Overtraining. It’s kind of a dirty word. It’s like Overachieving’s evil twin that no one likes to talk about.
You’re in the gym, two times, maybe even three times a day. You might brag about your programming or how much volume you do, but too much of a good thing can be quite detrimental. Research has shown that physical activity has excellent health benefits, but in excess it can, in fact, be harmful.
In the blink of an eye, IT happens. You hit a wall. You feel exhausted, ill-tempered, and listless. The enthusiasm you once felt is starting to diminish and weights you once lifted effortlessly begin to feel unusually heavy. You may even double check the weight on your bar, thinking maybe your math was wrong or you skipped over a plate or two.
The phenomenon of overtraining is cumulative. It’s not only what we do in the gym, but outside of the gym, too. I often train multiple times a day. I’m up early, at the gym by 5:30 A.M. and I return 12 hours later. Sometimes I’m there 4 hours a day and that’s on top of my full-time job. Then factor in other life stressors and responsibilities and, if I’m not careful, I’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Over-stressing your body with too many physical demands over a long period of time can run your body down. And the truth is – overtraining is a real physiological condition with real negative consequences and it should be taken seriously. We’ve compiled a list of 8 warning signs you should be aware of to prevent halting progress and ultimately, chronic overtraining, which can lead to afflictive brain, muscle, and metabolic imbalances.
1. Poor sport performance
Poor sport performance is the main symptom of overtraining and the easiest to identify. We all have bad days, but if bad days are turning into weeks it’s time to press pause. You may think you’re not working hard enough, but it’s more than likely the opposite problem – you’re pushing your body too hard and not giving it time to recover and rebuild.
2. Prolonged Muscle Soreness and Aches and Pains
Muscle soreness is normal a day or two after a tough workout. It also shouldn’t be used as an excuse to take a rest day; however, if your aches and pains linger for more than 72 hours, your body is hinting to you that it’s time to back off of the gas pedal so it can heal. Otherwise, when you’re training in a weakened state, you run the risk of a real injury.
3. Hormonal Imbalances (i.e. Low Testosterone)
A lot goes on chemically in your body when you get your sweat on, but there is a fine line between training hard and overtraining. If you’re exercising too intensely for long durations with minimal rest, and too often, you may experience elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels, testosterone deficiencies, and adrenal fatigue. Some symptoms to look for are low energy, diminished sex drive, irritability, decreases in muscle mass and strength, weight gain (i.e. increase in fat around the abdomen), depression, sleep disturbances.
Knowing when you actually have a hormone imbalance can be difficult to measure without seeing your family physician for lab testing. If you suspect that your hormones may be out of whack, you may want to consider getting testing done. Take charge of your wellness and optimize your body’s performance (try Inside Tracker).
4. Exhaustion (i.e. sleepiness, decreased motor coordination and force production)
We’ve all experienced the mid-afternoon crash. We answer back with a cup of coffee and we’re good to go! But real exhaustion doesn’t oscillate, nor will an espresso macchiato from Starbucks jolt you out of your funk. When your body is in a state of being overtrained you’re using most of the energy you do have to recover from intense workouts and digest your food, which leaves you with very little for anything else – mentally or physically.
5. Sleep Disturbance
What’s worse than severe exhaustion is not being able to sleep. If you’ve ever worked out late at night, you may have found that it was harder to fall asleep or that you tossed and turned all night and woke up with your sheets tangled around your legs. This is all due to exercise stimulating your central nervous system. Sleep is a key component to physical restoration and muscle growth and when you’re not getting enough of it, it will only exacerbate the problem.
6. Depression or Mood Swings
It’s normal to have a bad day every one and a while, but if you’re feeling irritable, less motivated, or down in the dumps on a regular basis, coupled with some of these other warning signs, you may need to take a hiatus from your normal day-to-day activities.
7. Higher than normal resting heart rate
A physiological cue to tune into is your resting heart rate. A higher-than-normal resting heart rate (an additional 5+ beats per minute) can indicate that your body is working harder than normal to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your recovering tissues. Keep in mind that if you are new to training, changes in your resting heart rate are normal, which often indicate improved fitness. If you find that it’s elevated all the time, it’s definitely a sign that your body is over-stressed and working too hard to heal itself. In this case, it would be smart to back off of training or take a deload week.
Measure your resting heart rate at home:
The best time to measure your resting heart rate is upon waking in the morning. There are some cool apps out there that measure your heart rate and also log it, but all you really need to do is place the tips of your first two fingers (not your thumb) and press lightly either on your wrist (radial pulse) or on your neck (carotid pulse) and count the number of beats for 15 seconds, then multiply that number by 3.
8. Lower immune function
Exercise is great, but too much of it can compromise your immune system. If you’re experiencing longer bouts of being sick, getting sick more frequently than normal, or experiencing “below the neck symptoms” (i.e. fever, a mucous producing cough, diarrhea, etc) it would be wise to reduce the intensity and frequency of your training until your body and immune system are recovered.
Recovery is just as important as your training so listen to your body. When you are experiencing these symptoms of overtraining, your body is screaming for your help. Do your best to listen. Off days don’t always have to mean complete rest. Try doing something low impact and less intense, get a massage, attend a yoga class, go for a walk around a lake or go on a leisurely hike. Enjoy active recuperation – you deserve it!