Gym-overload: don’t let it happen to you. Run instead

The Grit Doctor gives her advice on how to avoid overdosing on exercise

Q: So, how is your gym/running training mix going?

A:  Not so great. In the mode of a New Year's resolution fiend, I made the classic rookie error of going at my gym classes hammer and tongs for 10 days and almost killing, if not quite myself, then certainly my enthusiasm for the project.  The agony in my spare tyre from all the core exercises might have been worth it if I saw it shrinking, but no such luck.  If anything, I'm convinced it started to swell, probably because I wasn't doing the exercises correctly.

I started living in fear and dread of a text message from my lovely au pair reminding me of our ABS session in 30 minutes. I found myself lying to her about mysterious injuries and ailments just to get out of sessions. To make matters worse, I took a break last week from all gym-related activities and just ran, but instead of the running being easier (on account of all this gym and core work I’d been breaking my back over), it was actually much harder. I did have a low level cold and sore throat (possibly caught at the gym?) but I won’t read too much into this.

However, I do need to change tack, and fast.  So here goes a short list of dos and don’ts that are based on all the errors I’ve made over these past weeks:


1.  Do double up and go outside for a run and fit in a gym session on the same day if you are feeling gritty, but don't do it two days running or you will tire yourself out.

2.  Go to all class induction sessions as if you've never done any of these classes or used any of the kit before.  It's incredibly dispiriting going to a class and wasting valuable energy on working out how to use the equipment properly, and being paranoid that you aren't.

3.  Park yourself at the front of the class nearest to the trainer.  You will get the best out of the session because there is nowhere to hide.  Just like at school, you will learn more, try harder and get more of your questions answered if you sit closest to the teacher.

4.  Once fully inducted, choose the classes that most inspire you, and that are close enough to your level of fitness so that you are able to engage with everything fully, otherwise you'll lose confidence and use every excuse in the book to avoid them.  I went in too hard too fast and am now so scared of the 'circuits' class, I'm inventing all kinds of excuses not to go.  Because I never took an induction class, I had no idea what I was doing, which made the experience both embarrassing and dangerous - a terrible combination for a workout.

5.  Build up your resistance and fitness slowly.  If it hurts so much that you can't do any exercise for the next two days, you've overdone it.  It's far more effective and efficient to go running 3-4 times a week and not have long lapses in between sessions.

6.  Spinning is only as hard as you make it.  I did one spinning class that was every bit as tiring, if not more so, than a run. I was dripping with sweat and could feel the burn throughout by legs.  I had the bike right at the front and a brilliantly gritty teacher shouting at me not to give up.  In another spinning class, there were no free bikes at the front, so I was stuck at the back and didn't try nearly as hard and barely broke a sweat.

7.   Get to classes early to get the best spot at the front and familiarise yourself with the environment, equipment and teacher.  Make friends with the space.

8.  All of the above translates into you get out what you put in, which brings me full circle back to the beauty of a run outdoors.   If I run four miles without stopping, even if I run slowly, it's still the real deal: a full on, nowhere-to-hide workout.

9.  Approach gym classes as if learning to run for the first time.  Walk your circuit slowly at first until you have familiarised yourself with it and it feels like second nature.  Only then build up your speed/weights/number of reps.

10.  Prioritise your runs over the gym.  A run outdoors will always beat the gym simply because you are outside.  Any opportunity for a healthy dose of fresh air and some mental breathing space is a must.

The Grit Doctor says
There is such a thing as gym-overload.  Don't let it happen to you.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!).

First, pick the programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: This programme is an eight-week course that will take you from inactivity to being able to run 30 minutes non-stop.
- Stay On Track: The second programme is an eight-week course for those of you who can squeeze in a 30- to 40-minute run three times a week.
- 10km Course: This is an eight-week course designed for those who can comfortably run for 30 minutes and want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!