(Breather) We all know about the importance of working out. But what is equally important is how you exercise – otherwise, you could fall into the “overtraining” category, where you can seriously hurt yourself, and/or compromise your health.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I have dealt with this in the past enough to the point where I have finally learned my lesson! I even got totally fried for a period of 3-4 weeks just this past summer, due to a pattern of excessive exercise. Ouch! I’ve definitely had to adjust my routine from what it used to be. These days, the longest I’ll run is between 20 and 30 minutes – if I really want to go for it, I’ll go until I hit the 45 minute mark. I’ve also shortened the duration of my sprints, and I’ve made it a point to take longer rests in between (at least one minute long), as this helps prevent the cellular breakdown and destruction that occurs when you push it too far by trying to sustain maximum speed for longer than 10-20 seconds. It also allows me to improve my sprinting skills as I can do sprint workouts more frequently, although it is important to keep in mind that they should occur every 7-10 days – otherwise you’ll likely feel like crap!
I used to wake up with really tight calves the day after a hardcore sprinting session – this went on for years! Then, I’d crash 24-36 hours later, and have no idea why….Well, it all makes sense now, as we know that performing high intensity exercise without taking adequate rest periods leads to cellular destruction. A by-product of this process is ammonia toxicity in the bloodstream, which is especially sensitive in the brain cells – definitely not something you want happening in your body!
You want to walk away from a workout feeling energized, not fatigued and utterly depleted. Elated to no longer be waking up to tight calves, and feeling great after my sprint workouts, I started sprinting more frequently. Instead of every 7-10 days, it was when I felt like going again – and often, this was every few days. But over time, I started to feel the effects, most noticeably in my digestive system – which is often the first thing to be weakened by the effects of overtraining, as it increases your gut permeability. I certainly felt this stress on my digestion, and thankfully, I’ve kept track of my workouts in journals since the 70s! This practice has allowed me to easily identify what is going on in my body based off my (recorded) behavior, and man, did it come in handy here! Turns out, I had done 7 high intensity workouts in a period of 11 days. No wonder I was feeling so lousy!
I share this story in the hope of illuminating the real consequences that come with overtraining and the importance of taking appropriate rest periods. Think of it as “borrowing from the bank.” When you’re overstimulating the flight or fight response, you will inevitably crash and burn at some point – it’s undeniable. So, listen to your body, and be careful not to overdo it. Try my practice of keeping a journal that details your workouts – this will make it easier for you to balance training and recovery. Learn from my mistakes: no matter how good you’re feeling that day, if you’ve already recently performed a high intensity workout, then it’s simply not worth compromising your health to do another one just because you think your body can take it. Rest and recovery is an integral part of the working out process, and needs to be taken as seriously as the workout itself if you want to be functioning at peak performance.
Brad over-trained and suffered and learned from it. [05:52]
When you perform high intensity exercise with minimal rest periods in between efforts, you are engaging processes of cellular destruction. [08:09]
After years of “great” workouts, Brad realized he was damaging his body. The first symptom was digestive tract discomfort. [10:09]
Keeping a journal of workouts helped Brad analyze what was happening during his workouts. [14:10]
Fight or flight response kicks in. so the stress hormones flood your bloodstream and enhance your function. [16:31]
During the overreaching phase is when you often experience performance breakthroughs, however it is an artificial high because your body is filled with painkillers (stress hormones) [20:17]
Using intuition is tricky because we have to distinguish between intuition and animal instincts. [23:31]
An important part of planning your workouts is scheduling the rest and recovery. [25:22]
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Get Over Yourself Podcast
Brad: 00:00 Welcome to the get over yourself podcast. This is author and athlete, Brad Kearns, discovering ways to be healthy, fit and happy in hectic, high-stress, modern life. So let’s slow down and take a deep breath. Take a cold plunge and expertly balanced that competitive intensity with an appreciation of the journey. That’s the theme of the show. Here we go.
Brad: 05:14 Okay, it’s time for. Could this be my most embarrassing show ever. I’m going to title it overtraining in the stress response and make my vulnerable and embarrassing reveal that I dug myself a nice deep hole here in the summer of 2019 became really fried for about three or four weeks due to a pattern of excess exercise, a weighted to the high intensity stuff cause I’m no longer an endurance machine.
