionally….so sad.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) August 25, 2009

Dustie- I can relate to your situation a lot and I am sorry that you are going through this. I was heartbroken when I had to stop my training for a marathon. Just heartbroken. But let me offer a bit of hope- it goes by FAST, it really does. 2 months was nothing but a blip on my radar. If you heal yourself now, it will save you time in the long ‘run’. ~A

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Dustie August 25, 2009

i was given a cortisone shot this afternoon and was told to continue if the pain subsides. so…we shall see…… marathon is in 6 weeks…..eeek

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Shannon August 25, 2009

I can’t add anything else to the insightful things you and the other responders have said. This is a big problem for a lot of people. If I say I am going to do 6 miles and after 4 my body wants to stop, I do feel compelled to keep going. I am better at listening to my body now after injuring myself. But I still feel disappointed when I don’t meet the goal I set starting out. That is so wrong and i know it. I appreciate you pointing it out and I appreciate so many people sharing their stories. Reading about others experiences makes me feel a little less crazy for feeling the way I do, but at the same time helps me to go easier on myself. Thanks to everyone!

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Beth August 25, 2009

I am a compulsive over-trainer. It’s part of my anorexia, which I’m currently in recovery from (thank goodness), although it’s still a battle. Of COURSE more equals better, right? Um…not really. I’m glad I’m not the only one out there who finds it hard to keep her butt in a chair instead of heading out for a run/bike/hike/swim/etc….!

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Sarah August 25, 2009

So, I have been a long time blog reader, and never a blog writer, but I have been inspired to start my own blog! Check it out at FitTipExchange.wordpress.com !

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MegaNerd August 25, 2009

Fabulous post! :D I totally agree with what you said, and I’m amazed that you were able to take 2 whole months off from exercising. I think THAT makes you a superwoman. I would freak out…

Oh, and… I am currently eating the glo bar from the summit swag bag (I don’t know why it took me so long…) It’s AMAZING!!!!

Keep up the good work! I love reading your blog :D

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Angela (Oh She Glows) August 25, 2009

Thanks sweetie! :) Glad you enjoyed it!

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Menden @ Skinny Menny August 25, 2009

Hi there! I agree with everyone else…this is a great post! I tend to take on too much with everything I do…whether it’s work, play, or working out. I do feel guilty a lot of times, like I’m not doing “enough.” Like I’m going to miss something important, ya know? :) But this is a nice reminder to chill…thanks from one “super” woman to another! :D

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Tay August 26, 2009

I can totally and completely relate to this post. I was madly overtraining a couple years ago when I was training for my marathon. I was doing 10-14 mile runs multiple times per week, and MADLY underfueling. I was beyond exhausted during my training, literally falling asleep on the toilet and while walking!! It was ridiculous. Miraculously, I didn’t injure myself though. But then I continued to train “un-smartly”, not only because I loved running, but also as a mad way to burn calories. About 4 months ago, I was in the middle of marathon training, and was following my training schedule. But I also added in an easy 3 mile run one afternoon (on top of my morning 7 miler), then ran 6 the next day, and 7 the day after that. My knees were starting to get a tad bit sore, but I kept pushing myself. They just got worse and worse, and I finally had to rest for a day , which turned into a week, which turned into 4 months. I learned soooooo much from this, and I pray that I can return to my previous training (but do it smartly this time)!

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A@ Please Don't Eat Me! August 27, 2009

Hi Angela, its been a long time since i commented here! but i changed my website, so stop on over and say hi if you want! : )

i was led here by Daily Goods- this is a great post! thanks for sharing!! : )

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Erin @ Living and Loving In L.A. August 31, 2009

This is such a great post! I 100% completely agree with it, and sometimes it IS hard to stop! I usually struggle through the first two or three miles, but then could go forever, and it’s all I can do some days to make myself stop! I’m glad that others like you feel the same way. It’s okay to slow down!

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Patti February 19, 2010

Thank you for reposting this, I was actually falling into the “trap”. Thanks a ton for the reality check Angela!

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Laura @ Strong and Steady February 19, 2010

Hi Angela,

I really appreciate this post and am glad you re-posted it. All the points you make are totally spot-on – it’s hard to remember sometimes that *more is not necessarily more* (but, less isn’t more either… rather, just enough is more :D).

Your post made me think about two things specifically:

1) I’m pretty sure that incorporating (somewhat strenuous) yoga into my running schedule is what started the ball rolling on my run-prohibiting knee injury… which is pretty devastating. Isn’t yoga supposed to be rejuvenating and low-impact? I’ve always been super scared of cross-training because I didn’t want to injure myself, and I thought I was choosing a strength/stretch XT that was safe! Not cool, yoga, not cool.

2) I definitely prefer to concentrate on one fitness goal (aka race) at a time and finish an entire training plan before moving onto the next one. There’s no time to think about anything else while training, plus, if I feel too much pressure to train for tons of stuff, I’m more likely to overtrain. Also, spacing out my races by several months makes each of them more exciting and special.

Thanks again for the thought-provoking post!!!

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Sarah June 15, 2010

Fantastic post! It is very, very true and well written.
Yes, I have been and currently am caught up with over-training. I am glad I realize that I am, I do atleast 1.5 hours at the gym 6 days a week. Usually I go for 2-2.5. Trust me I feel it, I’ve have to take a break from running due to two knee injuries and shin splints. Last summer I actually had stress fractured my sacrum – that was a nasty little injury. I know I NEED to cut back, but once I am done a workout I want to do it again becasue I’m not tired/sore.

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ashley August 6, 2010

I am new the the healthy living blogging community and this post was just what I needed! Recently I came down plantar fasciatis (spelling not so hot) and it has been killing me. I always told myself I wasn’t like other people, I would never over train. I thought of myself as not motivated enough to reach that point. Well, here I am. I am hurt, and I was over working myself. A lot of what the other women on here are writing are actually the feelings I was going through. I needed this post right now, thank you.

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