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20 Unfortunate But Unavoidable Side Effects of Working Out

Working out is great and all for making us look and feel good, amongst a host of physical and mental benefits. But exercising day in and day out can have some super annoying consequences.
20 Unfortunate But Unavoidable Side Effects of Working Out
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So we already know that exercise is good for you for about a million reasons — it can boost brainpower, make us look and feel good, and alleviate stress, just to name a few. But it’s not always rainbows and butterflies after hitting the gym: Dealing with stink, sweat, and aches and pains can be tough. While there’s likely no way to stop the unfortunate side effects of working out (besides becoming a couch potato), we’re here to recognize each and every downside, plus offer up some solutions and know-how for when unforeseen consequences strike.

1. You often wake up when it’s still dark out.  

No one enjoys an alarm sounding at the a$$ crack of dawn, but facing a morning sweat sesh may make the prospect of peeling the covers back even more miserable. On the bright side, research suggests it’s sometimes easier to stick with a morning workout routine, so that’s all the more reason to get your tush out of bed. Become an a.m. athlete with these science-backed tips.

2. You need to pay attention to (and interact with) bad weather.  
You’ve got one designated hour to get sweaty, but unfortunately the sky decided to break a sweat at the very same time. Whether it’s raining, snowing, sleeting, or just too darn hot (or cold) to imagine being outdoors, there are still viable options to stay active. The good news is that exercising in cold and hot temps is generally quite safe as long as you take proper precautions.

3. Your phone or MP3 player gets sweat in, on, and around it.
Like many runners, I can’t jog four feet without coming down with a bad case of really sweaty palms (like, really sweaty). While it’s obvious that sweat and electronics don’t mix, who has time (and money) to rig up a waterproof armband every time they want to work out? Try these strategies to keep your technology clean and dry.

4. You need to go back to work looking like a grease ball and smelling like a Hunger Games contestant.
Squeezing in a run or a Pilates class during your lunch break is an admirable feat, until you realize you smell like feet upon return to the office. When there’s no time to shower, try one of these time-honored ways to fake it and stave off sweat-induced jock itch (ick).

  • Remove makeup before working out (then apply just the basics afterward).
  • Turn to cleansing wipes, baby powder, and dry shampoo to soak up extra moisture.
  • Change out of sweaty clothes ASAP. Wet clothes are stinky clothes.

5. You blaze through deodorant because you sweat like sinner in church.Pit stains may be unappealing, but sweating is actually really great for us. Dripping sweat promotes detoxification through the skin and also helps cool us down [1]. Accept your sweatiness by acknowledging that, after all, B.O. is only natural.

  • Learn about what’s in a stick of antiperspirant.
  • If B.O. is your main worry, take solace in the fact that everyone has body odor, and the way we smell is largely based on genetic factors [2].

6. Your hair feels like a matted, sweaty rat’s nest.
There’s nothing worse after a workout than sporting a 'do that resembles the Hunchback of Notre Dame. To get rid of the dreaded ponytail hair bump  — and avoid a super sweaty hairline (dudes, we’re talking to you too) — it’s best to prevent it in the first place.

7. Your hair also looks like straw and your skin feels like sandpaper from so much showering.
Sexy, right? Washing off all that sweat is the logical conclusion to most workouts. But extra time under the H20 means soap and water will remove protective oils that the skin naturally produces. Turn to the pantry for some frugal fixes.

8. Your feet look disgusting.
Hitting the track, trails, or pavement day after day can do a number on those tootsies. Runner’s toe, a nasty-looking condition accompanied by pain and bloody or bruised toes, can lead to infection and get in the way of a workout routine. Busted feet aren’t limited to runners either; everyone from tennis players to skiers and dancers can experience painful and unsightly feet. Abide by these tips before you have to say, “R.I.P., big toenail.”