Brad: 05:52 I don’t do any overtraining type pattern for prolonged exercise the longest I’ll ever go for a run or a bike ride, a run maybe a 45 minutes at the most, maybe an hour once in awhile. If Dr Stephen Co Green drags me out that far and biking, we’ve done a couple two hour rides, comfortable rides, uh, in the mountains at comfortable heart rate. And that’s only once in a while. So usually I’m running 20 to 30 minutes and uh, biking probably about the same with little bike rides here and there. So it’s not the endurance thing, but I’m really, really enjoying my sprint workouts. Uh, as you hear on different shows, I’ve had an amazing radical transformation in my approach to these sprint workouts by implementing, uh, uh, inspired by a Dr. Craig Marker, uh, the high intensity repeat training concept whereby I shorten the duration of my sprints and take much longer rest periods between my sprints, thereby, uh, minimizing the cellular breakdown and destruction that occurs when you try to sustain maximum speed for longer than, uh, 10 to 20 seconds.
Brad: 07:07 And also the more, uh, luxurious rest interval. That’s Dr Markers words allows me to come back and deliver, uh, a performance of equal quality and explosiveness throughout the workout. So my sprint workout now, uh, template is eight times 70 meters. That’s around 10 seconds, I think. And I will rest for a ten second effort. I’ll rest at least a minute in between. So it doesn’t seem like a terribly strenuous workout when you’re doing, uh, eight reps and they’re only lasting 10 seconds with a lot of rest in between. But what happens is the workout doesn’t trash me like my sprint workouts did for many, many years. So I can do this sprint workout more frequently. And get better and better at sprinting without that disruption caused by soreness. Uh, fatigue, delayed recovery time whereby for the previous 12 years, uh, before I started to make this change this year, uh, I could only sprint once a week at the most, more like once every seven to 10 days.
Brad: 08:09 That’s why you see that designation and the Primal Blueprint that sprints are recommended once every seven to 10 days because it’s a pretty brutal workout and you feel trashed. After, in the case of the workouts that I did for so long, I’d wake up the next morning with really tight calves every time for years and years, they never got better. And then I’d have these crash and burn periods, maybe 24 to 36 hours after the workout where it’d be sitting there innocently working at my desk, felt great doing the sprint workout the previous morning, and then the next afternoon, boom, I’m crash and burn. I need a nap. I can’t even open my eyes at the computer. And this, uh, we now learn and listen to the show for details that, uh, when you perform high intensity exercise with minimal rest periods in between efforts, you are engaging, uh, processes of cellular destruction to fuel the energy to keep spinning ATP into the cell, to pump out maximum effort.
Brad: 09:04 Uh, it’s called disassembling and de-amination, uh, described by Dr. Marker. And this is bad news. One of the byproducts is ammonia toxicity in the bloodstream, especially sensitive in the brain cells because our brain cells are so sensitive to getting a good oxygen and blood circulation. So what I was experiencing with this crash and burn a day after a tough workout is this, uh, this destruction playing out and my body’s striving to return back to homeostasis at great effort as opposed to a really high quality workout where I go out there, uh, I explode off the starting line. I put in some good work and I walk away from the track feeling bouncy and energetic and satisfied that I put in some good work without that sense of fatigue and depletion that you get when you do. For example, the hit workout pattern, high intensity interval training, which is characterized by cumulative fatigue and declining performance over the course of the workout.
Brad: 10:09 For example, you’re familiar with the typical format of a bootcamp class or a spinning class in the gym or a track workout with the Tuesday night track club where you’re doing eight quarters, eight times 400 meters, and the first three or four feel good. The fifth or sixth one starting to hurt a little bit in the seventh and eight ones are pure sufferfest and we congratulate each other high fiving at the end thinking that we’re getting fitter. But what’s happening in fact is we’re just breaking down the body in the name of training, demanding a much longer recovery time, bringing in the high risk elements of suppressed immune function, uh, increased sugar cravings due to the depletion of glycogen from the, uh, draining depleting workout as opposed to that explosive workout where you had so much rest. You feel great. That’s the good news. Uh, but what about the discussion at the outset of the podcast that I’m embarrassed to report that I dug myself into over training fried pattern.
