What is overtraining?
“Overtraining” means working out too often or too much without enough rest and recuperation between sessions.
Proper weight-training programs are based on acute stress on the body followed by periods of recovery or regeneration. If a program does not allow for adequate recovery, the stressors remain and become chronic. Stress hormones, when left unchecked for long periods, can lead to changes in resting heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration patterns along with various other physiological changes. This chronic stress may negatively affect the muscular, skeletal, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems.
Many active people live by the motto “No pain, no gain.” While you have to work hard to achieve high levels of fitness, too much or too intense training is counterproductive. Effective training occurs only if the body adapts to the stress of exercise. This adaptation occurs after exercise. If you don’t give your body a chance to adapt, you will not improve fitness. Rather, progress comes to a halt and you get injured or sick.
Signs (symptoms) of overtraining
If you’ve been working out heavily and experience any of the following symptoms, you may be overtrained and should take a few days off. The following symptoms are listed in order of importance:
- Elevated resting heart rate. If your resting heart rate (when you wake up in the morning) is consistently higher, by even a few beats, than your normal resting heart rate before you began working out heavily, you probably need to take some time off. To determine your resting heart rate, count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply by 6. Do this as soon as you wake up, even before you sit or stand up.
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic fatigue / lack of energy
- Plateau followed by decrease of strength gains.
- Insomnia (sleep disturbances)
- Continual soreness in the muscles
- Persistent flu-like symptoms
- Frequent injuries
- Loss of enthusiasm or lethargy, not just toward your workouts but in general (mood changes)
- Increased sweating
- Inability to relax
However, keep in mind that not all of these symptoms will be present, and that the presence of some of these symptoms does not automatically mean an individual is overtrained. The ultimate determination of overtraining is whether performance is impaired or plateaued. So primary indicator is a loss of performance capacity.
Causes of overtraining
There are different causes of overtraining, but the following is a list of the most common causes for overtraining:
- Inadequate recovery between training sessions
- Too much high intensity training, typically for too long
- High volumes of endurance training
- No vacations, breaks, or off-seasons
- Inadequate nutrition, typically in the form of caloric and carbohydrate/fat restriction
- Insufficient sleep
- High amounts of stress and anxiety
Best ways to prevent (combat) overtraining
Here are the best ways to overcome overtraining syndrome:
- Make sure your workout includes a variety of exercises.
- Plan your workouts (or use the ones we’ve designed for you). Avoid rushed or haphazard workouts.
- Get plenty of sleep. If you’re short of sleep, do a lighter workout. Proper rest is just as important as intense training for improving fitness. When you work out, you are trying to get your body to adapt and improve its function. Before every workout, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this exercise session and how will it cause my body to adapt?” If you are exhausted or have the flu, the workout may cause you to lose ground. You are better off resting for a day or two. When you come back, you will be ready for an intense workout that will improve your fitness. Improved fitness requires a balance of training and rest. Remember, your muscles grow while you rest.
- Use of alcohol, tobacco, or recreational drugs will reduce the effectiveness of your workouts and increase your susceptibility to overtraining.
- Every few weeks, give your body a rest by taking a few days off.
- Be flexible in your attitude toward your workouts. If you really don’t have what it takes on a given day, don’t force it; try doing a lighter session. But don’t let this be an excuse for laziness or repeatedly missing workouts; when possible, meet your commitment to your body!
- Make adjustments. Simply adjust one or more of the following: diet, amount of sleep (you should try for 7 – 8 hours per night), training intensity, duration, and frequency.
Closing thoughts about overtraining
Overtraining is an imbalance between training and recovery. If you ignore the signs of overtraining, it can lead to injuries and illness. As long as you follow the exercise prescriptions contained on our website, overtraining should not be a problem. Each body is unique, however, and periods of abnormal stress affect your body’s responses. Pay attention to the messages your body is sending you and act accordingly.
Furthermore, keep in mind that a weight training is not an exact science. Sometimes you feel great and can train more intensely than planned. Other times, you feel tired and sluggish. Training intensely in this condition will actually impede progress. On the other hand, do not use this principle as an excuse to skip workouts. If you listen to your body and it always tells you to rest, you will never improve fitness. Follow a systematic program, but be flexible enough to change it slightly according to how you feel. Train consistently, work hard to improve fitness, and try to maintain a structured workout program.