Overtraining may be sabotaging your fitness goals
You've been diligently training hard in the gym, committed to your goals, and consistently raising the bar on your volume and output. It's this hustle that will lead you to your dream physique, right?
You expected to be rewarded for the time and effort you put in. However, you suddenly find that your energy levels are bottoming out, your mood is out of whack, and your progress has ground to a halt. You don't remember the last time you hit a personal record, and the training sessions that you once eagerly anticipated now feel more like a chore.
What on earth could be going on?
When overreaching becomes overtraining
You may already be familiar with the concept of "overreaching". Most training programs will intentionally include a set of workouts that are harder than normal, to be done over a week or two. These hard workouts ask you to push your body to your limit and overreach by calling for a higher load, higher intensity, more sets and/or reps, or decreased rest time. They essentially create an extra challenge for your body to rise to a level it is not used to performing at.
This hard push into overreaching needs to be followed by a period of lighter training or complete rest, known as deloading or tapering. It's during this light recovery phase that the real magic happens. Your body is given a chance to rebound, and it rebuilds and repairs itself to come back stronger than before.
When you occasionally include this overreaching-recovery cycle in your training plan, it can lead to significant improvements in performance. Depending on the type of training, this can include increases in strength, stamina, and speed. It kind of works like stretching a rubber band - you pull it back (overreaching), then when you let go (recovery), it shoots forward with more power and speed than before.
However, in order to reap the benefits of overreaching, you must limit the time you spend straining your body to the max and you must follow it up with adequate recovery. When you push yourself into overreaching territory and then force your body to stay there without adequate rest and recovery, you will eventually slide into the danger zone of overtraining.
Overtraining is just not worth it
Continuing to push past your means to recover is a recipe for disaster. Some individuals may begin to experience negative symptoms of overtraining after just a few weeks of intense training, while others may be able to tolerate months of heavy training before reaching that state. But no matter how long it takes, the result is the same.
Overtraining is like embarking a cross country road trip on an empty tank of gas. You may be able to chug along for a few miles, but it's only a matter of time before you halt to a stop. Your body needs a certain amount of fuel (i.e. nutrition) and rest to perform. When you're overexerting at the gym and under-fueling, your body simply can't keep up.
Overtraining will not only tank your performance in the gym, but it will ruin your quality of sleep, sex drive, and emotional health. Your underfed and overtrained body will cut off everything it deems non-essential in order to keep you alive.
Systems like your immune response and hormone production get sidetracked, leading to potential hormonal imbalances and a weakened immune system. This opens up a Pandora's box of health issues. Overtraining won't only leave you feeling tired; it forces your body to a precarious edge that can take months if not years to fully recover from.
Recognizing the subtle signs of overtraining
If you're regularly pushing your limits without adequate rest and nutrition, you might be overtraining. Here are some signs to look out for:
- Persistent muscle soreness: We all know the good kind of soreness after a particularly tough workout. But if you're perpetually sore and your muscles don't seem to recover, you might be overtraining.
- Declining performance: You're putting in more hours at the gym, but your strength or speed isn't improving. In fact, it may even be decreasing.
- Constant fatigue and poor sleep: Despite being physically exhausted, you may struggle to get quality sleep. It feels like you can't shake off the tiredness, no matter how much you rest.
- Mood swings and loss of motivation: You may feel irritable, depressed, or anxious. What’s more, the motivation to train or pursue your fitness goals has evaporated.
- Frequent injuries or illnesses: Overtraining can compromise your immune system, leading to frequent colds or other infections. You may also notice nagging injuries that just won't heal.
The road to recovery
If you relate to the signs and symptoms above, you are not alone. Rest assured, there's a way and you can get on track to feeling like yourself again. The solution is simple, but it's not easy. It's a hard truth to swallow for an ambitious athlete like yourself, but you have to exercise less, rest more, and eat enough to recover. A few areas to focus on include:
1. Rest, rest, and rest some more.
Your body is crying out for recovery time. Listen to it. This might mean taking a few days off from your training, or it might mean a more extended break. The key is to give your body the time it needs to heal and replenish its energy stores.
2. Get serious about sleep.
Sleep isn’t just "downtime." It's when your body does some of its most critical recovery work. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Consider incorporating a wind-down routine before bed to help you relax and sleep better.
3. Rethink your nutrition.
Proper nutrition is a crucial part of recovery. Make sure you're consuming enough calories to fuel your workouts and nourish your body with sufficient protein, carbs, and healthy fats. Even if you are managing to maintain your body weight, you may not necessarily be eating enough for your physical activity needs. Individualized nutrition coaching can help you figure out how to fill in gaps in your nutrition.
4. Scale back your workouts.
Once you start feeling better, gradually reintroduce exercise. But ease back into it. It might mean fewer days at the gym, lighter weights, or less intense cardio sessions. And remember, rest days are just as important as workout days.
5. Listen to your body.
Moving forward, pay attention to what your body is telling you. Learn to differentiate between the kind of discomfort that signals growth and the kind that signals harm. Adjust your training accordingly.
Overtraining is like that invisible hurdle that's holding you back without you even realizing it. But with awareness, patience, and the right approach to recovery, you can overcome this hurdle and get back on track with your fitness journey. At the end of the day, optimizing your fitness is about so much more than going full throttle 24/7. Your ability to recover is what ultimately determines your ability to reap the benefits of your hard work. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you.
Overlooking the signs of overtraining is putting your long term health at risk
You might believe that shrugging off the signs of overtraining and maintaining your intense routine is a display of commitment. But, in reality, you're jeopardizing your health.
Persistent overtraining can lead to severe health issues like chronic fatigue, hormonal imbalances, and metabolic damage. It can cause persistent injuries, increase your susceptibility to illnesses, and in extreme cases, even cause heart disease.
The mental health consequences aren't any less significant. Overtraining can result in mood swings, a lack of motivation, increased anxiety, and potentially even depression. Furthermore, the combination of excessive exercise and inadequate nutrition can lead to the development of disordered eating patterns, bringing their own set of complications.
Ignoring overtraining doesn't make it disappear. Instead, it layers on more challenges that can potentially derail your fitness journey.
Overtraining is a fitness pitfall that can trip you up without you even realizing it. But, with a little awareness, smart training, and balanced nutrition, you can navigate this challenge and stay on track towards your fitness goals.