Brad: 11:09 What happened was I felt so great after these sprint workouts. I was so unaccustomed to waking up the next day and not having that calf soreness and feeling pretty good. And then a couple of few days later feeling like I could go again and then going out there and going again. Yeah. Isn’t that awesome? My workouts are so much better designed. But what happened was over a period of time I started to, uh, chalk up an assortment of pretty impressive workouts. Even the very next day I might be going into, uh, lifting heavy weights the next day after sprinting or two days later. And these are things that, uh, I was completely unaccustomed to, unfamiliar with in my past life where I took so much recovery time after depleting sprint workout. But the sum total, the cumulative effect of throwing down these impressive workouts. And I also have to report that I was getting in better and better shape.
Brad: 12:06 So I was more competent with my dead lifts. And I could do more sets and I could come back the next day and do a few more or throw down some other type of, uh, high intensity training. Uh, it all served to pretty much bury me and then I started to feel lousy for, oh, it was probably at least three weeks. My main symptom being that my stomach, my digestive tract fell apart. And that was often the first thing to go, uh, referencing back to my time as a professional triathlete and also in discussion with my peers where there was so many calories consumed, so much stress on the digestive tract from uh, heating up body temperature, trying to, uh, vacate a fluid and nutrients from the digestive system in to the working muscles. And so the digestive system is put under great strain, especially when you’re doing a prolonged and durance workouts.
Brad: 13:04 But with any form of workout, uh, this is recent, uh, uh, reading, I’m referencing, uh, you actually, uh, experience the undesirable condition of leaky Gut Syndrome where you have increased intestinal intestinal permeability during the workout. So what’s happening is your temporarily bringing on the condition of leaky gut, temporary leaky gut syndrome. When your body temperature elevates and you get a sweat going and you’re working out hard. Uh, so if you happen to do that over and over, you can set yourself up for more vulnerability to infection. Uh, Remember, the, uh, the, the common bug that you get in the mountain streams and lakes, GRD, uh, uh, people were afflicted with that routinely on the professional triathlon circuit cause we were swimming in so many strange bodies of water around the globe and then doing frequent jet travel, which is also an immune suppressant. And so, uh, the digestive system was a constant challenge and that was the first thing that went for me.
Brad: 14:10 And it just felt lousy for, uh, several weeks where I just didn’t feel right in my stomach. And when you don’t feel right in your digestive tract, uh, you can probably reference how you just don’t feel right overall. So I had a, a big disruption in my normal routine training patterns and had to lick my wounds and realize, thankfully, because I take a small effort to journal, uh, every workout that I do and have been doing. So since, um, the, uh, the 70s when I started running in high school, I have an annual training journal, big stack of them in a box somewhere in storage. And now in a digital format, I have probably the last 10 years a just a, you know, notepad, uh, text file of every workout that I’ve done every day. And I don’t care that much. I’m not a elite competitor needing to scrutinize everything.
Brad: 15:04 But what I use the journal for is to reflect back on systems and patterns that worked and stuff that didn’t work. How did I get that cold? Oh Gee, I felt fine. And all of a sudden, and then you look back into your patterns and you see a different commentary, like, um, woke up feeling tired and then that night you did a good workout warning signs like that, red flags like that. So in my case, ah, the smoke cleared, I went back, looked at the journal and realize that it was like over a period of 11 days, I did seven workouts that qualify as high intensity, like a significant high performing workout, and I have different notations for them to put them in the right category and see where I’ve really worked hard and done a, a, a breakthrough workout versus a routine training session at a comfortable pace.
Brad: 15:55 Um, so that’s way too many did not even realize it. Uh, this included a, a trip to, uh, Seattle. So I’m in another city, unfamiliar environment. I threw down a couple awesome workouts there at the running track at Seattle U open to the public. Thank you very much. Seattle U. Anyway, it all conspired to put me down for several weeks with a very mild, uh, you know, subclinical dysfunction in the intestinal tract and a subpar energy. And so how did this happen and what other hormonal mechanisms were going on.