  • Pick the right athletic socks to help prevent injuries, improve performance, and keep feet nice and dry.
  • Act like Goldilocks at the shoe store and make sure those sneaks fit just right. If shoes are too tight, constant pressure can irritate the toenail. On the other hand, too-loose footwear means the feet continually bang into the shoe (ouch).
  • This tip may sound silly, but cut your toenails! Keeping those nails trimmed assures they won’t get in the way and contribute to unnecessary injury.

9. Your favorite sneaks smell like a frat party.
We’ve talked about the biology of body odor and it ain’t pretty. Since it’s impractical to run sneakers through the wash after every use, read on to see what you can do about stinky footwear.

10. You’ve got to shave your legs and pits more often. (Disregard if you are all for body hair.)
Skipping arms day because you forgot to shave your pits can be pretty frustrating. Unless you’re planning to take a rest day and let muscles heal, try these tips to avoid a hair-raising gym session.

  • Plan ahead to skirt around an embarrassing crescent pose. Shave the day of or day before an arm workout or a group class that usually requires raising the arms.
  • Wear thin pants or capris to hide furry legs.
  • Embrace the #YOLO. Other gym-goers are likely more interested in their own workouts (and checking themselves out in the mirror) than noticing a Teen Wolf wannabe pumping out shoulder presses.

11. You chafe in unfortunate places.
Ouuuuch. When sweat and fabric rub against the skin while running or switching from move to move in a fitness class, it can cause painful irritation and rashes known affectionately as chafing. Without the proper gear, there’s no escaping the fire of chafing in some of your most sensitive spots (i.e. thighs and nipples).

  • Reduce thigh chafing by wearing longer running shorts, capris, or pants to avoid skin-on-skin contact.
  • If pants aren’t your thing, try out products like BodyGlide to reduce some of that friction.

12. You regularly become a stink ball that no one wants to sit next to on the bus.
Empty seats all around you on a crowded bus or train? We’ve all been there. The beet-red face, huffing and puffing, overall dampness, and locker room stink hardly help you make a good first impression on public transportation. Shake it off and take pride in those pit stains.

  • Be proud of your sweat — it means you’re totally jacked! Some studies have found that those who are in-shape sweat more than people who are physically unfit.
  • Toss some wet wipes or a small towel in your gym bag to dab away the stink before hopping on a bus or subway.

13. You have a lot of sh!t to carry around.
Forget important documents — your work bag is weighed down with sneakers, sports socks, clothes, and gym locks. Adding toiletries and other goodies, like a cumbersome yoga mat or shower shoes, means you’ll probably have to invest in a gym bag to tote your extra stuff around. Pack that bag in a smart and efficient way before heading out the door.

  • Learn how to carry your stuff safely by keeping your bag close to the body, using two straps, and stashing the heaviest things at the bottom.
  • Whittle your bag down to just the essentials. Travel-size deodorant and an extra pair of undies won’t take up that much space.

14. Speaking of sh!t, you have to go. All. The. Time.
Ever felt the urge to go number two during a cat-cow pose? You’re not alone: Regular exercise can make us more regular, and going an average of once a day is perfectly healthy. And hey, everyone poops, so you might as well learn everything you can about the whole process.

  • Take a minute to sift through everything you want to know but haven’t asked about going number two.
  • Suppressing a poo can actually create bowel issues, so it’s okay to excuse yourself from Zumba class to set it free [3].

15. You need to replace your sneakers all the time.  
Depending on how a runner strikes the ground (and how much he or she weighs), sneakers can take a beating. Anywhere between 300-500 miles after the first wear, the foam in sneakers (designed to absorb impact) loses its effectiveness, which can lead to injury. Unfortunately, replacing sneaks every few months can put quite a dent in your wallet. Luckily, we’ve got the deets on sneaker longevity.

  • Check out our guide for when to replace running shoes.
  • If you’re more likely to hang out by the weight racks than the treadmill, read this to see if your current kicks make the cut.

