How do I know if I’m overtraining?
When should we be less go hard and more go home?
Overtraining is like your workout hangover. It’s horrendous at the time, but won’t put you off getting back at it once you’re recovered.
What is overtraining?
Overtraining syndrome is not a myth, no matter what broscience claims. Overtraining is when you give your body more work or stress than it can handle. This happens when a person experiences stress and trauma from exercise, faster than their body can repair the damage. When overtraining occurs the athlete may see decreases in their strength and additional fatigue. There is a big difference between DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), tiredness and overtraining.
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that your regular Joe Bloggs will not experience overtraining from spending an hour in the gym each day, not unless it is accompanied with further intensive training.
Signs of overtraining
Persistent muscle soreness
It’s inevitable after a good workout your muscles will ache, the pain should be dull and lessen daily before disappearing in around 3 days. If your muscles begin to ache to the point where it feels like they never recover, it may be a symptom of overtraining. The first steps with persistent muscle soreness are to analysis other factors, are you eating to fuel recovery? Are you getting enough sleep? Was this just a new workout routine, so your body needs more time to adapt? Once you have addressed each of these factors, then you can explore the fact you may be overtraining and look for other signs.
This is more than just being tired from a hard training session, this occurs when fatigue continues even after you’ve been properly rested. Your body is in a constant state of catch up and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t find energy.
Elevated resting heart rate
When your resting heart rate remains persistently high after adequate rest, ie in the morning directly after you’ve woken up, it could be a sign of overtraining. This suggests your heart rate is remaining elevated to deal with the additional stress your body is under and is unable to return to normal.
Little change in heart rate
A lack of change in your heart rate variability is another sign of overtraining. Your heart rate variability is an indicator of how well your parasympathetic system works. Your parasympathetic system is effectively your bodies brakes, more variation in our heart rates suggests more parasympathetic activity.
Increased susceptibility to infections
As your body is constantly in a state of stress, it puts you at greater risk of infections as your immune system is weakened by the constant fight to try and repair. Once you do get an infection, it will also take your body longer than usual to repair.
A raise in stress hormone cortisol can cause you to become more irritable and snappy than usual.
Exercise is known to release endorphins and is commonly used to help aid symptoms of depression, however overtraining can have the opposite effect. The causes of overtraining syndrome and resulting depression are unknown, but "The Physiology of Sports and Exercise" states that the symptoms of overtraining are so similar to those of clinical depression that the physiological causes may be the same for both conditions. In both overtraining syndrome and clinical depression, there are changes in hormone levels in the bloodstream.
When you’re training hard, eating right and still making no progress, mental breakdown is inevitable. Overtraining can cause mental breakdown.
Eventually, much like a car running on no fuel, your body will burn out.
Research into Overtraining
Research conducted by Laurent Bosquet and co-workers at the University of Montreal explored the effects of overtraining on the body. The study focused on 10 athletes, who were asked to increase their training volume by 100% for 1 month. Physiological tests were taken before the increase, after and then after a two week recovery period. Seven out of the ten athletes developed what the researchers defined as over-training syndrome, suffering with illness, injuries, decreased performance and a feeling of general fatigue not only in training but in daily life. The other three didn’t show so many symptoms, however they still failed to improve their fitness.
The results from the laboratory supported this diagnosis as they revealed a significant drop in the athletes’ abilities to produce lactate. This failed to return to normal after two weeks recovery, suggesting the effects of overtraining could be long lasting.
The second study involved 8 experienced runners who undertook a significant increase in their training. Over a few weeks, they increased their training from 50 miles to more than 100 miles, with only one day off.
Six of the eight subjects developed overtraining and the fitness of the other two came to a stand still. Both qualitative measurements like fatigue and muscle soreness, and quantitative measurements like maximum heart rate and lactate production, decreased significantly during the study. The ability of overtrained subjects to sustain a fast pace also deteriorated.
Overtraining common causes
There is not a concrete cause of overtraining, biological or otherwise, however there are common causes of overtraining. These include:
- Sudden increases in training volume or intensity.
- Repeating the same training every single day without fail.
- Self-reported high stress levels.
How to beat Overtraining
Now, this may seem simple, but you need to take a break. The best way to beat overtraining is to prevent it in the first place, by listening to your body, resting when you’re tired and supplying it with all the right nutrients through diet before getting a good night's sleep every night. That’s in an ideal world, but unfortunately we don’t all live in an ideal world and for someone trying to balance it all, sometimes we can suffer.
The best tip anyone can give someone who has been overtraining is rest. If you’re suffering from symptoms of overtraining the very first thing you need to do is stop training. Take a complete break from training and clean up your diet. Make sure you are getting at least 8 hours sleep a night and don’t think about training again until you feel fully recovered.
Listen to your body, keep a log of how your feeling at each stage of recovery. There is no time frame when it comes to over training as it is entirely subjective, but it is always better to take too much rest than not enough.
Once we have eliminated the stress of training, we need to look at eliminating the stresses outside of training, as all will affect your performance. Address anything which may be worrying you and try to resolve any issues. Next try to find a hobby which can help you channel your inner calm, from colouring to meditation there are a whole variety of hobbies designed to help combat stress and put your mind at ease. As for many training serves as a form of stress relief it is important to find a suitable alternative.
Taking a rest does not mean you are weak, nor does it mean you are giving up. If anything taking a little time off can help you to come back stronger than ever.