Author: Alyson Kaufman
When we’re trying to make a significant change in our bodies, we tend to think we need to push ourselves as far as we can possibly go. In fact, my high school Pilates coach once said, “Do as many as you can do, and then do a little more.” No pain, no gain, right? But a recent study by Monash University shows that pushing yourself too hard can cause serious damage. In extreme cases, it can even cause intestinal bacteria to leak into the bloodstream which is poisoning to the blood.
To better understand the dangers of over training I sat down with renowned fitness expert and owner of The Fitness Guru gym in DUMBO, Brooklyn, Michael Feigin.
The Mighty Mite: What Can I do to make sure I’m not overtraining?
Michael Feigin: To be active seven days I don’t think is a bad thing. The question is, What path are you taking to be active those seven days? You might love cycling; that might really just be your passion. You love nothing more than the bicycle and getting out, you know, and riding and riding and riding… and if you can’t get outside cause it’s raining, going indoors and spinning, spinning, spinning… That’s fantastic! It’s great that it gets you that high… But that kind of repetitive motion, at some point, is going to break you down. You’re going to have some kind of failure. So you’ve got to mix up what you do.
TMM: But what does that really mean?
MF: Part of mixing up what you do is bringing in gentle things, so, be it yoga, Pilates… something that takes you away from a hardcore conditioning. The flip side is if you’re used to yoga and you’re used to Pilates, do something that’s more active. Do something that actually tests your body a little bit more because that test, that low-grade test, is good for us. We’re animals who should be pushed to a certain degree in order to maintain our well-being.
TMM: What would happen if I just stick to the routine I’m comfortable with?
MF: One: The body is going to adapt relatively quickly to the movements that you’re doing because the body seeks the path of least resistance, so you want to [avoid] habit in order to avoid stress. Second is [that] you’ll start to lose form. You’ll start to forget simple, very basic things. And depending on what you’re doing, just losing form by fractions of an inch can increase the amount of stress on your joints tremendously. Third: You’d get repetitive stress syndromes where, just the repeated use of the joints and the muscles causes some kind of damage… Just the wear and tear on the joints eventually causes injury and collapse, so you’ll have breakdown.
TMM: Why do injuries from working out seem to happen so often?
MF: I think the problem a lot of people get into is that they think that if they have to lose weight they need to be working out seven days a week. That’s when you get injuries and that’s when you get a lot of frustration…When people get injured and when people over do it, they will immediately blame themselves. They’ll think, ‘I’m not strong enough. I’m not worthy enough. I deserve to be the fat person,” like, ‘I’m not the person who can lose weight.’ But it’s not their fault. It’s the fact that they either lacked guidance or had the wrong guidance and ended up doing the wrong thing and following the wrong path. People don’t have a really solid awareness of their own bodies.
TMM: But how do we know if we’re getting the wrong guidance?
MF: If you’re a car owner and you go to a mechanic and you say to the mechanic, ‘It’s making this pinging noise,’ and the mechanic says, ‘It’s the doohickey, I’m gonna fix the doohickey,’; you would never leave your car with a mechanic who’s gonna fix the doohickey! You want the mechanic to say, ‘Well it’s the alternator and it’s switching over to this and you burned out the fuse on the…’ You want a really thorough explanation! But people will go to exercise classes and they’ll go to personal trainers who basically say the equivalent of doohickey with no real sense of what they should be doing or teaching these individuals. The people get hurt and they blame themselves! Personally, I find that a crisis in our industry… There’s a lot of poor science and there’s a lot of no science, but there’s a lot of enthusiasm.
TMM: As a trainer, have you witnessed any damage from exercising?
MF: I’ve seen bad, bad, bad things happen… There are certain conditions that arise from lifting too much weight or lifting weight too many times… Particularly with how popular cycling classes have become, I’ve seen poor technique and major injuries occurring on the joints from those classes and every single time, the individuals will blame themselves. They’ll take the hit and say, ‘well I wasn’t strong enough to do it,’ and they go right back to the place where they got hurt! I never understand that. That never makes sense to me.
TMM: What is the worst injury you’ve seen resulting from working out?
MF: I know of one case where an individual was hospitalized for four days because she had such bad muscle damage that it was causing a blood disorder, because basically her muscle cells were, for lack of a better term, exploding. Her arms swelled up to four times the natural size… When I met her and her husband after that was all over, her husband decided that he was going to come [to my gym]. She decided that she was going to go back to the place where she got hurt and continue training there!
TMM: If I still feel sore a few days after a workout, should I hold off until that feeling goes away?
MF: I took a [new] class [two days ago] and I still just feel ragged, but I know why…My body isn’t used to it yet. I am taking very concentrated steps on the days that I don’t do it to recover from actually doing it. I’m not just lying on the sofa draped there, hoping that the gods of good fortune will smile on me and make me feel better. I’m actually taking active steps stretching, doing some light Pilates workouts, going for a light jog just to get the blood flowing… doing things to open up my body again; to reduce the inflammation, lots of Vitamin E, couple cold showers… doing things that help to resuscitate and revive me.
TMM: But when it comes to working out, aren’t we suppose to push ourselves beyond what’s comfortable?
MF: I don’t think you should push yourself to the absolute most you can do without supervision. There are so many different classes where people walk in and it’s almost a ‘Lord of the flies’ mentality. And whether it’s pushed on them or not, people will feel like they have to keep up in order to be a member of the pack. It’s a detrimental mindset. People have to go in knowing that they have to challenge themselves, but not necessarily keep up with everybody else.
I consider myself extremely strong. I consider myself very powerful but if [my manager] and I got on bicycles, she would dust me. I mean, she would cream me and if I tried to keep up with her I would end up seriously hurt! However, if I took her into other arenas and we had a physical challenge that played more to my strengths, I would dust her! That’s just the nature of sport and activity. Certain people are going to be stronger at certain things, and you have to have a respect for that.
TMM: So we should stop even if we’re capable of going further?
MF: You have to have a certain awareness of where your thresholds lie and how you’re working and I believe that with regard to physical activity, being conservative is not the worst idea. If you’re starting at a dead stop, you don’t want to try to get yourself up to 110 miles in 3.2 seconds. You get up to twenty, go to thirty! Switch gears, go to forty, switch gears.
Michael Feigin MS. CSCS has been a leader in the fitness industry for 33 years, as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor and nutritionist. He is the owner of The Fitness Guru, a New York-based fitness business that includes a nationally recognized education program that educates and certifies Pilates instructors. With a Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition, he has been the Head Nutritionist for the Eastern Athletic Clubs of New York, and designer of the Energy Kitchen Meal Plan in the New York/ Metro area.
* Photos courtsey of Michael Feigin