Overtraining. It is far too common. It can be the result of all-or-nothing thinking – I have to do it all the time or I will not see results. It can result when we are highly motivated and determined to meet a goal. It can be a symptom of adrenaline addiction.
How to identify overtraining
One problem with overtraining is that it is ambiguous. It is more qualitative than it is quantitative. For individuals new to exercise, I would say that if you are exercising 7+ hours a week that you are likely overtraining. This is not the case for myself, nor is it true for most endurance athletes.
As a self-proclaimed adrenaline addict, how do I know when I am bordering overtraining? When my workouts are not what they should be. When I begin to see performance declines. For example, this morning I attempted headstand and handstand practice (working toward goals!). It was pathetic. My shoulders are shot from a week of intense barbell complexes. I did very little this morning before I knew that training would do more harm than good and I stopped. The best things for my body are rest and recovery.
Common signs of overtraining include
- Chronic muscle and joint pains
- Excessive weight loss and loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight gain
- Decreased physical performance
- Increased fatigue
- Insomnia; loss of sleep
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Frequent Illness
- Decreased cognitive performance
- Mood changes; depressed
- Increased anger and irritability
- Decreased desire to exercise
- Frequent overuse injuries
Other signs of overtraining include otherwise unexplained plateaus, diminishing returns, and decreased absolute strength. If you are not seeing the results or gains you would like to see, you may need to cut back on your training. It is hard to believe, but it is true. Overtraining could also be the result of the inability to sleep for those of us who need to busy ourselves (Budgett, 2000).
Manage and avoid overtraining
There are several methods of achieving optimal training without overtraining. This includes implementing the following strategies:
- Cut back on the intensity and/or duration of training
- Set and enforce a bedtime
- Practice mental relaxation techniques
- Maintain hydration
- Ensure muscle fueling and muscle tissue repair and rebuilding through proper nutrition for carefully programmed workouts.
Working with a good program, that includes education of the whys and why nots of training, can help prevent overtraining. I make a point of educating clients on the risks associated with overtraining, such as possible injury and/or loss of desire and motivation. A post to follow will outline program design research and elements for those who want additional know-how for avoidance.
I strongly encourage you to implement relaxation and other techniques that promote recovery and reduce overtraining (Peterson, 2005). Examples include meditation, relaxation exercises, massage, tapping, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), self-myofascial release, stretching, ice or cold baths, a sauna or steam room, and electric muscle stimulation.
How much physical activity is too much and how much is enough? The science is complicated. The answers are highly individual. One thing is certain, you can increase your physical activity level threshold with proper training, nutrition, and recovery. I workout every day — my program is carefully and mindfully designed to avoid overtraining. And I practice being body smart. Like today, I could feel the muscular fatigue and I made the body smart decision to skip my training. Your body does know best — we each just need to learn how to hear what it is saying. And what it is really saying – not what we want it to say or we think it is saying.
I do not recommend that most individuals workout daily – but it is truly dependent upon your goals. Not sure if you might be overtraining, seek assistance from a qualified fitness professional. And go forth!
Budgett. R. (2000). Overtraining and Chronic Fatigue: The Unexplained Underperformance Syndrome. International SportMed Journal, 1(3).
Peterson, K. (2005). Overtraining: Balancing practice and performance. In S. Murphy (Ed.), The sport psych handbook (pp. 49-70). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.