Brad: 16:31 The other thing I wanna mention is the fight or flight response. So when you challenge yourself with a stressful event of any kind in life, you stimulate, activate the wonderful genetic hardwired mechanism of the fight or flight response. So the stress hormones flood your bloodstream and you experience enhance function in every way including cognitive function. When the fight or flight kicks in and the butterflies start moving when it’s your turn to speak in the conference room or give a speech in front of a crowd, but also for a physical fitness, athletic performance, when it’s time to enter into the starting box or when the a referee blows the whistle to start the game, you are hopefully activating the fight or flight response so that you can function at a heightened level with increased heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, uh, your more fluid, the inflammatory, the desirable inflammatory response occurs so that your muscles feel loose and supple and you’re ready to perform. Of course, this is borrowing from the bank and when you overstimulate the fight or flight response, you will crash and burn at some future point. That’s also what we call burnout in daily life. When you’re going like crazy all day long, work in the cell phone, work in deals, staying up too late, blasting your eyeballs with artificial light and digital stimulation after dark and listening to that alarm and popping up in the morning for another high pressure, high competitive workplace day.
Brad: 18:05 And then packaging that with those stress relievers of doing vigorous exercise. It’s all stress, stress, stress. You’re poking and prodding that fight or flight response all day long to a, to a mild extent, not an extreme extent like running for your life like our ancestors. But the fight or flight response is designed as a short term, a life or death activation to put you at your highest, uh, capability of performance. And then our human organism is designed to, uh, wind down from these fight or flight events with a lot of rest, relaxation and downtime. Reference the studies of modern day hunter gatherers where they spend about six hours a day, uh, doing their jobs, maintaining their, uh, community there, their site, as well as getting food to eat. And then they have a tremendous amount of downtime and rest and a much less stressful life than, uh, stressful, high intensity, hyper-connected, modern human.
Brad: 19:06 So in terms of the, uh, response to training, when you throw down some impressive workouts, especially if they’re performed in a chronic pattern where you’re doing a, the bootcamp class that lasts for too long, puts your heart rate a little bit too high and has done a little bit too frequently, like three or four days a week instead of one or two. Same with crossfit, fantastic workout protocol, a with great total body fitness development. But when those workouts extend beyond 30 minutes to 45 to 57 to an hour and eight, and then you go to the gym four days a week instead of two or three, that’s when you start over activating the fight or flight response and running into trouble. But in the meanwhile, and this is the big point I want to make for anyone who’s a somewhat a devoted fitness enthusiast in the meanwhile, the effect of these stress hormones flooding through your bloodstream because you’re working out really hard during this pattern of a month or a week, or even I’ve gone for six weeks or eight weeks on these artificial stress hormone highs, is that you don’t have that, uh, sensible feedback that you’re into an overreaching pattern.
Brad: 20:17 That’s a term that, uh, the athletes use to where you’re doing well and you’re feeling great, but you technically are overreaching and necessitating a downtime recovery period. But during the overreaching phase is when you often experience performance breakthroughs. So you’re feeling better than ever. I was sprinting better than ever. I was recovering faster than ever. I pop up the next day and I don’t feel sore. Why? Because the inflammatory response is still happening in my body due to the elevation of stress hormones. Get it, get it some floating along, an artificial high, because my body is filled with painkillers, like the endorphin cocktail, uh, as well as the inflammatory, uh, agents that in the short term make me feel loose and supple. Then of course, what happens if you go do that fourth sprint workout in nine days and that third high intensity weight lifting session in nine days, what happens is all of a sudden the faucet runs a little bit dry and you don’t have the normal production of stress hormones in response to the workout.
Brad: 21:25 And as a matter of fact, not only do you not hit normal, you go sub normal and when your body starts producing less than normal levels of critical functionality, hormones such as cortisol, you are in big trouble. We all, we oftentimes talk about cortisol in a negative context because it’s the prominent fight or flight stress hormone. But of course we want a desirable cortisol pattern every single day to help us feel alert and energized in the morning. Did you know that cortisol spikes first thing in the morning in conjunction with sunrise along with Serotonin, uh, in concert with Melatonin being suppressed and being converted into Serotonin. So when we wake up in the morning, we want a stress hormone spike and the spike of the feel good neurotransmitter Serotonin so we can get up and get at it. And when we’re not feeling that way, uh, due to adverse lifestyle practices or burnout, you know how lousy it feels when you can’t get up in the morning.
