Always feeling tired or drained? Do you get sick easily or are unable to perform in the gym by giving your full effort? Guess what! You might be overtraining.
Overtraining happens when you work out for prolonged periods of time without enough rest in between in your sessions for your body to fully recover. It can also occur if you suddenly increase your training volume, frequency and intensity, follow a monotonous training program, or have an excessive bias towards certain high-intensity training methods and techniques. Exercise addiction can play a substantial role in overtraining, and so can stress and an unhealthy or unbalanced diet, especially one lacking in protein.
Mild overtraining may require several days of rest or reduced activity to overcome, but recovery from severe overtraining, also known as overtraining syndrome, may require weeks to months of complete rest.
But it’s not to be mistaken with DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which is just the pain and stiffness which can last up to 72 hours after strenuous exercise.
So, if you don’t want to miss that big race, lose all the gains you’ve made in the gym or take yourself completely out of action then make sure you avoid overtraining.
Are you overtraining? The six telltale signs are:
1. Persistent illness
Overtraining is generally linked to frequent sickness, especially upper respiratory tract infections. This may be due to your intense and persistent training sessions weakening your immune system, which then cannot defend your body against illness.
2. Reduced performance and an inability to progress
When you are in an overtrained state your ability to perform high intensity exercise is reduced. This usually presents as diminished power, endurance, strength and/or speed during an exercise session.
Performance can also be impacted as an inability to concentrate is also closely associated with overtraining.
You may also find that you are unable to add muscle, achieve training goals or improve your personal bests. This is because improvements in strength, size and fitness only occur during and after the rest period following hard training. This process can take days to complete, so without sufficient rest complete regeneration cannot occur. If this imbalance persists then your performance will eventually plateau and decline.
3. Changes in heart rate measurements
A sure-fire way to catch early signs of overtraining is to regularly measure your resting heart rate (RHR). Measuring your heart rate as soon as you wake up, before you get out of bed, and recording it will give you an indication of how well you are recovering. An increase in your RHR is generally considered to be a good indicator of overtraining. Other heart rate-related factors to watch out for include your recovery heart rate – the length of time it takes your heart rate to drop once an exercise session has ended – and a decrease in maximal heart rate.
4. Constant fatigue
The length of time it takes you to recover between exercise sessions or races will increase when you are overtrained. Athletes who are overtrained also experience persistently high levels of fatigue and other symptoms like prolonged muscle soreness.
5. Uncontrolled weight loss
No, this isn’t a good thing. In an overtrained state the body can become calorie-deficient, which means the rate at which the body breaks down fat stores and muscle for energy accelerates. You can also experience a loss of appetite, which reduces calorie intake and creates an even bigger calorie deficit. This can lead to severe weight loss, which includes precious muscle, over a relatively short period of time. The body can remain in this catabolic state for a long time as circulating levels the of stress hormone cortisol increases during periods of overtraining.
6. Psychological changes
When you are overtrained you may also experience changes in your mood, apathy, a loss of motivation, irritability or depression. Your sleeping patterns also change, often resulting in fitful sleep or even insomnia.
If you work hard to get stronger, get faster, lose weight or beat your personal best, you need to pay attention to your recovery as much as you do to your training – without sufficient rest and recovery, you’ll only delay your progress and risk your health.
Join the conversation online: let us know how you overcame overtraining.
Author: Tanja Schmitz
Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.