If you are regularly working out or you just have started and you’re feeling a bit tired and sore, you may have wondered if you are overtraining. People around you may suggest that you are overtraining because your sudden enthusiasm for exercise may worry them. Some people may feel that anyone who trains more than them is overtraining.
You probably have heard that overtraining is really bad for you and you want to make sure this isn’t happening. Well, let me tell you upfront: it’s not that easy to overtrain. Unless you are a professional athlete who works out multiple times a day every day for months on end, it’s very unlikely that you are overtraining.
Let me explain to you here what overtraining is, how you can recognize it and what to do to avoid it.
What is Overtraining?
Overtraining means that you are putting constant stress on your body through intense training without giving it adequate time for recovery. This stress can be physical, mental or emotional.
As a result, your body actually stops making progress and you can even lose muscle, strength and fitness.
Symptoms of Overtraining
Here are some of the physical symptoms that can be a sign of overtraining:
- Decreasing performance – i.e. struggling to keep a regular progression up. Instead you feel like you have to decrease sets, reps and weights.
- Extended muscle soreness – i.e. feeling sore after your workout for more than 2 or 3 days without having switched up anything major in your workout (e.g. you haven’t incorporated a new exercise or changed the intensity considerably).
- Higher resting heart rate or blood pressure.
- Loss of appetite, feeling sick on your stomach, headaches.
- Frequent colds.
- Frequent injuries.
There are also mental and emotional signs of overtraining:
- Lack of enthusiasm for working out.
- Emotional sensitivity.
If you experience two or more of the above, and it hasn’t been an isolated incident (for example, after a particularly hard workout or a new personal record), then you may be overtraining. If you manage to get a new PR in the bench press, then don’t expect to repeat that in your next workout. Your body needs time to recover. However, if your performance starts declining and the weights on your bench press keep going down over several sessions, then you may be overtraining.
If you are sick, or hungover, or stressed out at work or have relationship problems with your significant other, then your workout and performance may suffer – but that’s not related to overtraining.
You also need to consider how you eat. If you regularly work out, you need to give your body the necessary nutrients to keep it energized, repair and recover. If your body works hard, it needs proper fuel. And a couple of multivitamins a day won’t cut it. Whatever diet rocks your boat, make sure you consume the right quality and quantity.
How to Avoid Overtraining
As you can see, it’s not easy to overtrain. Most people (athletes) overtrain as a result of getting ready for a competition. If you notice that, scale back the program. Nobody has gone from zero to champion Olympic weightlifter overnight, so make sure there is ample time for the body to get used to the increased demands. The body needs time to adapt and grow.
Emotional and psychological reasons for overtraining are often related to an addiction. Just like an eating disorder, exercise can develop into an addiction. When exercising injured or exhausted, or excluding other aspects in one’s life (relationships, social contact, personal welfare) that result in an isolation of oneself in society, it could mean that you are overtraining. In today’s fitness world where quotes of discipline, self-control and drive to improve abound, where meal plans and meal prepping with macros and grams and calories are touted as the only way to “success”, it is difficult sometimes to see the distinction between an addiction and a healthy fulfilling lifestyle. I see it so often on instagram, pinterest and other media. It’s a fine line between looking after your health and body and trying to be the best you can and being an addict to fitness and exercise who neglects his mental wellbeing and happiness for the sake of striving to become an unattainable version of oneself.
I guess my best advice here would be: Are you enjoying your time working out? Are you having fun in the gym, or running in the forest? Are you getting better at it? Do you feel good during and after the workout? If not, it may be time to scale back and getting some more rest and recovery time in.
Let me know your thoughts, I would love to hear from you!