Brad: 22:25 That’s cause your stress hormone patterns. I’ve become exhausted. So I’m going to say that’s exactly what happened to me. I got fooled like a fool, uh, several times over that period of time where I was thrown down yet another, uh, high intensity workout. And I’m definitely, uh, advocating all the time for an intuitive approach to training where you don’t get stuck in these regimented patterns where no matter what, Tuesday is the 7:00 AM workout, even if you feel crappy or you have an achy knee. So I’m always, uh, adjusting on the fly, going with the flow, taking what my body gives me each day and nothing more. Uh, these are my profound legacy quotes that I’ll have on my, uh, on the bottom of my ashes that I’m going to dump in the drain at a fast food drive up restaurant. That’s my last dying wish. Please let that be recorded for all eternity.
Brad: 23:16 And I’m not kidding. I want to clog up the fast food line cause then then people have killed a lot of people. So when I die, that’s why I want to go out is just someone opened up their car door and dumping those ashes down the drain and causing a big traffic backup with the uh, funeral procession. So back to the back to the script. Yeah, it’s a pretty rude awakening after all these years that I can still get fooled by the stress response such that I will throw down an additional workout that’s outside of my capability to absorb and benefit from. So the intuition is a tricky thing and we have to distinguish between intuition and those animal instincts where we go by feel or gut instinct. And those are great too. But the thing about the human, the reason that we’ve risen to the top of the food chain and dominate the dominate the planet is because we have the ability to, uh, get in touch with our instincts and reason with our instincts, uh, to whether we should take action, right?
Brad: 24:18 So we have that higher level reasoning that we can add to the picture and surpass the, uh, entirely instinctual animal, right? The dogs go to the dog park and uh, two of them decided to hump each other, uh, without regard to the social ramifications or, uh, the disapproval of their owner. Humans hopefully don’t do that, right? Some do, but are social ramifications that you have to go a file into your intuition for future behavior choices? What an analogy. Just like the athletes. So I’m looking back at my training log, noticing the excess of challenging workouts and realizing that, hmm, this will never happen again. I hope. But realizing also that I needed that higher level reasoning to go, wow, I have been feeling great for a couple of weeks on end. Look at all these impressive workouts. How about some planned downtime even though I feel great parentheses because I’m influenced by stress hormones and inflammatory processes.
Brad: 25:22 How’s that sound? Yeah. I’ve been sharing my story, uh, before making this recording. I’m a man dude, spellings down in Texas a, he’s been on the show, has some great insights, uh, on the primal endurance podcast as well. Um, he was mentioning that he’s undergoing some major personal life changes right now, high stress lifestyle changes. And so he put training on the shelf. He’s not doing any ex not doing any workouts because of the stress factors in his life. Andrew McNaughton for years and years has mentioned how, uh, referencing back to his days on the professional triathlon circuit that he finally realized the hard way that he had to rest for airplane flights. Hahaha. Chuckle, chuckle. Uh, the real athletes say, what are you talking about? And in fact, we used to do the opposite for a while where if we were getting on a plane to Europe on Wednesday, of course, what would we do on Tuesday?
Brad: 26:14 But right our bicycles a hundred miles because we knew we wouldn’t be back on our bikes for several days and we didn’t want to get our legs dead, get out of shape. So finally, after making that mistake over and over where you’re jumping onto an airplane with suppressed immune function, because you’re still recovering from an extremely challenging workout, uh, you’re adding too many stress factors to the mix, and you show up at your destination, you’ve got the sniffles, you got a sore throat, your race goes to hell, all because you squeezed in one last workout. So in summary, watch out for that magical stress response that can push you to the highest levels of performance that can also come back to bite you, especially that very sensitive digestive system that is often the first thing to go as it also is the first line of defense for your immune system. Thank you for listening. I promise it will never happen again. Uh, done, uh, done. Um, thank you for listening to the show. We would love your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org and we would also love if you could leave a rating and a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. I know it’s a hassle. You have to go to desktop, iTunes, click on the tab that says ratings and reviews, and then click to rate the show anywhere from five to five stars. And it really helps spread the word so more people can find the show and get over themselves because they need to. Thanks for doing it.
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