Competition, aesthetics, health…all are worthy causes to get you off the couch and into the gym. You’ve worked hard to see results and now you’re addicted. There is indeed too much of a good thing, however, so don’t let this addiction get the best of you.
Overtraining is a common cause of exercise related aches and pains. Read below to learn more about how to avoid this pitfall.
WHAT IS OVERTRAINING?
It is training to the point that you have provided too much stress to your body and not enough time to recover, leading to the manifestation of physical and mental symptoms. Simply put, it is “over-doing it”.
There is a wide array of factors that can potentially contribute to overtraining. Exercise addiction, just like any other, can have deleterious effects. Trying to keep up with an advanced training partner may lead to stress your body is not yet ready to handle. Inexperience or a lack of knowledge can also commonly result in overtraining.
Overtraining can actually hinder your performance and make it more difficult to hit your goals. If allowed to persist unchecked, it can even lead to injury. Here are some tips to tell if you are over-doing it.
How do I know if I am overtraining?
Symptoms of overtraining can be both mental and physical. The best place to start is to make sure you are in tune to the messages your body is sending. I know this sounds like something you’d read in a fortune cookie, but it is crucial in order to pick up on some of the less obvious signs that there may be a problem.
Are you sore?
Do you understand the difference between soreness that is typical of exercise, vs. that which is pain out of proportion to the activities you take part in? If you have adopted a proper warm-up and cool-down, yet still experience debilitating soreness that prevents you from performing typical daily activities, you may be overtraining. Furthermore, take note of any pain outside the realm of muscle soreness. Joint pain should not be part of exercise.
Have you experienced a regression in your performance?
Your regimen should blend short term, readily attainable goals, in addition to some of the loftier ones. This helps provide steady motivation and keeps you engaged. You will not PR every time out. Training hard is associated with small “failures”. It should not, however, be correlated with a consistent backslide in performance. These regressions can manifest as decreased reps performed, less weight moved, slower times, decreased vertical leap, etc. Underperformance can be a sign you are overtraining.
How is your energy?
Exercise should be associated with more of it. If you are dragging in the gym, at work, and at home, you may be doing too much.
Did you do your homework?
What are my goals? How many days each week should I work out? What types of exercises provide the best opportunity to reach my goals? Can I do these exercises daily? How many sets and reps of these exercises should I perform? Am I utilizing the proper form?
If you do not know the answers to these questions, you are laying groundwork for troubles ahead.
Have you noticed mental or emotional symptoms?
Exercise should have a positive effect on your mood and overall health. Changes in sleep patterns, feeling “burned out”, and dreading workouts can all be signs of overtraining. More serious cases can result in depression, frequent illness, mood changes, altered appetite and irregular menses. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek the advice of a medical professional.
I think I may be overtraining, now what?
The best and most immediate thing to do is to simply back off the throttle. Rest is ideal. For those suffering from any of the above symptoms of overtraining I recommend a full week out of the gym, with light cardiovascular activity as a substitute.
For those that can’t bear the thought of missing a week (or day) in the gym, opt for low impact training. Get in the pool for recovery. Swimming is not necessary; simply moving in the water de-loads your joints and can provide relief to tense muscle and sore joints. If you like body weight movements, plyometrics, or speed training, choose more forgiving surfaces. Try the elliptical, sand, grass, or padded mats.
If you think your knowledge is lacking, ask somebody who knows. Your workout plan should be tailored to meet your specific needs. A knowledgeable and licensed trainer should be able to help you meet your needs without overtraining. For you DIYers, check out: https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2010/02/15/how-to-build-your-own-workout-routine/
For more serious issues like joint pain, overuse injury, repeated illness, or changes in mental health, seek the care of a medical professional.
To sum it up:
Listen to your body. Know your limits. Look out for the signs mentioned above. Communicate with your trainer or training partner to ensure they are aware of how each exercise affects you. Your exercise program should have built in low volume weeks for recovery. If it doesn’t add them. If you are unsure about exercise programming, ask an expert. See your doc for more serious signs of overtraining.
Anthony Dugarte M.D., C.S.C.S.
About Dr. Dugarte
Anthony Dugarte, M.D., C.S.C.S. is a Cleveland, Ohio native who has enjoyed success in sports, as well as academics. He accepted a full athletic scholarship to attend Kent State University and graduated, Cum Laude, with a B.S. in Exercise Physiology. At Kent, Dr. Dugarte was a member of the Golden Flash Football Team and earned Academic All-American Honors as a defensive lineman.
He is currently the Research Fellow for the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota. Dr. Dugarte has 8 years’ experience as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Keyword: overtraining; exercise; injury; burn out; de-load; recovery; energy; soreness; performance; regression; underperformance