Overtraining – how do you know when you’re doing too much? There is a fine line between exercising at your greatest potential and pushing your body beyond its healthy limits.
Did you know that all exercise – no matter its intensity – places stress on your body? Don’t worry, though – for the most part, this is eustress – or “good” stress – that forces your body to make healthy adaptations, like a faster metabolism and improved cardiovascular strength and muscular endurance.
There IS such a thing as too much of a good thing, though. When your body reaches the exhaustion stage in response to stress, you experience fatigue and sometimes injury. Like me, you may not even realize that you have reached this point until your body simply shuts down. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I recently suffered a burnout as a result of overtraining, which is why I chose this topic to talk about today. Having successfully pulled myself out of this slump, I want to pass along what I have learned in the hopes that you can maintain balance and a healthy level of exercise.
Here are a few signs of overtraining – all of which I experienced during my own burnout:
- Fatigue: You find it difficult to get out of bed most mornings; you feel groggy on a daily basis, despite proper fueling and rest; you simply do not feel rested even after a full night of sleep.
- Excessive Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): This is extreme muscle soreness following a workout that lasts for three or more days. You may even notice soreness and achiness in muscles you weren’t training. This indicates that you are not allowing for proper recovery.
- Body aches: Your body aches all over, like when you have the flu or a bad cold.
- Progress plateau: You are training hard and eating well, but aren’t seeing any change physically.
- Insomnia: You are training hard and feel tired by bed time, but you aren’t sleeping soundly through the night. This can be caused by hormonal imbalances as a result of overtraining.
- Pessimism, hopelessness and declined confidence: If you are training hard and eating well and stop seeing results, this can lead to frustration and declined self-esteem. In this case, it’s easy to think that the way out of your rut is MORE exercise and restrictive dieting, when in reality, these are the very actions that have caused your body to shut down.
- Waning motivation to reach your fitness goals / fading interest in your workouts: Overtraining is just one of many reasons behind fading motivation, but if you find yourself working very hard but are no longer looking forward to or enjoying your workouts, it may be time for a break and reflection.
Tips to avoid overtraining:
- Every three months, take an entire week off from exercise. Yes, I said it – you get a free pass for an entire week! This week “resets” many functions in your body. This can be an active rest week; you can do yoga or take leisurely walks – but try to stay away from high intensity exercise for at least seven days. You will not lose progress as a result of taking a week’s vacation from the gym. You will find that you feel refreshed and ready to take on your goals.
- Your schedule is important, but first and foremost – listen to your body. I firmly believe in the importance of creating and sticking to a workout schedule. If I write it down, I make it happen – plain and simple. However, if you find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it may be time to reassess the balance and intensity of your schedule. This is especially important if you are following a fitness program. Fitness programs are not one-size-fits-all; we all react differently to different amounts of exercise. Do not force yourself to maintain the intensity of a program if it is causing you to overtrain. Always be a mindful consumer when it comes to fitness programs – don’t fall into the trap of blindly following instruction and ignoring your body. If you are continuously training at a high level without taking breaks – and by a break, I mean more than one rest day a week – you are probably going to experience burnout. Remember that your body does not care about your desire to build muscle or burn fat if it is overly stressed. Taking the appropriate time to rest and recover will ensure that your body is truly benefiting from your exercise schedule.
- Be honest with yourself about the length of your workouts. Do you find yourself adding “just a few more sets” to your workouts, and before you know it, you’ve been there for two hours? Are you working out intensely for more than an hour? After about 60 minutes, levels of cortisol – your stress hormone – begin to rise, and testosterone – which is responsible for building muscle – dips. At this point, exercise is no longer having a positive effect on your body. Keep your workouts to an hour or shorter.
- Apply the principle of progressive overload, but always remember to cycle back to the basics. No matter how far along you get in your fitness journey, it’s important to return to lower intensity periods of exercise to give your body a break. When using the principle of progressive overload – continuously adapting your workouts to be more challenging – it’s easy to fall into the cycle of always trying to do more – to go harder – to stay longer – and before you know it, you are burned out. After your week’s vacation from exercise, cycle back to the beginning again – focus on stabilization or unilateral exercises that improve your body’s alignment and ability to balance and find stability in unstable environments – before hopping back in at 100 mph again.
It’s so important to remember why we exercise. Your health is always the number 1 priority. We exercise to improve our health, first and foremost. If you find yourself feeling burned out with your fitness, take some time to reassess your schedule and make changes if necessary. Remember that there is not one “right” way to any one goal, and even if we all have the same goal, all of our paths are going to look different. At the end of the day, it is most important to do what is right and best for your body.