I find that I relate to mothers interested in fitness the most, and I’ve come to realise that we all share one wild dream.
Many of clients tell me, “I wish I could go to the gym every day and give it my all without worrying about anything else.” You want to see how much you could achieve if you could rest and sleep as much as you need to keep up with your training. You want to be able to train in a way that makes you feel, excuse my language, like a total badass.
You want to have the opportunity to see what you can achieve with undivided attention to your training without being worried about the washing, cleaning and other mum duties like wiping bottoms. You want to give YOU pleasure and a sense of accomplishment. Something that is totally just for YOU!
Well, I will tell you what. I DID IT!
I’ll be honest. I tried to see how far I could stretch my body while maintaining basic family obligations: to feed the kids, help them with their homework and keep them clean. The timing was perfect and I had stocked my fridge with frozen meals so there would be minimal need for cooking.
For a whole week, I wanted to experiment with what would happen if I went to the gym for 6 consecutive days with the intention to focus on training near my max intensity. Let’s be real, I knew from the start that this wouldn’t be a realistic plan that could work for the long term. I run a home, a business and a family and I didn’t have the intention to dump everything in my life for my training. As I said, it was a short experiment to explore what would happen if I did.
I want to make a note here that I am already used to a high frequency training programme without pushing any limits. My current exercise programme is what I would consider a smart one. It’s one that takes into account what I did the day before, so it has some built-in recovery strategies. For example, when I train my legs, the next day they aren’t any leg exercises, I pair training big muscle groups with smaller ones to make the programme less taxing, etc. The only thing that I did differently was to up the intensity.
So here’s how it went…
The first half of the week, I felt pumped and energised to train. To be able to sustain my efforts, I made sure that I was getting at least 9 to 10 hours of sleep.
Half way through the week I started waking up feeling increasingly sore and tired. That’s when I decided that I will consciously NOT listen to my body even though I was fully aware I was not feeling my best and I carried on pushing through. I found it difficult to focus or concentrate on my work and I started napping to make it until the end of the day. I started resenting myself for being such as slob. I decided to top up my sleep with an extra hour and I started taking a magnesium supplement to alleviate the soreness.
By the end of the week, I felt totally baked. Now, not only the physical symptoms got worse but I also experienced out of control hunger and cravings and I was so irritable that it affected my relationships with myfamily (I am so sorry – my experiment might save humanity!)
On my last day of training I felt totally wiped out. At the gym, a personal trainer complimented my body. I don’t blame him for looking only neck-down, if he looked a bit higher he’d notice the bleary eyes. The fact that I slept 11 hours the night before didn’t make any difference. I felt so low physically that the compliment he gave me didn’t even register on the meter, it made me think, “Is this what a 40 – wasn’t quite 41 yet – year old woman need to do to get noticed”? 🙂 On my way out, I told him if he sees me again in the gym to kick me out.
My planned day off training came as a huge relief. It came with the joy you feel when your husband says, “Sweetheart, you don’t need to cook, I got it all sorted.” Shortly after waking up I had an Epsom salt bath, which is known for alleviating soreness and improving recovery and spent my day doing pretty much nothing which I thought it was totally unfair for my family for too many reasons to mention here but I’m sure you could guess why.
So on the following Monday, seven days after the start of the experiment, although my intention was to give my body as much rest as possible with extra sleep, naps, pills, foam rolling and Epsom baths, it told me it had enough. I woke up with a bad cold and it was as if my body raised a white flag to say, “I tried to support your crazy experiment but now I am going to slow you down with a fever, a snotty nose and a chesty cough. You are not going to the gym now, nutter, are you”?
The truth is that you don’t get to decide how much recovery is enough for you. If you overlook the signs of overtraining, your body will decide it for you.
The bottom line is that I reached the point that thinking about going to the gym filled me with dread. Exercise was something that supported my life, it gave me joy and a boost of energy and confidence and now it became something that was shrinking my life. I became unavailable to the people I love and most importantly to myself. How can you enjoy life when you feel worn out all the time?
I did the opposite of what I advocate in my work. When people ask how much to exercise I always encourage them to start with less and build it up over time. It’s a wise thing to gradually increase the amount and intensity of exercise until you find that “sweet spot.” Your body will thank you for that and respond in a way that supports your life.
What I wanted to find out with this experiment was:
Could I train harder if I boosted recovery?
I put my hypothesis to the test and I found out that there is a limit of how much you can do to improve recovery. Even if you do nothing else other than training, resting, sleeping, popping pills, foam rolling and having Epsom baths (which I believe are the most accessible and realistic things you can do if you are not a professional athlete), there is only so much your body can take. Imagine what it would be like if you still had to deal with the unavoidable and often inexorable realities of daily life. Sadly, most people I know, don’t even consider recovery strategies to support their training when life outside the gym can’t be put on hold.
You may be wondering what is the moral of the story?
The moral of story is that your body never lies. It will tell you when it had enough if you stop to pay attention to what it’s saying. When you don’t it will find a way to tell you. The only way you can explore how much is too much is through experimentation to discover what is right for you. One person can endure for longer without any problems, another person may get worse sooner. We all have different, genetics, lifestyles and endurance – so there is no universal rule for everyone. Some signs that you can look out for when you are training are:
- Cravings and insatiable hunger that’s out of control
- Low mood, irritability and anxiety
- Trouble sleeping or waking up too early.
- Missing or irregular menstrual cycles
- Low libido
Perhaps I would have done better if I kept the intensity and reduced the frequency? Maybe. Would I catch a cold anyway? Nobody knows but your immune system does get suppressed when you are exhausted. What matters is how you are going to make exercise to work for you. You can only find out by trying different strategies and have an honest conversation with yourself about your goals, abilities and expectations and stay present with your experience.
Is pushing your exercise limits a dream or bad nightmare after all? You decide!