We all want to work hard and reap the benefits, and when it comes to exercise, hard work can even mean lots of fun, especially with sport or group classes. However, it’s important to make sure you’re not overtraining, otherwise you might not see any benefit at all. So, let’s find out just what overtraining is, how we can notice it and some solutions to try if we find out we’re not recovering properly.
Understanding Overtraining and Its Consequences
Simply put, overtraining is what happens when you’re doing more training than your body can recover from between workout sessions. The gap between your recovery ability and the extent that you’re pushing yourself to might not even be that large, which is why symptoms might creep up on you and manifest unexpectedly. It’s also sometimes referred to as Unexplained Underperformance Syndrome (UPS)
How Do I Know If I’m Overtraining?
The first symptoms you notice may just be a decline in performance but may also include lasting pain in the joints or muscles. According to clinical analysis, sufferers often report a loss of enthusiasm and even personality changes.
What Are the Physical Symptoms of Overtraining?
A big thing to look out for that may signal overtraining is underperformance. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re interested in athleticism and have a sense of how you’re progressing. For example, if you’re struggling to do even a single set when usually you feel good with five, then it might be time to re-evaluate. Here is a list of physical symptoms that might also signal overtraining:
Everyone has an off day now and then but if you consistently find you’re unable to train at your expected level, if you’re plateauing unexpectedly or if you’re finding expected delays in recovery from a normal workout, you might be suffering from overtraining.
Continuing and persistent fatigue may be another consequence of overtraining syndrome. You may find yourself struggling to go to the gym or to football; you may find your body feels heavy even during light exercise; these are two signs that you should reconsider your training.
Getting sick more frequently, a racing heart when resting, or increased blood pressure are all signs of overtraining. Women may also find irregularity in menstrual cycles or even missed periods. Longer-term symptoms can include appetite loss and an ensuing weight loss, outside of what you expect from your diet. Pressing effects may include constipation and diarrhoea.
Can Emotional Symptoms Be a Sign of Overtraining?
In short, yes, they can be an indicator. Moods naturally vary and women may experience patches of emotional volatility along with their monthly hormone fluctuations, but if you have an overwhelming emotional reaction to everyday events, your body may be telling you something. If you find yourself snapping at others, if you feel a lack of enthusiasm or feel that you can’t respond to people effectively then these can be symptoms.
Overtraining syndrome can lead to physiological exhaustion that results in hormonal imbalances, which might manifest as unexpected mood swings. If you find yourself overreacting to small things, it might be a good idea to reconsider your training.
Another symptom can be irritability. Everyone responds differently to chemical changes in the body and while some people may have unpredictable mood swings, others might just find a low-level irritability.
Emotions can be a complicated thing and while we’ve already noted that mood changes and irritability are symptoms, it may also be possible that you experience decreased motivation as a result of overtraining.
The Importance of Rest and Recovery to Avoid Overtraining
While the symptoms may seem complex and diverse, the good news is that the treatment is relatively simple. If you recognise the symptoms we’ve discussed, you can simply reduce the intensity or duration that you spend exercising. You could also try an active recovery, which we’ll look into in a minute.
How Long Does it Take to Recover from Overtraining?
It can take between as little as 4 weeks although perhaps up to 3 months for your body to fully recover and be ready for heavy training again. If you commit to full recovery and completely cut back on your training, you can expect to see an improvement in as little as 2 weeks.
Tips for Managing Exercise Volume and Intensity
We think that if you’re reading this, you take your training seriously, and anyone who wants to maximise their gains also probably wants to reduce their training rather than cut it out altogether. Apart from reducing your exercise, you can make sure to eat enough carbs, make sure you get enough sleep and also limit your workouts to an hour at a time, as your testosterone drops after that. You should also stick to a volume and rep range that isn’t pushing you to the brink, but if you’ve done all that and you’ve still got symptoms, consider changing your routine altogether.
The usual response to overtraining is total rest, although an active recovery is also an option. This involves reducing your workout or trying alternative ways of training instead of your usual; reducing your training intensity can bring it within your recovery range again while helping you stay active.
Stretching is great for active recovery because flexibility is often neglected and recovery time gives an opportunity to develop this. It can also be done in a way that’s low-impact when compared to a standard cardio routine.
If you’re used to heavy cardio then you may wish to replace that with walking. It’s a good way to make sure you’re still getting aerobic exercise without having to cut the cardio completely.
Yoga has many fans and it tends to be lower-impact than other forms of exercise. It’s a good mix of moderate cardio, moderate strength training and traditional exercise.
Foam rolling is well-suited for recovery. The rolling positions may test your stamina a bit but otherwise it will help you directly address muscle knots and tension.
If you’re not used to cycling, it’s an excellent opportunity to try something new while taking in the sights at the same time.
Your usual exercise routine may have been full of cardio but that doesn’t mean you can’t do some cardio for your active recovery too, just make sure to pay attention to your rest phases and fully recover before another exercise session.
When it comes to hiking, there’s no better way to go through an active recovery while also increasing your exposure to nature, which will likely improve your mood too.
Tai Chi is the Chinese retiree’s favourite activity. It’s designed to be gentle and spiritual, according with the cultured philosophies of the East; give it a try to broaden your cultural horizons while ensuring you get in some moderate exercise.
Not everyone is within easy reach of a nice place to hike, but most of us are within walking or jogging distance of a park. Just remember not to exert yourself too much because you are recovering after all.
Just like foam rolling, massage can help you recuperate and relax those tight muscles. That makes massage a great addition to an active recovery programme.
Interval training is often associated with high intensity training, although with some alteration it’s possible to use the same technique with moderate intensity instead. Simply exercise moderately, and then add intervals of low intensity training for an active recovery.
Similar to interval training, running can be quite challenging, but it can also be used for active recovery, especially if you reduce your pace and make sure you take enough rest between runs.
Elliptical trainer is another way to recover thanks to the adjustable, low-impact workout it offers. It’s a good cardio-based option because it can get your heart pumping without pushing you too hard. You can adjust resistance and carefully time your workout to make sure the difficulty isn’t too high, and the fact that it’s low-impact means that you won’t be stressing your joints either.
Water aerobics can provide a break from your regular routine. As a bonus, you might find that low-impact water exercise also helps you recover from any joint pain you were experiencing before your active recovery.
To summarise, we’re always supportive of people who want to give it their all when they’re training but it’s also important to listen to your body and make sure you’re not overtraining. If you experience fatigue, decreased performance, mood swings or decreased motivation, then overtraining might be the cause. If so, you could prioritise your rest and recovery by giving our suggested techniques a try, and with luck you’ll feel up to your usual routine within weeks.