Are You Overtraining?

If you are dedicated to achieving the best possible results, you might be pushing your body harder than it is able to handle.  If so, you could easily be overtraining!  No matter who you are, overtraining can bring your results and enthusiasm for fitness to a sudden halt.  It can compromise your immune system and leave you more susceptible to injury.  The best athletes live on the edge of overtraining because they are always pursuing the next level.  But you must be constantly aware of its presence and stay in tune with your body to avoid the many negatives it can bring.

What is Overtraining?

As we progress into higher levels of fitness it often takes greater amounts of effort to continue improving.  What once produced results becomes easier and less effective as your body adapts, so new challenges are implemented.  Unfortunately, there is a point at which you will experience diminishing returns for your efforts.  Your body simply won’t be able to keep up.  Your ability to train will exceed your ability to recover.  You can’t simply train longer, harder, heavier, more frequently, and with more advanced movements or programs indefinitely, and expect there not to be a point at which it simply becomes too much.

As much as we hate to admit it, our bodies do have limits.  Training is a form of stress and as adaptive as our bodies are, they can only change so fast and endure so much.  Trying to push beyond this will at best create a plateau, and at worst cause you to regress, or even induce injury.  We have to constantly monitor and listen to our body to stay in tune with how it’s doing and feeling.


What are the Symptoms of Overtraining?  

Our bodies are always communicating to us if we can learn to listen.  Fatigue, loss of power and strength, lack of enthusiasm for training, excessive soreness, irritability, difficulty in getting a pump, elevated resting heart rate, insomnia, loss of muscle, increase in fat stores, weight loss plateau, etc., can all be signs and symptoms that your body is in need of a break.

To complicate things, overtraining can come on so gradually that you could be pushing through it for weeks, or even months, and not realize it.  The driven among us often respond with greater intensity and workload to combat a slowing or lack of results when what’s really needed is a break.  Just as thirst isn’t always an accurate indicator of dehydration, various symptoms may not accurately tell us when we are overtrained.


How to Avoid Overtraining?

Training is merely a stimulus to trigger the body to get better.  It is actually away from training, while we are at rest, that the body repairs, grows, and improves.  Even if your goals involve losing weight or getting leaner, those things happen as part of a process in which rest and recovery are critical.

Make sure that you are properly nourishing your body with enough calories and quality nutrients.  If you are trying to lose weight you should diet on as many calories as possible and focus on losing gradually as opposed to taking your calories down too low, too fast.

Training for too long or too frequently should be avoided.  Even if you are focusing on different body parts or movements, it’s your entire central nervous system that is being taxed and therefore at risk.  The more total hours you log, the harder it will be for your body to recover.  Also, avoid doing too much high intensity work. While you may need to specialize and really push yourself at times to improve at specific things or in specific areas, you can only do so much at once.  The harder you train, the longer it takes to recover so factor this in when you increase your workload via either intensity or duration, and understand that this increase will bring about a need for recovery or a training break sooner and/or to a greater degree.

Your body should be given regular breaks as part of your training cycle.  There must first be enough rest days during each week.  After several weeks of hard training, having 1-2 weeks in which you de-train or reduce the intensity and volume of your normal workload can be of great benefit.  Finally, every 2-3 months, giving yourself a full week off to recover is another good way to keep yourself fresh and progressing.


How to Recover from Overtraining.

If you suspect that you are overtrained the first step would be rest!  Give yourself enough time off so that your body and system has a chance to heal. Check to make sure that your nutrition is sound and that your caloric intake is adequate.  When you finally get back into training do so gradually.  Don’t start out at your previous training level.  Ease back into training with minimal volume and only moderate intensity.  Train enough to improve but not enough to exhaust yourself.  Finally, stay more in-tune with what your body is telling you.  If overtraining happened before it can easily happen again.

Regular exercise and following a fitness lifestyle can do wonders for your mind, body and spirt.  But like anything else there are limits, and right and wrong ways to go about it.  Overtraining can put an unwanted damper on your entire fitness journey.  With a bit of awareness and an eye towards prevention, you can travel a path to success that is free from this unwelcome obstacle.

Photo: Terry Goodlad

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