If you’re an avid gym goer or runner - chances are you’ve been warned against the dangers of overtraining. Now you may think that the more you exercise, the fitter, stronger and leaner you will become. This is not the case. If you consistently overtax your body, eventually you will reach a tipping point where exercise is no longer beneficial. Essentially, overtraining occurs when you train too hard, for too long and consequently experience negative side effects related to performance and health.
1. You’re not making any fitness progress
This one is at the top of the list, because if you are overtraining - you are likely doing it to IMPROVE your exercise performance. You want to become stronger and fitter as fast as possible. Perhaps you are training for your very first marathon and you’re in a hurry to log some high mileage. A clear sign of overtraining is a decrease in performance despite your very best efforts to increase training intensity and volume. So, if your goal is to successfully tick of an ultra marathon off your bucket list - you’ll want to make sure you allow your body ample recovery time.
2. Exercise feels a lot harder
This is what they call an increase in perceived effort. Does a 10 kilometer run feel a lot harder than it used to be? Are you struggling to up weight in the gym? If exercise seems a lot more difficult than usual - you may be experiencing some of the negative effects associated with overtraining. A clear sign of this is an abnormally high heart heart rate. Strength coach, Dan Trink, says, “Altered resting heart rate is the result of an increased metabolic rate to meet the imposed demand of training.”
3. You’re getting hurt more often
If you are training too hard, too often - you are not giving your body the time it needs to adequately recover. Remember, strenuous exercise causes your muscle fibres to tear and they need rest before being forced into more exercise. Muscle Model champion and transformation trainer Micah LaCerte points out, “When you’re overtraining, your body is going in the opposite direction of growth, because your muscles are torn and all you’re doing is re-tearing them again,”. So if you are continually training without recovery days - you are effectively training in weakened state, and at an increased risk of developing injuries.
4. You’re always getting sick
High training intensity and volume puts your body under a lot of strain that not only requires adequate rest - but also enough energy to meet those demands. When training for hours each day, most people tend to overlook their nutritional requirements - putting them in a continual catabolic state. This means that your body never receives the fuel it requires to train for such long periods, resulting in a weakened immune system. If you notice you’re getting ill a little more often than normal - it may be your body’s way of telling you your immune system is suffering from overtraining.
5. Sore muscles
Ever heard of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (or DOMS)? According to the American College of Sports Medicine, DOMS symptoms usually occur at least 12-24 hours after you’ve worked out. The pain should ease up after about three days after an intense workout. If you experience pain for longer than that it may be due to overtraining. This is because fatigue will accumulate in your body unless it has a chance to fully recover from previous workouts. An extended period of muscle soreness is often an indication that your muscles aren’t recovering, which can in fact have a negative impact on your overall muscle building efforts.
6. You’re struggling to sleep
Most of the time, a gruelling workout will have you passed out and in bed much earlier than usual. However, if you’ve been overtraining for a while you may be struggling to fall asleep in the evenings due to various metabolic imbalances caused by too much physical stress. For example, an overproduction of stress hormones may be preventing you from winding down at the end of the day. You may be in a hurry to see fitness or aesthetic results, but keep in mind that progress and growth occurs after training, when your body is resting.
7. You’re feeling down
People who tend to overtrain are often those who view exercise as something it is not - perhaps as a way to punish certain behaviours like overeating and thereby improve self-image. Body issues may be a cause of overtraining and it usually leads to a variety of metabolic imbalances, for example, affecting the production of stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. Depression and moodiness can also be due to the compounded effects of overtraining - where overtraining leads to metabolic imbalances which causes sleeping problems, which in turn results in psychological issues such as depression.
8. You have nutrient deficiencies
As explained above, overtraining is incredibly taxing on the body, and therefore requires sufficient fuel to sustain such activities before your body reaches a catabolic state. In this state, your body feeds on its own fuel stores to meet the demands of strenuous physical exercise. However, most tend to overlook their high energy and nutrient needs, which eventually results in nutrient deficiencies over the long term. For example, a lack of iron may cause anemia.
9. You’re always thirsty
Are you thirsty all day no matter how much water you drink? This may be a sign of overtraining if your thirst coincides with increased gym time. Personal trainer, Jay Cardiello, says, “Being in a catabolic state naturally causes dehydration.” Your body may be in a catabolic state, meaning that it is starting to consume its own muscle for protein, and is achieved due to a long term low energy availability associated with overtraining.
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms above, the best way to treat overtraining is by giving your body adequate rest and recovery time. Athletes often tend to exercise harder and longer in order to improve, but this strategy can backfire and actually negatively affect athletic performance. In order to reach optimal strength and fitness levels you need to consider a balance between overload and recovery that will enable you to push further without risking injury or burnout.