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Most of us know how it feels to have pushed our body too far through exercise - the sore, aching, stiff muscles that can make everyday tasks like walking down the stairs or washing your hair, quite literally, a pain.
Experts call this Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS and the effects are usually felt between 24 -72 hours after exercising (and generally take around the same amount of time to ease). This occurs when exercise demands more from your muscles than they are used to and can cause micro tears to the muscle fibres. This might sound scary but this kind of micro-trauma can ultimately make them stronger as you then lay down new tissue to make the muscles better equipped to cope in the future.
This is why you need a day or two away from rigorous exercise for this recovery process to take place. Over-exercising can also run down your immune system - leaving you more vulnerable to infections like colds and flu - as your body just can't cope with the demands you're putting it under.
Some workouts have recovery time designed in. For example, if you have worked your upper body one day, you are encouraged to rest those muscles for the following day or two, and either rest or work on your lower body instead. Runners often run most days, however. This is fine, but encourage recovery time by varying how you run - a leisurely paced jog one day interspersed with a speedier sprint every few days. Then take at least one day off to rest.
It's one thing to push yourself to achieve that little bit more to test your endurance, quite another to push yourself to the point of collapse or injury and scupper your chances of exercising again for a while.
Sometimes we are our own harshest critics - feeling guilty if we don't push ourselves fearing it will get in the way of our training schedule - but taking time out should help you recharge and then ultimately perform better.
If you're sacrificing everything for your exercise programme you're probably pushing yourself too hard. You are also far more likely to stick with it if you not relentlessly pushing yourself. Ultimately, exercising should be about pleasure not creating pain.