Do you know the signs of overtraining? I have many clients, colleagues and friends with whom this post may resonate. You know who you are. The amount of training it takes to push you over the edge into overtraining varies from person to person. And, yes, some degree of discomfort and challenge is essential to make change in your body. However, you also need to learn when your body is telling you to STOP. Overtraining can also cause you to be vulnerable to injury and sickness. If you are trying to hit a PR – overtraining hurts you; training too much actually makes you slower and weaker.
Think about these five primary signs – do they sound like you?
You want to lose weight, but you aren’t. You exercise one to two hours per day, busting through high heart rate zones – every day. You increase your running mileage. The scale doesn’t budge. Recovery is essential to weight loss. Yes, you want to burn calories – but without recovery your body just cannot be sure what you are going to throw at it. It may hold onto fat just in case you decide to add even more miles or work it even harder. Overtraining can also result in an increase in production of cortisol – the stress hormone which prevents fat loss. Weight loss is often pegged as a symptom of overtraining – but I see much of the opposite.
You go to the gym, reluctantly. You dread your run. You quit 30 minutes into spin class. You exercise out of obligation – not out of enthusiasm. Of course, if you go to the gym only once per week – this is not a symptom of overtraining. It could very well be because you haven’t found the workout that you enjoy or a proper support system. If, however, you know you buy in to exercise and once looked forward to it – you might be overtraining. We all have our off days, but if they become the norm – well, you know.
You snap at your child, co-worker, best friend, spouse…insert whomever….often. Being achy, sore and overly fatigued makes you grumpy. Resenting your workouts, something you used to love, probably downright pisses you off. As you overtrain, your performance diminishes – frustrating you. You don’t finish workouts, and you think that is making you crazy – it is, but it is a symptom of overtraining.
You have heavy legs, every day. You will experience times where your body is tired – hormones, poor dietary choices, a bad night of sleep, the day after a really intense workout, a full moon (who knows…I’ve used it as an excuse) – but if find yourself dragging through every workout, you are probably overtraining. Your sluggishness may translate to daily activities – playing with your kids, cleaning house, cooking dinner. If you find your workouts regularly interfere with your ability to truly live, that’s overtraining.
You can’t remember when you had a rest day. A real rest day, not a day you did an easier workout or “just” yoga or Pilates. I know you are worried you’ll lose your edge or not burn calories. It will be okay. In fact, regular rest days are the times that your body actually grows and makes change as your broken-down muscle fibers take time to repair. If you are constantly stressing them, you cannot reap the growth benefits of all your work. Your body might even begin to eat up your lean muscle mass for energy to keep going – undoing your efforts.
The treatment for overtraining is simple – rest. Not just 12 hours of rest either, but maybe an entire weekend. For severe cases of overtraining, you may have to rest for three or more days – sometimes two weeks. If you suspect you are overtraining, maybe you start with just two days off if you usually take none, or just one. If you don’t see improvements, you might need longer. Schedule yourself a vacation if you have to — but get out of the gym.