Overtraining is something that most athletes are likely to encounter at some point in their life. It can be tough to spot, but it's important to address. We investigate the causes, the signs, and how to solve it.
Causes of Overtraining
Overtraining is exactly what it says on the tin: when you over-train your body so that it can't recover properly. If you are training particularly hard for an event and limiting your calorie intake to try and get lean or lose weight, there is a high risk of developing the symptoms of overtraining. It takes quite a lot to get to this point, so it is more common in long-distance runners who are running hundreds of miles a week or bodybuilders who are lifting weights every day while trying to drop body fat than your average gym-goer. If you are overtraining you will be deficient in many of the vital vitamins and minerals the body needs to function properly and you will notice the signs but perhaps not realise they are due to overtraining as these symptoms can also be caused by many other factors.
Signs of Overtraining
Persistent muscle soreness
If you are feeling sore and achy for longer periods than normal this could be due to overtraining. Your muscles need time to recover properly and with the right nutrition.
Elevated resting heart rate
Keeping an eye on your resting heart rate is a great way to check that you're not overtraining. If your resting heart rate is elevated for more than 3 days, you could be overtraining. Most smart watches and fitness trackers will track your heart rate all day so it is easier than ever to keep it in check.
Increased susceptibility to infections
Overtraining will cause your immune system to become weaker so you will notice that you'll be suffering from colds more often and other low-level immune conditions. If you feel like you are always getting ill, it could be a sign of overtraining.
In the same way, you could also notice that you're suffering from injuries more often than usual as well. They could be little things like pulling a muscle or developing cramp every time you train, but these are all signs of overtraining.
Insomnia, or lack of sleep, is something that can be caused by a number of health issues. However, if you are also developing the other symptoms of overtraining, this one will be easy to spot.
Take a break
This is the most obvious solution but it's also the most important. It can be hard to allow yourself enough rest days, especially when training for an event, but it's so important to listen to your body and allow it to recover properly when you are training hard. Don't train muscles when they are already aching and don't push through injuries.
Reduce the volume
If you usually do 5 sets of an exercise, drop it to 2 or 3. If you usually lift 80% of your max, reduce it to 50-60% until you are feeling better. Reduce your mileage if you are a runner or triathlete. Ease yourself back into training full pelt when you are ready.
Increase calorie intake
If you are trying to lose weight or strip body fat, it may be tempting to restrict your calorie intake too much. However, a restrictive diet will mean you lose out on vital vitamins and minerals and this will lead to the symptoms of overtraining.