The Idea That The Harder You Work, The Better You’ll Perform Is Bullshit!

By Neil O’Hanlon

Sit back folks, this is a big one. The trials and errors of my ways over the years are what I wanted to share with you. I know the statement above is maybe not what you want to hear. We’ve all been told the more you exercise, the fitter and less overweight you’ll be. I felt this way in the past and thought the more I trained and the harder I pushed would lead me to the results I was promised. How wrong could I be? However, after years of self deprivation and becoming obsessed, and addicted with exercise to the point of illness, and a whole lot of other chronic problems, both physically and mentally, what I actually found was the complete opposite. Less time and effort spent training and more time balancing the good things in life resulted in becoming the fittest I’ve ever been even in my mid forties.

I’ve made so many mistakes relating to health and fitness and hopefully this article will help you avoid the same mistakes. Read on to hear how I changed my unsustainable approach to fitness and as a result, feel so much better in both body and mind for it 

Less Can Definitely Be More

I changed my whole mentality on what health and fitness meant to me. By having a complete reversal of mindset, and finally listening to many a concerned family member about how unwell I looked, I actually became the fittest I’ve ever been, even now in my mid forties. This new approach, which by the way involved training a whole lot less, and in a more time efficient structured way, left me feeling energised, healthy and most importantly happy once again. The problem I see is, people doing far too much, doing too many complicated things, becoming obsessed with exercise to the point of it taking over there life as well as there relationships and jobs, or even worse creating so much toxic inflammation in there own body that serious health complications are inevitable. Let’s call it an unwanted by-product of a good thing gone horribly wrong.

Too Much Exercise – It’s A Mental Thing

I now feel after many years that ‘less can definitely be more’, it’s simple, sustainable, and most of all enjoyable again. 

For me, the mental health side of exercise had caused an insatiable addiction for the dopamine rush, and it all went monumentally Pete Tong  

Are You Constantly Overtrained?

Then Just Maybe You’re Addicted To Exercise?

Mom Knows Best: Exercise And Celebrate What Your Body Can Do

You may have been through this, or maybe you know of someone who is. The absolute mental cycle of guilt if you dare to miss a training session, if you don’t spend enough time crucifying yourself on exercise and woe betide you don’t starve yourself in the process? Even when your body’s screaming for a break, telling you it needs a day off,  just a break to recover, you still continue training with this compulsive disorder. You become delusional, convincing yourself that ‘getting it done’ must feel better than the guilt of not doing it.

The worry of losing years of fitness or putting weight on for missing a day of training. I know what its like, physically you’re a car crash, your body has imploded and mentally your fucked! Pardon my French but it needs to be said. There is no reasoning with you, in your head you are in control, right? If this is you, then I get it, I don’t sympathise with you, but I definitely empathise with you, its toxic, debilitating and downright unhealthy!  

I’ve written this to relate to you if you’re struggling  

Believe Me, I Get It!

Exercise addiction - ScienceDirect

Now, I know that this type of behaviour is luckily not that common, but I also know it’s hard to find someone who totally gets it. Someone who relates to you, and can meet you where you’re at. To listen to your story and realise their issues or concerns are aligned with yours. I didn’t have this, let me rephrase that, I didn’t even look, maybe I was too embarrassed to even talk about it, let alone ask for help.  

I’ve Learnt The Hard Way

Obsessed is Just a Word – David Welby

As I’ve said before my aim with everything I do as a ‘Health Coach’ is to keep everything I talk about, honest, transparent and simple. It’s taken many years of self inflicted trial and error, with a lot of internal self development work. I’ve learnt the hard way over many years. There is no all singing, all dancing, one size fits all approach to fitness. However, most importantly I’ve learned what not to do, how not to train, the questions to ask yourself and the warning signs to look for before it all goes too far. I’ve been my own ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ in this regard, I was totally blind to any kind of rational thought process which in turn led me down a very dark path.  

Remember, Obsessed Is Not The Same As Dedicated, No Where Fucking Near!

