Distance runners often refer to “hitting the wall” during a race, and I know from firsthand experience that the wall is real. During a marathon, I suddenly shut down at mile 23. After six months of solid training, I ended up walking the last three miles of the race. I was exhausted physically — and devastated mentally.
Looking back at my race, there were plenty of red flags I shouldn’t have ignored, like increasing thirst, shortness of breath, lightheadedness and extreme fatigue. But instead of slowing down or taking a short break during my run, I kept pushing through — until my body simply couldn’t keep going.
This painful experience has stuck with me for years, and as a result I’m much more in tune with my workouts today. I’m better able to identify when to take a healthy break or stop exercising altogether so my body can recover.
If you’re new to exercise or wondering if you’re overdoing your workouts, here are some workout red flags to watch out for. See Mayo Clinic’s exercise safety guide for more information on knowing when to stop a workout or see a doctor.
If you start feeling lightheaded or dizzy during a workout, pause what you’re doing, take a few deep breaths and see if it goes away. If you continue to feel lightheaded, end the workout immediately and seek medical attention.
If you hit the point of extreme fatigue — feeling drained of energy, unable to continue or unable to keep a steady pace — take it as a sign that your body is ready for rest. End the workout, get some sleep and try again the next day. If you’re new to exercising and unsure what your threshold limit is, check out Mayo Clinic’s guide on exercise intensity.
Dehydration can take a major toll on your workout. If you don’t have a water source nearby to help keep you hydrated during a workout, consider cutting the workout short, especially in hot conditions. Be sure to pack or carry water or a sport drink with you during exercise. Learn more about how to spot the signs of dehydration.
If you feel a sharp or sudden pain during a workout, there’s a good chance you’ve injured something. Stop working out, or avoid exercises that increase pain for the rest of the workout. Try icing or resting the injury. If the pain persists, see a medical professional.
If you feel nauseated during a workout, consider it a workout red flag and stop exercising. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, nausea during exercise is a sign that it’s time to stop your workout. Drink plenty of water, get some rest and see a doctor if you continue to feel ill.
Don’t sacrifice your health just to get in a few more miles or reps. instead, listen to your body and take healthy steps to keep it in shape as you continue your exercise journey. Properly prepare and recover from all workouts by sleeping well, eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of water.
Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.