After an exercise session you would expect to feel energised, strong, focused and alive in your body, right? One would safely assume that exercise is always a good habit to instil into your lifestyle and it certainly is.
The saying ‘no one ever regrets a workout’ is in fact not always true though, and for some the thought of doing a workout and the feeling afterwards is far from positive.
Years back I went from loving the buzz and positive feelings that exercise gave me, to feeling depleted during and after a workout, tired, heavy in my body and completely unable to feel any positive effect from it at all.
As a young personal trainer, I was in the gym early mornings, late nights, training 1 on 1 clients as well as teaching large group fitness classes. It looked great on the outside, living and getting paid for something I loved, but for a couple of years this all went away when my health took a turn for the worst.
After months of struggling to get out of bed even after sleeping for 8 or 9 hours, getting sick every month or so, having below zero energy to function let alone exercise, I was told by a doctor I had ‘adrenal fatigue’ and was burned out.
I didn’t even know what this was, but quickly learned that I was running on empty and needed to make some swift changes to my lifestyle. That involved giving up many classes and my work at that level if I wanted to recover and ‘feel normal’ again.
The doctor said I had been overdoing it with teaching too many classes (10-15 a week involving boxing, pump, circuits, weights, cardio and spin) and needed to step back to ‘take it easy.’
He said my body was too stressed by engaging in all these fast-paced workouts and probably not getting enough down time.
It was strange to hear because that’s what everyone did! My colleagues seemed to be ok, and members did heaps of classes, so why couldn’t I?
What you need to know is something important here which involves the stress response in your body.
Stress is prevalent in today’s busy world with more demands on us than ever before. A lot of it now involves mental output with technology, social media, expectations of fast responses to every request you receive, keeping up with work and family, plus looking after yourself.
If you are in a state of stress where your body releases cortisol and goes into the ‘fight or flight response.’
Basically, your brain triggers the alert ‘danger’ and epinephrine is released causing your heart rate to increase, breathing to increase, and energises your whole body.
The HPA axis is then triggered if the brain continues to perceive danger, where the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is released keeping your body in this state of stress.
Persistent epinephrine surges can cause weight gain especially around the belly area (ever had stubborn belly fat that won’t shift no matter how well you eat and exercise?), and can damage the arteries, increasing blood pressure.
The problem? Many of us are living in this state day to day and unable to get out of stress long enough for ‘the relaxation response’ to balance it all out.
The ‘relaxation response’ triggers your parasympathetic nervous system which helps to lower your heart rate and breathing, relaxing muscles and reducing blood pressure.
This brings your body back into a state of homeostasis or balance, where the benefits of exercise like muscle tone, muscle growth, weight loss and strength can really be felt.
In going through a two year recovery and changing up my entire lifestyle, one thing stood out to me that is key for anyone who wants to stay fit and healthy: exercise choice matters.
Exercise choice throughout your life matters, and it’s not something we tend to think about unless we are faced with health problems. Like when we neglect stretching until we pull a muscle, that sort of thing!
Generally speaking (and of course there are many more techniques other than what I mention here), the common forms of workouts we do to get fit and burn fat involve fast-paced, often high impact movements, and high load on your body with equipment like weights, kettlebells or similar.
These workouts induce the ‘stress response’ in your body. They certainly serve a purpose when it comes to a goal that is sport-specific or you are working towards a personal fitness or weight loss goal, but it’s not always healthy to be constantly working at this level.
In fact, it’s counterproductive if you are already highly stressed in your life. Pushing harder to budge the belly fat won’t work if your body is already run down.
I got to be honest and tell you I really resisted changing my routine of 10 plus classes a week, but the pain of feeling beyond exhausted and barely able to function everyday was worse.
So, I opened my mind to yoga, Pilates, tai chi, active stretching and other bodyweight styles of routines during my recovery in order to do something rather than nothing. This way it was less load on my body, more of a gentle to moderate activation.
It worked beautifully. I was able to maintain strength, moderate fitness, muscle tone and actually improved my core and flexibility way more than prior to the change.
In working with professional athletes and people around the world the fine tuning of workout style appropriate to where you are at in your life is key to achieving your goals.
If you are on the go and highly stressed in your life, feeling burned out or like you just don’t have the get up and go like you used to, then maybe it’s time to shift your workout style.
Tell-tale signs that workout burnout may be happening are: your muscles are always sore after exercise and never fully recover, you get common colds and bugs often, you have stubborn belly fat (this is also a sign your adrenals are out), you don’t have the energy or push in your sessions, your breathing is not what it used to be, you feel very depleted after exercise most of the time.
Exercise is for life, but always be mindful to do it at a pace that is respectful for where you are at, so it is part of your wellbeing solution and not part of the problem.
If you need any help at all with this, reach out on my socials!
BIO: Vanessa Bartlett is a presenter, lifestyle coach and holistic personal trainer and Pilates instructor with 20 years experience. She has been featured in The Daily Telegraph, News Local, and has presented for TVSN and The Morning Show. Vanessa has received an Innovation in Healthcare award and has trained professional athletes in Pilates and recovery programs. She is a mum of two young boys and through her own battles with adrenal fatigue, she is on a mission to help people find balance in exercise and life to live a life of vitality. Vanessa writes for Body and Soul, Greatist, The Great Health Guide, Women's Health, Vitality for Life and Thrive. www.vanessabhealth.com