The health benefits of exercise cannot be overstated, and go far beyond speeding up your weight loss. However, there is a such thing as too much of a good thing, even when it comes to working out.

Serious athletes are the group most likely to over-train themselves, but someone obsessed with burning calories or getting a bikini body might also find themselves at risk. Over-training can take the form of exercising too often, exercising too intensely, failing to take adequate rest days, or frequently exercising for extended periods of time.

Signs of over-training include a preoccupation with the gym, persistent muscle soreness, setbacks in your fitness performance, chronic fatigue, and lowered immune function. If these symptoms don't sound unpleasant enough, doing too much exercise could also undermine the very fitness progress you have been striving so hard to achieve!

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You build muscle by breaking it down during workouts, so that it will then be forced to rebuild itself in a stronger form. However, this process needs adequate time and rest to take place, so if you just jump from workout to workout, your muscles will not be able to keep up and could end up deteriorating instead of strengthening.

Since exercise is technically stress on your body, it can also wreak havoc with your levels of cortisol and other important hormones. This can in turn cause insomnia due to the overload of adrenaline in your body and increase your cravings for quick-fix unhealthy foods, both of which can undermine your weight loss efforts.

Others who are over-training may experience a lack of appetite, but getting inadequate nutrition will only worsen your body's overwhelmed state. Any associated weight loss will probably come more from metabolism-boosting muscle than from fat.

Women who have been over-training may also lose their period, a condition called amenorrhea. This tends to be associated with decreased bone density and could have a long-term impact on sufferers' hormonal health and fertility. Meanwhile, men who are over-training may instead experience lowered testosterone levels and loss of libido.

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Naturally, over-training can also lead to increased risk of injury in the bones and muscles that your overactivity has been weakening. Plus, while moderate exercise is great for your heart health, extreme exercise can actually cause cardiovascular damage.

If you start noticing any of these problematic symptoms, taking at least a week off might be a good place to start, though it could take you much longer to recover if your over-training has been extreme.

You can then gradually ease back into a more moderate routine, perhaps doing some of your old exercises less often or in less intense forms until you feel ready to step it back up. You could also try switching to a lower-impact form of exercise like yoga or swimming while your body recovers.

To avoid over-training, try not to work out for more than an hour at a time and make sure that you take at least one rest day a week, or possibly as many as two or three depending on your current state of fitness and your fitness goals.

So keep an eye out for the worst, but don't let it scare you out of the gym altogether! Instead, just stay moderate! One option is to try experimenting with HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which could allow you to get more benefit from exercising less. Another option is to work with a trainer, who can give you a better idea of what is and isn't too much for your body.

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