What is Overtraining and How Do You Avoid it?
By Silvia Carli-Reese MS, RD, CSCS
You exercise to get fitter, stronger, and healthier. Unless you monitor your training and follow sound recovery practices, however, you can end up in an overtrained state where you are actually weaker, smaller, and less healthy. In this article, we’ll identify what overtraining is and what you can do to avoid it.
What is Overtraining?
Overtraining is the end result of a cumulative lack of recovery. It results when there is an imbalance between training and recuperation. There is a fine line between pushing the envelope in terms of high-intensity training, and overtraining. Of course, the harder you train, the more in need of recovery you are.
On the way to a state of overtraining, a person starts to lose training enthusiasm, and their performance will be negatively affected in terms of weight lifted or speeds achieved. When you reach the point of overtraining, your body will be in a catabolic state and will be getting smaller and weaker rather than bigger and stronger.
Signs of Overtraining
So, how do you know if you are in an overtrained state? Here are thirteen signs. Individually, they may not mean much, but if you are experiencing three or more of them together, you may be overtraining.
- Lack of enthusiasm to work out
- Inability to focus in the gym and in your life in general
- Lack of appetite
- Reduced libido
- Negative mood
- Loss of strength
- Weight loss
- Increased blood pressure or heart rate after exercise
- Ongoing muscle soreness
- Frequent illness
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Inability to recover from muscle soreness
How to Avoid Overtraining
Avoiding overtraining requires you to prioritize your workout recovery and monitor how your body is reacting to your training. Here are four things you should be doing to prevent overtraining:
Know Your Limits
Back in the Gold’s Gym heyday of the 1980s, the worldwide gym mantra was “no pain, no gain.” This term was coined by experienced bodybuilders and specifically referred to the type of muscular pain caused by increased blood flow (the pump), lactic acid build-up, and the muscle tears that we have already spoken of.
Unfortunately, a lot of people who work out nowadays are unable to differentiate between this type of good workout pain and the bad sort of pain that is a sign of bodily injury or damage. This can easily cause overtraining, which will make it virtually impossible to recover between training sessions.
Even though you might want to work out intensely, you do not want to take yourself to the point of near-death when you are training. You should be pushing beyond your comfort zone, but not to the point of ridiculousness. Each workout, make it your aim to do a little bit more than you did the last time.
Take a lesson from arguably the greatest bodybuilder of all time, eight-time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney, who often said that his goal in the gym was to stimulate not to annihilate. Incidentally, Haney has never had a serious training injury in his life.
What you eat before, during, and after your workout will affect your ability to recover. Check out some great pre-workout snack options.
A training journal is an invaluable aid in assessing your workout recovery. It will help you to tune in to your body. As well as giving you a good overview of how you are feeling that day, it will be able to track trends over time. Often, we miss the day-to-day signs of lack of recovery, but when we get a bird’s eye overview of the past month or two, we are able to spot worrying trends in our performance or mental state.
You can create a training journal as an excel sheet online or as a physical book. Either way, check back over your log at the end of the week and use a highlighter to color all of the positive words you have recorded, such as “strong,” “awesome,” and “refreshed.” Use another color highlighter on such negative words as “tired,” “missed it,” and “lacking motivation.”
Active Recovery to Overcome Muscle Soreness
Active recovery is a term that has come into vogue in recent years, and with good cause. Research shows that performing active recovery sessions will greatly speed up the recovery process and lessen post-exercise muscle soreness.
It involves doing some light exercise that is different to what you do in your main workout. It could be as simple as a twenty-minute walk or playing basketball with your friends.
Check out these muscle recovery tips for aching muscles.
Most people don’t factor sleep into the recovery process. In fact, it is arguably the most important factor of them all. It is during this time that your muscles recover, repair, and rebuild the muscle tissue that has been broken down during your workout. To achieve this, it needs around eight hours of deep, restful slumber.
Interrupted sleep is a key sign of overtraining so it is important to monitor your sleep. If your sports watch or fitness tracker has a sleep monitoring function, be sure to make use of it. If you do create an overnight sleep debt prior to your workout, try to get a power nap after your training session. Even twenty minutes will be sufficient to make up for lost sleep.
For many active people, it is a challenge to come to terms with sleep. They tend to view it as a sign of laziness. However, in order to optimize your training and recovery, you need to get out of that mindset and start to view sleep as an integral part of a smart training program.
Overtraining is a state of exhaustion that will deplete your energy, make you weaker, negatively affect your mood, and make you more susceptible to illness. It’s not a place you want to be. Follow the suggestions given to replenish your body and stay out of the overtraining zone.
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