Excessive exercise can result in sore muscles, chronic injury and burnout. For scuba divers who want to stay physically fit, it would be wise not to overdo any physical activity.

First, don’t smoke to excess; second, don’t drink to excess; third, don’t marry to excess. Usually, the task is getting divers to exercise at all. Occasionally, the problem is the opposite. Excess physical activity once in a while is fun, often productive and exciting. But, what if you do too much, too soon, too often? Sore muscles for the weekend warrior, chronic injury and burnout for the exercise obsessed are the wages of those who just overdo it.

Just Overdo It

Sedentary divers just deciding to get in shape typically begin an exercise program with happy expectations. They expect a year’s results in a few frantic weeks. That approach is not without utility, The initial infatuation with exercise gets you started. But, rather than make exercise a lifetime friend, overenthusiastic new exercisers pound themselves mercilessly-daily in some cases. A few weeks later they are beat from the feet up, irritable and tuckered out. Their plan is not novel or fun anymore. They’ve had enough pounding and enough proof that exercise wasn’t for them anyway.

Other divers exercise regularly. Then one day decide to better their physical condition by bumping up their routines – to warp speed.

Some divers don’t exercise. They occasionally lug heavy gear to a local dive boat with 12 feet of freeboard and no anchor winch, play softball or go skiing. On Monday morning they don’t call in sick to work because they’re too sore to pick up the phone.

How Much Is Too Much?

How do you know if you’re overdoing it? According to Dean Smith, “If you make every game a life and death proposition, you’re going to have problems. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.”

Usually though, the clues are not so subtle. With any overenthusiastic foray into unaccustomed exercise you can overdo even activities that seem mild to a more conditioned person.

Several stressor turn doing into overdoing. Being out of shape for the activity, insufficient warmup and too little rest between exercise sessions are key components. Exercisers often starve themselves hoping to increase weight loss.

Spoken warnings of impending excess include the phrase, “I used to be pretty good at this.” These famous last words are said just before launching into activities enjoyed 20 years ago but with no intervening conditioning. They are usually followed by the famous next words, “Do you have an ice pack?”

The Short Term Overdo

Soreness: You don’t exercise often, but one day you go out and have a great time and wake up the next morning with your first clue. You’ve got DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. DOMS isn’t usually dangerous and isn’t permanent. it just feels that way. it’s beyond the scope of this article to detail the theorized mechanisms and consequences of DOMS. In short, unaccustomed mechanical stress leads to a cascade of events including damage to proteins in your muscle fibers and an acute inflammatory response. You’re stiff, sore and weak for one to three days. You’ve just overdone it.

Acute injury: Sometimes you haven’t just overdone it, you’ve charbroiled it. Besides the sometimes unavoidable Frisbee in the face, acute injury commonly results from being too out of shape or with insufficient flexibility for the intensity and range of motion required. This is the way you pull something, strain muscle fibers, twist joints into positions that overstretch or tear the ligaments that attach bone to bone or tear structures called tendons that attach muscle to bone.

The Long Term Overdo

Physical and mental decline: Up to a point, regular physical exercise enhances health, athletic ability and feelings of energy. Findings from mental health research indicate positive mood change, increased intellectual function and improved self-concept, although causal links are not established.

Overdoing exercise reverses the situation. Athletic ability, energy, physical health and state of mind suffer. “Fatigue,” Vince Lombardi observed, “makes cowards of us all.”

Diminished physical performance sometimes drives frustrated exercisers to push harder to offset the decline. The overtraining cycle of fatigue, depression and overdoing continues.

Chronic injury: Overtraining overloads your musculoskeletal system. In plain English, you wear something out. The resulting injury can cause others later on. Injuries that throw off how you walk and stand eventually stress previously healthy structures into new injuries. Damages range from overt, obvious pain to the sub symptomatic. Painful injuries, although outwardly more worrisome, limit further overdoing. Unrecognized injuries quietly build, decreasing performance and increasing long range orthopedic consequences.

Immune decline: Studies of immune function identify a trend where moderate exercise possibly boosts immune function but extensive, intense training may suppress the immune system. Most changes so far identified are small, variable and temporary. It is still unknown if these changes have more than a limited influence on risk of recurrent infection or other diseases during periods of extreme ultra training.

Obsession: The exercise obsessed panic at the thought of missing a workout. They are certain that missing their daily pounding means undoing years of hard work. This phenomenon is not limited to exercise. It includes just about any activity, including diving. Although their bodies and physical progress would be better off with rest and recovery time, they go at it every day. Their lack of progress spurs them to further excess. A frustrated cycle perpetuates obsession, not enough recovery time, overdoing and lack of progress.

Burnout: We’ve all done it. Some have done it plenty of times. We start out great guns then fizzle. The burnout syndrome can be summed up by the progression: “Tri-weekly, try weekly, try weakly.”

How To Just Not Overdo It

Sunday soldiers and chronic exercise abusers are well researched in sport science, in part because they’re so common. The literature reports several strategies to avoid overdoing.

Identify problems: What aspect of your activity do you overdo? Have you built-up slowly to the task or plunged in? Is your activity too intense for your abilities? but with insufficient rest? Do you rest and train moderately yet still suffer injuries? It may not be overuse but improper use. Not making progress? Is it lack of rest or not the right exercises? If you’re still tired and miserable with an appropriate and safe program, you may need to change the exercise modality. Some steady souls garner peace and security from routine while others need variety. Try a different activity – this time make it one you like.

