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My eight-week challenge: How to avoid fitness burnout

Bodies are fragile, especially when you're working to make them stronger. Over my lifetime, I've had two surgeries and spent at least three years (not consecutively, thankfully) in physical therapy due to exercise-related injuries.

So when I started my fitness reboot, I worried that it was only a matter of time before my body sabotaged my efforts, so much so that most of my initial consultation with my personal trainer from the Toronto YMCA, Sarah Daly, was spent explaining my history of injuries.

By week seven of the program, I was injury-free. But there was another obstacle I needed to be conscious of: overtraining.

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Often colloquially called burnout, overtraining is a physical and mental state of fatigue that happens when you overload your body. Generally, it is because you ramp up your exercising too quickly. Athletes training for a specific competition are most likely to overtrain. But other factors, such as not enough rest and too much stress, can also result in burnout if you don't adjust your fitness routine.

A National Institute of Health report includes the following as some of the physical symptoms of overtraining: a higher resting heart rate, drastic weight loss and elevated temperature. But perhaps more noticeable are the psychological symptoms, which include lack of motivation, sleep disturbances and depression.

According to a 1999 study from the American College of Sports Medicine's Health and Fitness Journal, anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent of athletes experience overtraining. And while I'm by no means an athlete, there have been moments where I've felt burnout in the last seven weeks. Not because of the exercises I've been done, but because I haven't adjusted to do less of them during moments of high stress (usually coupled with less than four hours of sleep a night) in the rest of my life.

One of the tricks to prevent overtraining is to have a balanced workout routine that is flexible with the rest of your life.

There are five pillars of a well-rounded fitness program, according to the Mayo Clinic: aerobic training, strength training, core training, balance and flexibility. In the past, my workout routines have been incredibly lopsided. I'd say 80 per cent aerobic, 10 per cent strength training and 10 per cent flexibility.

Previously, the extent of my core training was tacking on a few impromptu sit-ups to the end of a random strength workout. And balancing was a thing I'd only ever do when I was up on my tip-toes to reach for something.

"Determining how much of each to do, and when, is dependent on a number of factors including how many times a week you commit to exercising and the duration each time, as well as the type and intensity of the activities," said Daly. "Ideally, in a week you should strive for two to three strength sessions, three to seven flexibility sessions and a minimum of five cardio sessions."

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It sounds like a lot. And in some weeks when I actually find the time in my busy schedule to squeeze all of my workouts in, I feel very tired. But not overtrained, because all of my exercises are working together to balance out my body.

I'm still working on my work-life-exercise balance, though, because I've realized being healthy boils down to being well-rounded when it comes to fitness.

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About the Author

Madeleine White is the Assistant National Editor for The Globe and Mail. She has been with the Globe since 2011 and previously worked in the Globe's Video and Features departments, covering topics ranging from fitness and health to real estate to indigenous education. More

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