I wanted to hop on here and talk about my recent experience with overtraining and why I quit Orangetheory. If you’ve been following along for a little bit, I’ve been kind of beating around the bush about it, just because I was trying to figure things out and what exactly was going on. I was also waiting to get some test results back.
I want to preface this post by saying this is very much my individual story, so I don’t want to assume these things are happening to everybody. And I don’t want to scare anyone or anything like that. With my health background and everything that was going on in my life at the time, the type of activity (i.e. intensity, duration, frequency) I was doing was much too much for me.
I have an autoimmune disease, to start with, so my body is already stressed out. So, me doing high-intensity exercise is already not the best. I’ve managed up until this point, doing CrossFit, Orangetheory, and all my favorite things, but living the way I was living, my body just couldn’t handle it.
How overtraining happened to me
Last Fall, I signed up for Orangetheory, and I love Orangetheory. This is not a knock on Orangetheory. Again, this is my personal experience. But, at the same time, I don’t think I’m alone in this, which is why I’m sharing my experience. Working with one-on-one nutrition clients and connecting with women on social media, I don’t think I’m the only person that has fallen into this overtraining trap.
So, I joined Orangetheory, and I absolutely loved it. I was doing it four days a week, sometimes five days a week. I was truly loving it. I mean, it’s such a FUN workout. I also manage a business, and I’m very much that Type-A personality. I want do ALL the things, and I am constantly taking on more. I have high expectations for myself, and I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I generally just an amped-up person. (I’m working on it, I’m working on it.)
Around this same time, I got a book deal, a macro cookbook deal, and it was something I just could not say no to. And I’ve written books in the past, so I know how insane they are, but this one was just too good to turn down. So, I said “yes,” and it was 300 recipes, a full on cookbook, which is coming out in August. Mark your calendars! It’s already for sale on Amazon, if you want it.
So, I took on the cookbook, and books just take over your life. They are not a small project. I started writing the book, and then right before I officially signed the book contracted, I enrolled in the Functional Diagnostic Nutrition program. I signed up two weeks before the book deal, so I already at a lot on my plate.
And then the new year came… I had 19 one-on-one nutrition clients, along with 48 group coaching clients. Clearly, there was a lot going on in my life. So, I was doing all of this stuff, I’m super stressed out, I was not sleeping well, and I am exercising a lot. Thankfully, I wasn’t under-eating. I’m not somebody who under-eats. I just love food too much, and I knew I was getting more than enough food. I’m more of a stress eater, so not enough calories wasn’t an issue.
Symptoms of overtraining
I started experiencing all sorts of unusual symptoms, but I just ignored them. I’d have a couple of nights of bad sleep, and I was just like, “Oh, that’s annoying,” but I’d blow it off. There were sometimes I was waking up in the middle of the night, and I was so wired that I would get out of bed at 3:00 or 3:30 in the morning and just start working. The routine became part of my life. I had so much to do. I had to write a book! So I just plowed through and ignored the symptoms of stress that I was experiencing.
But then the symptoms were too hard to ignore. I started having blood sugar issues. Now I was waking up in the middle of the night starving. My stomach was growling! And knowing what I know now from the FDN program… if you are constantly stressed out, your cortisol levels are through the roof, and that will absolutely affect your blood sugar levels. So, I was getting crazy cravings, occassional night sweats (also related to blood sugar issues), and I was hungry all the time, which made my sleep even worse. These are just some of the symptoms of overtraining. Check out this blog post for more.
I also started to nap after workouts, which is so unlike me. Sure, I remember in my marathon training days, I wouldn’t want to take a nap after running for 2-3 hours. But it’d be an hour-long Orangetheory class, and I would come home and be like, “I could just nap.” I didn’t nap during the week because I had so much work to do, but on Sundays after class, I would come home and sleep.
I was so tired after my workouts, and workouts aren’t supposed to exhaust you. Yes, you can work hard and challenge your body, but they’re supposed to energize you. You’re supposed to feel good after a workout. And if you are beating yourself down so badly that you want a nap, it’s not good. And same goes if you feel like garbage during your workouts. If you just don’t have the same energy and your performance has gone down, you might be overdoing it with your training.
I used to go and crush every single Orangetheory workout I did. I went into Orangetheory like I would CrossFit, and I shouldn’t have. The intensity was just too much for my body with everything that was going on at the time in my life. Again, this is not a knock at Orangetheory. (It’s not them, it’s me!) I really, really love it as a workout, and I will probably go back at some point when my body is fully recovered.
