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Overtraining: What Is It, What Causes It, & How Do You Recover From It?

We are here to talk to you today about a very important subject that could currently be affecting you, or possibly in the future if you do not recognize the signs and how to curtail them. We are talking about overtraining. No matter what your physical goals are for yourself, and the manner which you are trying to achieve them, ensuring that your body is getting proper recovery/rest is of the utmost importance.

So what is overtraining? Simply put, overtraining can be described as the state where a person has been repeatedly pushing the body too hard and passes the point from which the body is able to recover properly (1). Your muscles and the improvements that you do to your body are not actually grown/enhanced during your sessions at the gym. The muscles in your body attain growth when you are resting, not when you are working out (2). During your workouts, the goal is to train with a high enough intensity to overload the muscles, which then cause tiny tears to occur in the muscle fibers. When your training session is completed, these tears start to repair themselves and then grow back slightly larger than before. This process only effectively occurs when your body has fully recovered from that day’s program. Overtraining can develop when either the overload is too high, or the rest period/recovery time is too low.

Now that you have a basic understanding of what overtraining is, and how it can occur, let’s look at some of the most typical signs and symptoms:

  • Decreased immunity. Training too much hinders immune function, so if you notice yourself getting sick more than usual it can be a sign that your immune system is not functioning at its’ optimum level. This is a good sign you may be over trained.

  • Washed-out feeling, tired, lack of energy. Overtraining is not just muscle fatigue; it affects your body as a whole. The amount of built up fatigue from true overtraining will most certainly be felt throughout your entire body. If you start to notice that you are consistently tired or run down, it is a good indication that you are doing too much of something.

  • Insomnia. Any problems you may have either falling asleep, or staying asleep are common, and can be caused by a lot of different issues, overtraining is one of them. A decreased quality of sleep is another common symptom that you may be overtraining.

  • Sudden drop in performance/progress. If you notice that you are not making any progress or gains for an extended period of time (no new strength, muscle, endurance, speed etc.) overtraining may be the culprit. In some cases of overtraining it is possible to actually lose strength and/or muscle. Instead of the training sessions becoming easier, they become much harder.

  • Increased incidence of injuries. If you are suffering from overtraining, your body has a decreased ability to repair itself and adding more workouts/stress onto this already unbalanced system can lead to injury.

  • Other signs and symptoms. A few other symptoms of overtraining are moodiness, easily irritated, loss of desire to compete, loss of enthusiasm for your sport, decreased appetite/ weight loss, pain in muscles and joints, and headaches(3).

If after reading the above list you find yourself dealing with a lot of the above issues, you in fact may be suffering from a lack of recovery resulting in yourself to be overtraining. So now let’s take a simple approach at how to treat and avoid overtraining.

Research on overtraining shows getting adequate rest and hydration is the primary treatment plan (4). The longer the overtraining has occurred, the more rest that your body will require (therefore early detection is important). If the overtraining has occurred for a short period of time (3-4 weeks) then tapering off your training regime for 3-5 days should be a sufficient rest period. After this break, you should be able to resume your workouts on an alternate day basis (5). The intensity of your training can be maintained, but the total volume (sets) may have to be lowered.

It is important for you to identify the factors that lead you to become overtrained to begin with so you can correct them in the future. Otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for overtraining to reoccur. The alternate day recovery period should be continued for a few weeks and then you can slowly increase the volume. In more severe cases, the training program may have to be interrupted for weeks to allow for proper recovery.

If you feel that you have become overtrained and the above guidelines have not been beneficial to you, please contact your primary physician for further guidance.


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