Many of us, when undertaking a fitness training program (whether it be to gain muscle, lose weight or improve sporting performance), at some point will ask “Am I actually doing enough?”
Or, more specifically, we will question whether we are training hard enough, or often enough, or long enough, to achieve the results we are so keen to see.
Really do we check for the signs of overtraining.
What is Overtraining?
These doubts and insecurities are often the result of our need to see results quickly. We want to look like that Instagram influencer or social media star asap, …like yesterday.
Also, much of the narrative out there in gym land and social media tends to advocate harder, longer and more frequent training sessions to achieve the awesome results that you see on your Insta feed.
To counteract this cycle of ‘more more, faster faster, now now, me me‘, it is sometimes worthwhile also asking the question of whether we are actually doing too much!
There is such a thing as over-training and it has its downsides.
Progressive Overloading is not Overtraining Syndrome
In order to improve our body’s performance and capacity, we need to impose a degree of physiological stress (in the form of aerobic, anaerobic or strength based training) at a level over and above what it is currently accustomed to.
We overload our muscles and tissues in order to grow them.
The body will eventually adapt to these new training levels, and then we will need to impose additional stress (in the form of increased frequency, intensity or duration of training) to take the next step in growth.
Once we have plateaued, the body needs to be shocked again to enhance its capacity and for muscles to grow further.
This process of slowly and continually overloading the body’s systems to facilitate improved capabilities is known as progressive overload, and is essential in increasing aerobic and anaerobic capacity, as well as muscular strength, endurance and flexibility.
In order to achieve optimal improvements within the body, however, another factor needs to be considered, over and above the training program itself – rest.
In order to improve performance, the body needs rest to allow muscle fibres to repair and adapt to the stress they have been subjected to throughout the training session.
If rest does not occur, positive adaptations cannot take place and your body will go into your next training session already partially fatigued. You haven’t give your body sufficient time to recover from its previous efforts.
This is what is commonly referred to as overtraining. It can be defined as an excessive frequency, volume or intensity of training resulting in fatigue.
Simply put, it as a chronic imbalance between training and recovery, and it can have extremely negative physiological and psychological impacts on the individuals who engage in it.
Overtraining is not an Insta-inspired workout ritual that want to emulate.
The Downside of Overtraining
It can be difficult to convince some people that sometimes “less is more” when it comes to training. There is a temptation to keep pushing yourself when you’ve experienced results this way in the past.
However, overtraining is real and will lead to an overall decrease in performance in time.
It can also have extremely negative impacts on both the physiological and psychological health of individuals.
What are the Burnout Symptoms to Look For?
The most common psychological sign that may indicate that you are training excessively (in volume, frequency or intensity), or that you are not allowing sufficient recovery time, is taking note of your enjoyment levels.
Do you still find joy in what you do? Do you still jump at the chance to undertake your chosen activity? Or have you noticed a decreased desire to train?
Physiological warning signals include: increased resting heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP); decreased body weight; increased HR for any given level of sub-maximal exercise and overall declines in performance.
If you observe any of the above it should cause you to re-evaluate your training program.
Pause and take note. Do not ignore the signs of burnout.
If you continue to train excessively, Over Training Syndrome (OTS) may occur, which is often only treatable through the implementation of an extended period of rest.
OTS is characterized by the following signs and symptoms:
- Decreased maximal performance and working capacity due to increased HR, lactate levels and oxygen uptake during exercise
- Injuries due to overuse and poor technique as a result of fatigued tissues. Examples of overuse injuries are shin splints in runners, tennis elbow in tennis players and rotator cuff injuries of the shoulder amongst swimmers
- Insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns
- Decreased motivation, depression and loss of appetite
- Increased bouts of illness due to the suppression of the body’s immune system
- Chronic muscle soreness
It is important that you look out for these symptoms and signs of overtraining.
How to Prevent Overtraining?
Keep these basic principles in mind to ensure you get the best results you can. Don’t waste effort and keep a healthy mind and body at the same time.
Less is more – Ensure you get the most out of every training session by including regular rest sessions and recovery activities in your weekly program.
Quality not quantity – Balancing the frequency, intensity and duration of your training sessions is important to prevent over training. For example, scheduling additional sessions into your program may be of no further benefit if you are undertaking these sessions with tired and sore muscles.
Alternatively, increasing the intensity at which you undertake your original sessions may initiate further physiological adaptations within the body, whilst still allowing adequate time to recover between sessions.
Avoid sudden increases in training volume and intensity – Allow your body time to adapt to the training it is being subjected to before increasing the load further.
Alternate hard and easy sessions
Individualize your training program – Everybody is different. It is important to know your own limits and refrain from trying to compete with other people’s training schedules.
What is easy training for one person, may be extremely difficult for the next.
Increase your technical proficiency – Fatigue will take longer to occur if you are more efficient at the movements you are performing.
Spice it up – Include variety in your weekly program. For example, if you are a keen swimmer, schedule a running or cycling session into your weekly program.
This should help prevent boredom and minimize the risk of overuse injuries, whilst still promoting positive adaptations within the cardio-respiratory system.
If you are a personal trainer (or fitness professional), you should already be aware of the term exertional rhabdomyolysis (also known as over-exertion) and the risks arising from it. Please read our article to remind yourself of the preventative measures.
Don’t neglect your post-workout food intake either. Nutrition (what to eat and when to eat) is an important stage in the recovery journey.
Stretch and massage out those aches and pains too. Perhaps invest in a massage gun, they’ve come a long way in price and functionality, in the last few years.
So perhaps the next time you wake up on a drizzly winter’s morning with aching muscles and an extreme lack of motivation, it might be time to give yourself a break and remember that it is ok to sleep in occasionally.
You are not displaying weakness but a concern for wellness!
Don’t be fooled by those ridiculous claims on social media or those heroic war stories from gym veterans who prowl around the weights room, intimidating and inspiring in equal measures.
You do you.
Giving yourself a well earned break might be just the thing you need to ensure you stay on track with your fitness program and achieve your training goals.