Modify: If it hurts when you do it, don’t do it. Reduce the mileage, the amount of weight, the frequency, the intensity – whatever makes it too much.

Avoid misuse: Were you too out of shape to haul up the anchor or did you just lift wrong and screw up your back? Injury may stem not from overdoing but misuse – bad gait, poor lifting technique or problematic exercises. If misuse is the problem, modify your technique, equipment or gait. Differentiate injuries reflecting overuse from those of misuse.

Train in cycles: Do you work out too much? The sport science literature so far agrees that rest is crucial for physical improvement. With rest between sessions you avoid the problems of overdoing while increasing your physical ability more than possible by training every day. Alternating days of exercise and rest is called exercise cycling and periodization.

Top athletes don’t work out every day. Athletes successfully training for strength usually lift weights three or four days each week. They don’t practice their major, heavy lifts like presses, pulls, or squats more than two days per week. During competitions they cut back overall training to one to three days per week. Top runners allow days of rest between long runs and taper their mileage before races.

Get in shape: Do you work out enough to be in shape for the occasional fitness increases the variety of activities you can do without later paying the piper. Stick with a mild exercise program all year, not just in diving season.

Warmup: Do you fling into activities without warming up? Well hey, warmup first. Warmup, just as it sounds, means raising your body temperature. Warmup is not stretching, arm waving or raising up and down on tip toe. Those activities don’t raise body temperature. Use large muscle rhythmic activities like walking, slow jogging, swimming or cycling to warmup. Be warm enough to sweat before you stretch or begin activity.

Enjoy yourself: Do you enjoy the exercise you do? The point where doing becomes overdoing is difficult to define. A major point to consider is, are you happy? Make your program one that satisfies your soul along with your body. If you hate your program, chances are you won’t stick with it however well intentioned.

At the other end of the continuum are those disciplined beings who slog through misery for the results, never mind the painful journey. Try enjoying yourself by finding aspects of exercise you like. Also, incorporate rest periods you’ll find your performance improves with a day off in between exercise bouts.

If, on the other hand, you enjoy obsessing, go ahead and obsess. identify and modify aspects that injure your body, social life or happiness. Then if overdoing is really for you, just overdo it. Remember to reassess periodically – and go see a movie sometimes.

What To Do When You’ve Already Done Too Much

Diagnose: You’ve done it. You’re hurt. Get a complete, accurate diagnosis of the injury or should I say injuries – there are usually more than one by this point. The key is not to treat until you know the cause so proper treatment may follow. Get the diagnosis from a physician specializing in orthopedics. The Greek word gnosis means knowing or recognizing. Dia is a word element that, in this context, means completely. It’s crucial to completely know. Getting rid of pain and the disability that goes with it means treating the cause. Don’t let any health practitioner treat you without first knowing what’s wrong.

Treat: Not discounting the importance of accurate diagnosis, many injuries take similar initial treatment. The first letters of the words Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation spell RICE, the acronym for treatment of almost all acute orthopedic injuries. Rest means rest – it doesn’t mean exercising even if it hurts. It means letting yourself begin healing. There’s no need to let your body go to seed in the interim. Gradually get back to speed, always working below what it takes to produce pain.

Use ice, not heat for the first few days to reduce pain and swelling. Bags of frozen peas or corn make good, pliant ice packs if no others are available. Compression with the ace bandages reduces swelling in limb injuries. Elevation means elevating the injured part above your heart, not just propping it on a low chair. Anti-inflammatory medications such as over the counter aspirin or Motrin help no anti-inflammatory action but is good for pain if you can’t stomach aspirin. Therapeutic exercises specific to the diagnosis can correct the problem and often the underlying cause.

Stretch: Stretching helps alleviate delayed onset soreness. Warmup gently then, just as gently, stretch the affected muscle slowly. A good place to stretch sore muscles is in a hot bath or shower.

How To Do Without Overdoing

An exciting area of sports medicine research is devising screening and training programs that maximize physical potential without overloading the exerciser. The dose and methods of exercise are different for everyone. Don’t be dissuaded from exercise. It’s much more common to rust out from inactivity than wear out from overdoing. Here are few things to try.

Start easy: For beginners, a twice a week program is often enough for the first several months. The improvements in a previously sedentary or overweight diver will be substantial. Weight loss will occur, waistlines will shrink, fitness level and capacity for strenuous diving will improve. Your ability to tolerate heat and cold may also improve. The gains from twice weekly exercise occur more slowly than from a three or four day per week program but exercise is more likely to become part of lifestyle, less likely to be skipped, with less chance of burnout.

Define your goals: Do you want to get stronger? Bigger? Smaller? The right exercises are different for each goal. You don’t need to use time for activities not related to your goal. If you don’t want big muscles, you don’t need as much work.

Exercise without going to gym: Make your daily work your exercise. Take stairs instead of elevators, personally deliver messages instead of using interoffice mail or park farther away.

Make diving your exercise: Take reconnaissance walks around dive sites and boat docks. Carry tanks for people. Help your dive club lug gear. You might learn things, meet people and workout all at once.

Make romance your exercise. Why ignore life and mate by going to a gym all the time? Get exercise by enjoying life with him/her. You can walk in the park to feed geese an easily as going out to eat a fat dinner. Carry each other piggyback. Walk all over town to find just the right flowers for a surprise. Walk to the post office to mail friendly notes.

Remember the rest of you: Your body is not the only art of you that needs exercise. Exercise your sensibilities, your smile muscles, your imagination, your funny bone. Exercise you love of life. Many things improve with exercise – nice and easy.


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