#BetterInRed: The risk of too much too soon

Make sure you don’t let your ambition get ahead of your ability on the #BetterInRed challenge. Dr Cheyne Donges from the School of Exercise Science, Sport and Health talks about the risks of doing too much too soon and how you can avoid them.

As with everything in exercise and fitness, what works for one person won’t work for another, and ‘too much?’ will be very different for everyone. In fact, individuality is one of the core guiding principles in exercise training.

Finding the right balance between being too comfortable with the exercise you’re doing and being too challenged is tricky, so it’s best to be careful.

Consistency comes first

Your exercise should be consistent, organised and gradually progressive. You need to keep it predictable for the body. It’s about nudging towards progress, not rushing.

By now you should have gotten to the point where you’ve done a few consistent weeks of regular 30 minute exercise sessions, so now you can gradually increase your workout intensity without necessarily having to make your session go for longer.

Incremental increases in intensity

A good rate of progress is to increase intensity in fortnightly increments, i.e. every six sessions you could consider making the workout a little more challenging for you.

For example, if you’re currently jogging at 8km/hour on the treadmill, then after two weeks of doing that and getting to feel ok at that pace, try going up to 8.5 or 9km/hour, then increase at the same increment two weeks later.

You’ve also got to master the incremental change you’ve nudged up to before bumping it up again. You’ve got to feel comfortable with 9km/hour on the treadmill before you think about adjusting to 9.5km/hour. So don’t just do it because it’s been two weeks, check in with how you’re feeling.

The same principle of making incremental increases to your intensity applies to weights as well as cardio.

If you’re just starting out in weight training you could try doing three sets of 10-15 repetitions on each machine at a fairly low weight. Then after two or three weeks you could increase the weight by 5 kilograms, one more plate or the next available increment on the machine and keep doing the three sets of 10-15 repetitions.

The risk of overuse injury is real

The conflict between ambition and ability can lead to ‘too much too soon’ injuries and these are some of the most common injuries that physiotherapists see. These injuries may be the result of exercising for too long, at too high an intensity or at too great a frequency.

Physios also see a lot of overuse injuries, in particular knee pain is a common one from running and jogging, and these often literally stop people in their tracks and they’re then unable to do any activity. Don’t be the person who has to pull out of the challenge because you went too hard in week 5.

Use your body feel

Listen to your body and tune in to how you’re pulling up the next day after exercise or that night if you’re doing exercise in the morning. This can be a measure of whether or not it’s time to nudge the intensity up a notch.

You can expect to get soreness, especially from running and weights, for the first two to three weeks. It can also happen for the first session or so after you increase the intensity by an increment. This is a completely normal response. But if the same level of soreness continues after three weeks of consistent exercise, your body is probably trying to tell you you’re overdoing it.

Is there a disadvantage to going slow?

No. People are often impatient and can try to rush the results and the response. It actually works better if you do small increases over a long time and let your body adapt.

This goes for weight loss too. It should be slow and focused on long-term results. The guidelines are 250-500g of weight loss per week otherwise you’ll gain it back and more.

If you’re really interested in progression you could consider working with a good personal trainer or exercise physiologist as they will be able to prescribe you a program that’s specific to you and can guide you to progress and results and steer you away from the risk of injury. There is an art (and a lot of science) involved in getting an individual recipe just right.

#BetterInRed is all about getting the most out of university life by looking after your health and wellbeing. It is an exercise challenge that will run for eight weeks from Monday 6 March.

So, lace up, get out and challenge yourself to complete 30 minutes of exercise three times per week. Share your exercise using #BetterInRed and you could win some great prizes!

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