I've been lifting weights about five or six days a week for the past year, but I haven't really been able to put on much weight. And in the past couple of months, I'm not as motivated and feel tired all the time. Is it possible for someone with HIV to work out too much?--Sven, Chicago
Yes, and it's called overtraining. This is a special concern for those of us with HIV. Overtraining basically means training too hard and too often without giving the body enough time to rest in between workouts. The effects of overtraining usually show up as fatigue and extreme muscle soreness. Sometimes, the signs are even more serious: depression, insomnia, loss of appetite, and worst of all, loss of that prized lean body mass. It sounds like you're lifting weights too frequently, which is hampering your muscle growth and contributing to your lack of motivation.
For HIV-positive individuals, our primary goal in the gym should be to add lean body mass because having more muscle will benefit your long-term health. Pumping iron too often will actually get in the way of your progress. Your muscles may feel 'pumped' after a visit to the gym, but that's not when they grow. Muscles grow in response to the resistance placed upon them in the gym--but only when they get adequate rest and proper nutrition.
A balanced personal fitness program should combine resistance training with cardiovascular exercise and flexibility work. In general, you should train with weights at maximum three or four times a week, covering all the major muscles in the body: back, chest, shoulders, arms, legs, and stomach. Each session should last no more than one hour, with a short warm-up period and some time to stretch.
After you have worked out the same way for eight weeks, take a couple weeks off. This prevents your body from overreaching. During this break, create a slightly different exercise plan for the same muscle groups, pay close attention to your nutrition, and map out some of your long-term physical goals.
When you resume your weight-training program, take a day or two off between workouts, and make sure you're getting adequate rest. Above all, remember: Always listen to your body.
Page is a certified fitness trainer and journalist. As president of Sam Page Fitness, he operates three private studios in Southern California. He contributes to several national and international magazines and also publishes a weekly e-newsletter from SamPageFitness.com and a daily blog at PeaceLoveLunges.com.