If I could give one bit of advice that will keep you enjoying your passion, wether it be walking, running, rowing, pilates whatever’s your bag, and keep it simple and long lasting. To create a life style change thats sustainable and fun, as well as keeping you physically and mentally fit, not to mention injury free, Then this is it………breather!  

Do Not Overtrain…. 

I know, I know, it’s totally obvious, Ive been harping on for the last couple of paragraphs how toxic this can be, but seriously, it’s as simple as that. I’ve been there, done it, got the t-shirt and still battle with it now. This is one syndrome that will lead you down a very dark and unforgiving road. I believe most people who are overtrained or burnt out purely through excessive exercise are listening to their Ego too much. It’s  getting the better of you in all the wrong ways.

Are You Overtrained? Everything You Need To Know About Overtraining -

There is a concerning badge of honour brigade that believe more is better and the ‘no pain no gain’ mindset is the only way to approach training.

Nobody Gives A Fuck About You

Johnny Cash Middle Finger" Colorized by me : r/JohnnyCash

Over certain periods of my 25 years running I’ve been more than guilty of this, and as a result become extremely unwell. What I now realise with hindsight is that nobody gives a crap how much training you do, what you eat or don’t eat, the mileage you’ve clocked up or how fast you can run a 10K. Seriously, no one else is bothered. In fact to them you just look like that obsessed runner who’s constantly training more and more and getting slower in the process. Their priorities are different, maybe they have balance, structure, and the ability not to not take this stuff too seriously. Don’t let your over inflated Ego get the better of you just because you need to keep this fake persona up which is crippling you. No one cares!   

Here Is My Honest Experience Of Many Years Of Overtraining And Exercise Addiction

As I said previously, I followed the more is better approach and it pretty much ruined me. The rocky path of overtraining  and exercise addiction dug its claws in and took me on a wild ride with the doors locked so I couldn’t even get off. I was running over 80 miles a week, obsessed with exercise to the point of it being my life. I was overtrained and overstressed about keeping my fitness and nutrition in optimal order. The more I exercised, the more fatigued, depressed and sick I became. My running  times got slower and my training had now become a chore that I felt compelled, or even a reluctant obligation, to perform. I felt like a hamster on a wheel, or a performing bear. The feelings of guilt I experienced if I didn’t get the self dictated and reluctant exercise session in were overwhelming. I thought a day of rest or skipping a workout would result in losing my hard earned fitness or gaining weight, so I exercised even harder.

The thing is, I didn’t even enjoy exercise anymore, it was a chore, I fucking hated it!

Yes – I Was Fit But Not Necessarily Healthy 

It was obvious (but not to me) that this type of chronic overtraining and extreme self punishment had thrown my body into crisis mode. My stress hormone cortisol had gone through the roof, and I looked seriously unhealthy. 

Depression And Negative Thoughts

Stopping exercise can worsen depression in just three days!

Deep down, I knew what the problem was, I wasn’t that naive not to see it, but still I continued to push my limits to breaking point. Periods of suffering from constant tiredness, lack of enthusiasm and motivation followed. The phenomenon known as brain fog had clouded any kind of rational, sensible judgment I needed to make, in order to get my equilibrium back. My stress levels were elevated, and I was constantly irritable over the slightest of things. ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’, they say, believe me I was sweating all the small stuff, even the micro-shit. I felt generally, really unhappy. Exercise had well and truly taken over my life! 

All I could think about was my next training session. 

Something Had To Give, But Unfortunately It Wasn’t Going To Be My Training?

Exercise Addiction and Dependence by Dominique Stasulli - Athletic Lab

I was mentally very low, maybe even depressed, I don’t know, as would never profess to be an expert on what constitutes depression and what doesn’t. I was in a good career as a qualified ‘Product Designer’, but work came second to my exercise dependancy. In fact everything came second to my training. Trying to hold down a full time job became just another distraction that was getting in the way of my all out exercise onslaught. Something was going to have to give, and it wasn’t going to be my training….. 