More symptoms of overtraining that I experienced… I lost muscle mass, and I gained body fat. We had done a Transformation Challenge at Orangetheory. I did an InBody scan, and it was very, very different than the one I had previously done. And it’s funny because the number on the scale pretty much stayed the same, but my body fat increased and my muscle mass decreased. Weight gain is 100% a symptom of overtraining. And granted my training was very different because I wasn’t doing as much strength training as I was before, but I was really surprised how much my body composition had changed from stress. (FYI: Excess cortisol/stress can inhibit muscle growth.)
Your menstrual cycle is said to be your fifth vital sign. And if anything happens with your period… it goes away, your cycle gets longer or shorter, it’s a good indicator that something is going on with your health. I noticed mine got shorter and shorter during this time, and you guys know how I feel about hormones! They are so, so, sooo important. Since I’ve stopped training so hard and my book draft was submitted, my period has gotten back to normal, and I think I’m moving in the right direction.
I received a great question about measuring heart rate as a guide to intensity. And, yes, I did that. I didn’t buy the Orangetheory heart rate monitor because it didn’t work for me (it would die on the floor), but I used my Apple watch. I was consistently in the orange and red zones, so I was crushing workouts, and it was just too much for my body.
Also, at the same time, I was tracking heart rate variability (HRV). If you’ve never heard of this, it’s super interesting. There are all sorts of apps out there that you can use to measure this. I use Welltory and HRV4Training. You measure your heart rate using your finger on the camera lens. HRV is measuring the intervals between the beats of your heart. The more variability you have, the better cardio health and fitness you have. The less you have, the more the sympathetic system is taking over. Your body is likely stressed, so it’s trying to conserve energy by beating more steadily.
I was tracking HRV for many, many months, and every time I would do Orangetheory, my score would plummet the next day. It was very obvious from day-to-day and even trends over many months, but I just ignored it until my symptoms got really bad, and I gained a bunch of weight.
So, nowadays I am training very differently. I am only doing strength training. If I do any sort of cardio, my heart rate probably doesn’t get above 130 or so. My pace is moderate and very chill. I’m also walking a ton. I’m walking with Murphy, I’m walking with the family, and I’m walking by myself. I had signed up for yoga classes, but with everything going on right now, the studio is closed. I’m not currently doing yoga, but hopefully I will when the studio opens again.
My crazy symptoms have gotten a million times better. I am sleeping amazing now. My hunger and blood sugar issues have very much evened out. I’ve been prioritizing my nutrition, focusing on protein, lots of veggies and fiber, and just consuming lots of good stuff. I’m also trying to relax as much as possible and not take on any new projects.
I haven’t done another InBody scan, so I don’t know exactly what’s going on with my body composition, but I feel better. I feel less puffy. I feel like I’ve maybe put on some muscle. I’m starting to feel strong again. It’s only been 2 months since I quit Orangetheory, but I really feel like taking now the intensity of my workouts and focusing on building strength have made a difference.
Ok, so I’m not saying you shouldn’t do high-intensity workouts like Orangetheory or Peloton. I know a ton of people are Peloton-ing right now, but that’s not the message I’m giving you. If you have other things going on in your life right now that are very stressful… work is crazy, kids are crazy, you’re not sleeping well or eating well (under-eating is a big stressor), it might be something to consider. Take it down a notch with your high-intensity workouts and just stick with strength training.
Strength training is so good for you – obviously, for building muscle, maintaining muscle, longevity and functional fitness moving into your older years, but also having more muscle on your body means you’ll automatically burn more calories and boost your metabolism. Having more muscle helps your hormones, and it makes your body look different. Personally, I don’t care about the scale and what the number says, but I do care about how my body looks.
Lifting weights and lifting heavy (for you) weights is what changes your body. It changes your body composition, the way it looks, and how clothes fit. With the StrongMadeSimple program coming out next week, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. My original plan was to do Orangetheory and lift at home, but then all this crazy stress/hormone stuff happened, so now I’m just strength training at home and starting to see changes!
Overtraining is so common and so many women don’t even realize it’s happening – myself included. Or maybe we just ignore the symptoms or don’t realize we shouldn’t feel so crappy because of our workouts and lifestyle. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “needing” to workout all the time and not taking enough rest days, but it doesn’t need to be that way. More is not always better.