22 Jun
Overtraining - What It Is, How to Recognize, Avoid and Overcome It

Achieving optimal fitness is a journey that requires dedication, hard work, and persistence. But it's also essential to find the right balance between exercise and recovery in order to avoid the negative consequences of overtraining. 

As someone who developed an eating disorder at the age of 8 and struggled to strike the correct balance between nutrition and training for years, this is a topic I am incredibly passionate about today. 

Some of my earliest memories in the gym around the age of 13 include working out for 4 hours straight and eating little more than 350 calories per day. This not only led to a lack of progress but severe pain throughout my entire body. The lack of proper nutrition combined with overtraining not only worked against me achieving my goals but ultimately left me feeling terrible, which is the opposite of what training is supposed to do. 

In my own practice helping others heal, listen to themselves and find balance in their own health and wellness journey the one thing I believe in above all else is in the importance of respecting our differences and uniqueness. 

A key thing people commonly get wrong which leads to overtraining, is sticking to a plan that is not tailor made to how their body feels and responds to certain activities. I often see ordinary personal trainers sharing nutrition and weightlifting tips professing this or that is the path to health - but the truth of the matter is, we are all built differently, have different nervous systems and require an approach that is specific to our own needs. 

At the end of the day, health and fitness is about making you feel your best. Some people may feel best doing cardio 7 days per week and only integrating body weight training into their routine a couple of times a week. Others may respond better to lifting weights only or activities focused on regulating their nervous system. It really comes back to the individual and LISTENING TO YOURSELF and how your body responds to stress imposed through training. 

So, what is over training?

Today, we're going to dive deep into the concept of overtraining, help you recognize the signs and symptoms, and offer guidance on overcoming and avoiding this common challenge in your pursuit of fitness and wellness. So, what exactly is overtraining? It happens when a person engages in too much exercise without giving their body enough time to recover, leading to a decline in performance and an increased risk of injury. To better understand overtraining, we need to distinguish it from overreaching. 

Overreaching is a milder form of overtraining, characterized by temporary fatigue and a dip in performance. With proper rest and recovery, individuals can bounce back from overreaching without any long-term consequences. On the other hand, overtraining occurs when overreaching is prolonged, resulting in long-lasting physiological and psychological effects that can take weeks or even months to resolve.

Overtraining affects the autonomic nervous system and disrupts hormonal balance for extended periods of time. The physiological consequences of overtraining include hormonal imbalances, which can disrupt various systems in the body, such as the endocrine and immune systems. Prolonged overtraining can also weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to illness and infection. Additionally, overtraining increases the risk of injuries like stress fractures, strains, and sprains, due to the constant stress placed on the body without adequate recovery. 

How to Recognize Overtraining 

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of overtraining is crucial to addressing the issue before it causes more significant problems. 

Some physical signs and symptoms of overtraining can include an increased resting heart rate, which is often one of the earliest indicators that athletes recognize as a sign of stress on the autonomic nervous system. 

This can be caused by temporary conditions like the flu or dehydration, but if it persists, it might signal overtraining. A related sign is when your heart rate takes much longer than usual to return to normal after a workout. For example, if it typically takes 15 minutes for your heart rate to drop from an average of 120 beats per minute during a workout to 65 beats per minute, but suddenly it takes two hours, this could indicate that something isn't right. 

Persistent fatigue, even after a good night's sleep, can also be a sign of overtraining. This might be accompanied by a general feeling of heaviness or sluggishness during workouts. If you notice a plateau or decline in your workout performance despite consistent training, this could be another indication of overtraining. Symptoms may include difficulty completing workouts, reduced strength, or slower running times. Overtraining can also lead to sleep disturbances like insomnia, making it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. 

You might experience an increase in nighttime awakenings or early morning awakenings with difficulty falling back asleep. It's common for people to blame their sleep problems on lowered well-being, but it could actually be the other way around. An increased risk of injury and frequent illnesses can also be signs of overtraining. This is because overtraining doesn't allow enough time for your body to recover, which can result in injuries like stress fractures, tendonitis, and muscle strains. 

A weakened immune system due to overtraining may also make you more susceptible to colds, flu, or other infections. Psychological signs and symptoms of overtraining can include irritability and mood swings, which may be caused by hormonal imbalances that lead to mood changes and emotional instability. A sudden drop in motivation or enthusiasm for exercise could indicate overtraining, which can manifest as a decreased desire to engage in physical activity or difficulty maintaining a consistent workout schedule. Chronic overtraining may exacerbate or trigger symptoms of depression and anxiety, as the body and mind struggle to cope with ongoing stress. Additionally, overtraining can negatively impact cognitive function, leading to issues with focus, attention, and decision-making. Overtrained individuals might also experience a decrease in appetite, which can further contribute to fatigue and hinder recovery. 

What to do if you are feeling any of these symptoms? 

If you suspect you're experiencing overtraining, it's essential to address the issue to prevent further damage and allow your body and mind to recover. Here are some strategies to help you overcome overtraining:

Make sure you incorporate rest days into your workout routine to give your body the necessary time to recover. The number of rest days required may vary depending on the individual and the intensity of their training program. 

Sometimes taking time off from working out for up to a month is necessary, although it might seem like an eternity to a fitness enthusiast. How long is enough? It's very subjective and depends on specific conditions. 

In milder cases, it may be enough to simply lower the intensity of your workouts for some time. If this doesn't suffice, you should avoid moderate to high-intensity training until you feel like your normal self again. 

In the worst cases, this might be six months or even longer. In the end, you'll get back into shape much faster than if you had continued your overtraining regimen.

Engage in active recovery techniques, such as low-intensity activities like walking, yoga, or swimming, to promote blood flow and recovery without placing additional stress on your body. Active recovery can help reduce muscle soreness and stiffness while still providing some movement and exercise. This approach goes a long way in helping avoid muscle atrophy when you're not working out as hard as usual. Prioritize sleep and maintain a balanced diet rich in nutrients to support your body's recovery process. Focus on consuming high-quality protein sources, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables to provide essential vitamins and minerals. If you have been cutting calories, switch to maintenance calories immediately. If possible, consider even a surplus, as it can help you recover faster (within reason, of course, using only quality food sources). Incorporate massage or self-myofascial release techniques, such as foam rolling, to help relieve muscle tension and promote recovery. These practices can be a valuable addition to your recovery routine, ensuring that you bounce back from overtraining and return to your fitness journey feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. 

Correcting your mental health and nervous system through your recovery 

Supporting your mental health and nervous system is also crucial in overcoming overtraining. 

Here are some strategies to help you maintain your well-being during this time: 

Evaluate your life for external stressors that may be contributing to overtraining and take steps to minimize their impact. This may involve reassessing your goals, adjusting your workload, or finding ways to manage stress more effectively. 

Incorporate relaxation techniques, such as meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation, into your daily routine. These practices can not only improve your mental well-being but also enhance the functioning of your autonomic nervous system. It's essential to avoid alcohol and other substances that place significant stress on your body during this time.

If overtraining has led to any of these symptoms for you, don't hesitate to seek the assistance. Health and fitness is an ongoing journey and one of the most important things you can do is take action to change when you recognise you are not feeling your best. 

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