Lots Of Time Training, But No Real Results

Let’s put this bluntly, I was performing exercise to the absolute excess. This left me in a constant state of exhaustion, overtrained and fatigued. Even Christmas Day was just another training day, first run in the morning, then second run at night. What the hell was I doing? I was embarrassed, ashamed, but I was in control, yes I was in control or so I had convinced myself. 

Exercise addiction is probably the most contradictory of all the addictions as its very much dose dependent

Diminishing Returns

Aerial Sports Photos Taken From Above the Action - Sports Illustrated

Ironically I was doing all this in the pursuit of so-called peak fitness. This chronic and debilitating approach which had manifested from a more simple, happier and holistic earlier version of me, demanded I spend huge amounts of time on my training and diet, but no real results. I was picking up niggling injuries all the time, and frustrated that all the hours I was training was leading to nothing. I was now in a vicious cycle of working harder than ever, but my times were getting slower. However like a majority of people, I was still convinced that more and more is the only way to train. I now realise this mindset had extreme diminishing returns on my training, and more importantly effected my physical and mental wellbeing which ultimately lead to chronic burnout. 

This was the one event that put me out of action for a significant amount of time.

Controlling The Priorities Or Just Losing Them

How Losing Control can Improve Your Brand Strategy

I saw it as a control thing. I knew if I was training then I had control! I decided how much, when and where. It also provided me with a sense of structure, a routine, a habit, albeit a toxic one at that.. The Ironic part of my story is that within my attempts to exert control, it eventually lead to a loss of control, particularly over the ability to balance the exercise with other priorities in life like good health 

Extreme Ways

If I was to tell you now that back in the days of this awful disorder, I actually trained through various injuries to the point of making those ailments worse. Even more disturbing though, I was involved in an incident with a car, that meant I was reduced to using crutches for several weeks. I trained through this period! I trained using my arms and upper body to propel me as fast as I could along with the crutches, all in the pursuit of getting a workout in when I should have been resting. Yes I was definitely addicted. This had gone way too far! 

Single-leg running with lofstrand crutches. The normalised cycle of... |  Download Scientific Diagram

The problem was, I genuinely couldn’t stop exercising. It’s hard to understand addiction unless you’ve experienced it.

The ‘Undesired’ But ‘Inevitable’ Result – Cardio Overload And Atrial Fibrillation

I believe now, that this compulsion with exercise, and years of overtraining contributed to being diagnosed years later with ‘Atrial Fibrillation’, which in the simplest of terms is an abnormal heart rhythm. 

5 Ways to Live with Atrial Fibrillation - wikiHow

It’s fair to say, I was a little economical with the truth when asked by the cardiologist how much exercise I did.

I thought this would be the end of my running career not to mention the exercise addiction, but that wasn’t too be. after several consultations with the cardiologist, It was suggested I’d be ok to exercise, just very low volume. 

Low mileage, low intensity, low everything. Just fucking low!

Blood Thinners And Restarting The Heart

This was a worrying time. For the next 6 months up until the operation, which by the way is where they stop my heart and restart it again to regain normal rhythm, it was imperative that I kept my blood thin in order to prevent any clotting which could result in a stroke. Now here’s the crazy thing, the day before the  operation I had an ECG to check the current status.

Atrial Fibrillation & Arrythmia Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey (NJ),  AtlantiCare

Unbelievably my heart had returned to normal. I was told how extremely rare this was, and after speaking with the cardiologist, he was convinced that by doing this new type of low intensity, low volume training, I’d managed to reverse it myself, and everything was back to normal.  

Emergency averted….I carried on using this new approach to training for the next 12 months and everything was great.

Relapse To Old Ways……Really?

Now you’d think I’d learnt my lesson from the heart issue? Well I had, and was genuinely weening myself away from the obsessive exercising for a short while. However slowly but surely I reverted back. Too much exercise, combined with a lack of calories meant overtraining syndrome crept slowly but surely back into my life…once again… 

ARE YOU TAKING THE PISS? - BrickTop Snatch | Meme Generator

Diagnosis Number Two Was On Its Way

It took 18 months of training like a person possessed, entering all the races I could, and pushing my limits to the absolute max, only to be struck down with a very rare autoimmune disease called ‘Kikuchi Fujimoto Disease’ as cited below. In fact it’s that rare I was advised to google it by the medical professionals.

