Don’t get me wrong, exercise is a good thing.
So is hiking in the woods.
But both exercise and hiking can become very bad things when you add a grizzly bear to the mix.
Bear with me (no pun intended).
Exercise is a form of stress for your body. A little bit of stress is a good thing. When our bodies are confronted with stress and we meet it and overcome it, we are able to become better, stronger, and more capable of handling stress the next time it comes around.
The problem becomes when we are chronically stressed and our body is never able to meet those stress demands, is not able to recover, reset, and become better prepared to handle the stress the next time around.
I present to you, an analogy. How too much exercise is like being chased by a bear.
Initial stress: you are hiking in the woods and encounter a grizzly bear (i.e. you go to the gym)
The body responds: the bear chases you, and you run for your life. (i.e. you put yourself through an intense and challenging workout.)
The stress passes: you are able to outrun the bear and it disappears. (i.e. the workout ends and you’re tired but ok.)
Your body begins the recovery process: The bear is gone, but you’re battered and bruised and your body and muscles are tired. Similarly after a workout you’re tired and sore. The body needs time to repair this damage, and it will need healthy nutrients (from food) as well as water and rest.
Now… here’s where it gets interesting. Say you are able to get to a hospital, have your wounds treated, eat a healthy meal and replenish fluids. You recover and heal. Months later, you’re in the woods again and encounter another bear. Again you run, get away but this time you’re able to respond more quickly and your body isn’t quite as stressed because you’ve done this before – and lived. It is scary, but less so because you’ve already gone through it once.
Similarly you have a tough workout and you’re tired and sore. You eat a good healthy post workout meal, drink plenty of water and get a long night’s sleep. The next day you walk and stretch but you don’t go back to the gym until the following day in which you have another tough workout. This time you’re less sore and able to do more without being as tired.
Now imagine this scenario: you outrun the bear, but you’re lost in the forest. As you wander you’re more tired, your feet ache and you have nothing to eat. Hours later the bear finds you. This time you’re exhausted and can’t run as fast. The bear gets you.
Apply this to exercise: after that hard workout you don’t eat enough fuel to recover because you’re afraid of gaining weight. You’re dealing with long hours at work and responsibilities at home and you don’t sleep more than 4-5 hours. You’re not able to rest enough for your body to properly rebuild from your workout. Even though you’re tired and still really achy and sore, you get up in the morning and go back to the gym for another workout. It is hard and doesn’t feel great but you do it anyway. Repeat the cycle. The next day you’re at the gym working out but you’re having trouble keeping up, and you use bad form, injuring your back. Because you did not allow yourself to rest and recover, your body was not able to handle the increased demands of the workout and you got hurt. The bear got you.
Your body’s goal is survival. If it is repeatedly faced with stressors from which it is not able to recover, it will try to find a way to survive because the stressor isn’t going away.
If you were living somewhere that bear attacks were common, you’d start carrying a weapon and probably not go out into the woods much. You might build a fort up in a tree to keep yourself safe.
Inside your body the same thing happens. Your body will stop using energy for anything it deems not all-important for survival. This includes metabolism which is fat loss. It also includes menstruation for women. Your body will focus only on vital functions like your heart, lungs and brain. Everything else is expendable. There’s no room in the fort for anything extra.
This is why too much exercise, too little sleep and stress negatively effect weight loss.
Your body needs to be able to meet the challenge, recover from it and get stronger the next time it faces that challenge. Allow yourself time to recover between your workouts and keep your exercise to a minimum or lower intensity if the rest of your life is very stressful.
You’ll never get results if you keep getting eaten by the bear.