16. Your other shoes feel like torture devices.
Stiff leather boots? Heels? Oh, hell no. Logging an hour per day in sneakers makes grandpa’s orthotics look much more appealing than trendy kicks. In addition to being uncomfy, skyscraper heels have some unpleasant implications when worn repeatedly, such as bunions (pretty!), pinched nerves (feels great!), flat feet (fabulous!), and inflammation (sexy!).

  • Our feet are not made for wearing heels. It’s science. Tell your friends that next time you go to the club in Uggs.
  • Even Louboutin-wearing fashionista Sarah Jessica Parker has sworn off heels for good (unless they’re really, really nice).
  • When you do wear hellish heels, make things easier on yourself by breaking them in. Don’t forget to bring a couple Band-Aids and some flats for later.

17. You need to do laundry more often.

Unless you’re an avid fan of naked yoga, it’s an undeniable fact that the laundry pile grows with each and every workout. From wearing multiple pairs of undies in one day (God forbid you wear sweaty britches all day), to layering up for an outdoor workout, some weeks feel like they require a full bottle of laundry detergent. These easy tips will keep your clothes fresher, longer.

  • Look on the bright side: Doing laundry counts as fitness.
  • Let your clothes dry out. Hanging up clothes to air them out (rather than letting them fester in a plastic bag) means you can re-wear certain garments like running shorts or a sports bra. 
  • Soak extra stinky stuff in one part vinegar to four parts hot water to help disinfect.

18. You’re all sorts of hungry.
If you’ve ever emptied the fridge after an intense gym session, you know all about exercise-induced hunger pangs. Since exercise burns calories, working up a sweat can make us pretty hungry afterward. Unfortunately, many of us don’t refuel properly (chips and Diet Coke don’t count) after a workout. Thankfully, there are tasty, easy solutions for that rumbling tummy!

19. Some days, you walk like a sleepy penguin ‘cause your muscles hurt.
While exercising generally does the body good, muscle soreness after a hard workout is uncomfortable. Sore muscles are a normal — but annoying — side effect of the muscle rebuilding process. The good news is, when torn muscle fibers rebuild they become stronger, and there are plenty of ways to relieve the aches and pains. Boo yah!

  • Find out why our muscles get sore after exercise here.
  • When muscles are particularly tender, it may be a good idea to dial down subsequent workouts to give the body a little rest and speed healing.
  • For some gym buffs, icing sore muscles may be just the ticket. The cold helps numb pain as well as narrow blood vessels, which helps limit the amount of swelling. 
  • If you’d rather pass on the chilly temps, head to the masseuse or try out some self-myofascial release with a foam roller to ease fatigued muscles. 

20. You can’t even drown your stinky sorrows in sweet lullabies because your headphones shorted out.
Over time, drenching headphones in stinky sweat can leave them rather ineffective. While it’s important to keep them clean and dry, it’s also not a bad idea to give your ears a break every once in a while to protect hearing and keep those buds clean.

  • Using water on electronics can be tricky, so read up on how to clean off germy earbud sweat here.
  • Try working out sans music every once in a while. Wedging in a set of earbuds while running outdoors can be a dangerous distraction, plus listening too loud can lead to hearing impairment.
  • Invest in a pair of wireless, sweat-resistant headphones, like these.

What’s the worst workout side effect you face? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.

Works Cited +

  1. Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in sweat: a systematic review. Sears, M.E., Kerr, K.J., Bray, R.I. Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, ON, Canada. Journal of environmental and public health. 2012;2012;18745.
  2. Body odour of monozygotic human twins: a common pattern of odorant carboxylic acids released by a bacterial aminoacylase from axilla secretions contributing to an inherited body odour type. Kuhn, F., Natsch, A. Analytical Chemistry, Duebendorf, Switzerland. Journal of the Royal Society 2009;6:377-92.
  3. The relation between irregular bowel movement and the lifestyle of working women. Kunimoto, M., Nishi, M., Sasaki, K. Colo-proctological Clinic, Kunimoto Hospital, Asahikawa, Japan. Hepatogastroenterology, 1998 Jul-Aug;45(22):956-60.

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