This put me out of action for a further 12 months

The Epiphany And The Elephant In The Room

This prompted the epiphany, the elephant in the room, whatever you want to call it. Aged 39 years old. 14 years after my ‘on and off’ struggles with exercise addiction. Something had to go and not my health. I needed to take action. I needed to change my mindset on the whole approach and also figure out what health, nutrition and wellbeing, really meant to me. This was the escape from the chronic downward spiral I needed. Over many previous years of self research, self experimentation and re-educating myself, there was enough in the old memory banks to go at. 

Self Experimentation with Social Media

I came up with a system that included key principles that made it easier to change my whole philosophy on all this

New Philosophy

This new philosophy happened over 10 years ago, and I’ve never looked back. Its simple, less time consuming, sustainable, and as a result I’ve got fitter, stronger and healthier than I’ve ever been, all at the age of 46. The biggest bonus is, I enjoy it again without the need to run excessive miles or overtrain myself into oblivion. 

Chasing Past Highs And Living In The Past

Thinking back now, I realise I used to increase my amount of exercise to re-experience feelings of escapism, or the natural ‘runners high’ I had previously experienced with shorter, happier and less time consuming periods of exercise.  However, If I wasn’t exercising then the withdrawal symptoms would kick in, which meant once I was able to train again I would tend to go back to astronomical levels of physical exertion..

No Pain, No Gain?

Emotional Trauma

The feeling of how important exercise was in my life was overwhelming. It was by far the most important thing in my life, no question. I would miss out on family, social, and work engagements because of the need to exercise. Work was neglected and personal responsibilities were secondary to everything fitness related. I used it as a way to express emotions including anger, anxiety, and grief, and to deal with all kinds of different stressors in my life. 

I would miss out on family, social, and work events or tend to neglect work and personal responsibilities because of the need to exercise. 

Ask Yourself These Questions If You Are Concerned About Your Exercise Regime

Are you giving up social obligations in order to exercise?

Are you exercising too often and too long?

Are you exercising through injury and illness?

Can you take a day off without feeling extreme guilt?

Is exercise your number 1 priority?

The Takeaway And A Personal Note 

The best restaurants doing takeaway near London parks | London Evening  Standard | Evening Standard

Ok, so there you have my honest account of how exercise addiction and overtraining ruined my whole perception of what health and fitness really means. This subject is so personal to me that I can fully relate, if you’re in this position. It’s only through personal experience, an unhealthy obsession and chronic failures that I felt the need to write it. It’s not the full story, there’s plenty of situations that happened within that time that takes the addiction of overtraining to a whole new level. However, I now train in a much more balanced way, I spend less time training, spend more time on recovery and still manage to achieve results. If you can relate to this but would still like to train in a more holistic, healthy and sustainable way, and most importantly start enjoying your training again, then the principals throughout my coaching will hopefully help. 

Below I have some tips on how to train smarter to avoid over exercising. Take a look and hopefully these can be of some value to you if you have any doubts or concerns.

Here Are Some Tips I’ve Learnt To Incorporate Into My Own Training To Eliminate Overtraining That You May Find Helpful. 

Be honest and ask yourself some uncomfortable questions. Acknowledge your overtrained and reason with yourself why are you doing it? What are you hoping to achieve.

Run by time and not by mileage. Trying to clock up the miles can become addictive and leave you feeling anxious and a failure if the miles don’t add up at the end of the week. Running by time is mentally more doable and takes the pressure off.

Run by feel and not by metrics. listen to your body, it’s never normally wrong.

Always use perspective to keep things in order. Whats the worst that can happen if you miss a training session? What will it affect? – Normally nothing.

Leave the watch at home and check your stats when you get back. Don’t be a slave to the technology.

The no pain, no gain, mentality is dead my friend!

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