by Jamie Rodgers

How do you know if you’ve gone too far or are doing too much during a workout? If you find yourself vomiting or feeling like you might, you’re probably beyond your limit and into the territory of overexertion. Overexertion is known by many names: bonking, hitting the wall, lead feet, and crashing, to name a few. However, the scientific names include exercise-induced nausea or overexertion. It can be a horrible side effect of training that could undermine any gains you might have made, but it is also easily avoidable and should indeed be avoided. Most experienced athletes can usually walk that line between just enough and too much.

Why does overexertion happen?

The simple answer is your BRAIN. Your body will do what it takes to make sure your brain is getting a constant supply of glucose (sugar) to the brain, including shutting you down, even permanently.

The brain can only use glucose as fuel and you can’t store it in the brain like your muscles can. Instead, it’s supplied by your blood. For example, the body will empty contents of the stomach so the digestive system doesn’t use unnecessary blood flow that could limit the amount of glucose going to your brain. During intense exercise, the muscles need a lot more glucose and blood flow. So, if the brain isn’t getting enough it hits that proverbial pause button.

Dehydration can also “gum up” your circulatory system, making it tougher for your brain to get its sugar. Extreme heat could also make it harder for the brain to get glucose because you are using more energy and blood flow to support the cooling system keeping your brain from getting enough. The next time you workout at your local health club, be sure to come hydrated and properly nourished to avoid this scenario.

Signs you’ve hit overexertion

There are early warning signs that you might be overexerting as you workout. Pay attention to:

  • Color change in the face (paleness or overly red)
  • Dizziness
  • Complaining
  • Struggling with the workout
  • Excessive recovery time needed

Repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise with poor mechanics will lead to overexertion and increase the chance of injury. Some of the following symptoms could also mean you are overexerting regularly:

  • Exercise leaves you exhausted instead of energized.
  • You get sick easily (or it takes forever to get over a cold).
  • You have the blues.
  • You’re unable to sleep or you can’t seem to get enough sleep.
  • You have “heavy” legs.
  • You have a short fuse.
  • You’re regularly sore for days at a time.

How to prevent overexertion

To prevent overexertion during your fitness routine, make sure to:

  • Avoid eating right before you workout, especially filling yourself up. Complex carbs about an hour before are usually best.
  • Give yourself at least 48 hours between your higher intensity bouts of exercise and include active rest, activity at or below your lowest target heart rate zones, in your regular routines.
  • Stretch regularly and making sure you are getting a 3 to 1 or 2 to 1 ratio of carbs to protein at the end of your workouts will help with recovery.
  • Rest properly between sets or exercises during your workout. Stay well hydrated throughout the day.
  • Get plenty of sleep. When in doubt, take a day off!


More questions?  Ask Jamie at  Steel Fitness Premier is your go-to health club in Allentown. We have an active gym community, certified and expert personal trainers, and daily options for group exercise classes.

Join us today and commit to a healthy workout routine.

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