3 Ways to Prevent Overtraining

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You’ve been training hard for months, lost 27 pounds and increased your muscle strength. But lately, you just seem to be sore and tired all the time without seeing results. What’s going on?

At first, you may think you are getting sick, but there could be something more serious happening with your body. “When you mentally start looking at the gym with less motivation and feel like you’re struggling through your workouts, this may be due to overtraining,” states Vivian Eisenstadt, MAPT CPT MASP, an orthopedic and sports physical therapist and personal trainer.

“When you are over trained, your body is going in the opposite direction and can occur all the way down to a cellular level,” states Darin Hulslander, DNS Performance and Nutrition, LLC CEO and Owner. “When your muscles are still in the repair process and cells are helping to build them, training them before they are ready is worsening the process. By doing this, you are risking burning muscle tissue away, which is what you don’t want in a workout program.”

Instead of pushing yourself harder, it’s time to listen to what your body is trying to tell you.

Sign #1 – Decreased Performance

According to the “Special Feature for the Olympics: Effects of Exercise on the Immune System,” posted in the Immunology & Cell Biology Journal, “it is estimated that, at any given time, between 7% and 20% of all athletes may exhibit symptoms of overtraining syndrome.” The study indicates that the prevalence for overtraining varies depending on the sport, but the top, documented symptoms for overtraining are “performance decrements and reduced ability to perform high intensity exercise.” If this sounds familiar, it’s time to stop feeling frustrated about your progression rate and look at other factors.

For example, Ryan George, a fitness professional with over 12 years of experience and the host of the The GymWits podcast, believes that regression in weights or times can be symptoms of overtraining. “When these signs occur, it’s important to figure out if the overtraining is due to lack of rest or too much intensity,” he states. “For some people, the intensity of the workout is fine but the frequency is too high (6-7 days a week or hours at a time in the gym) and for others, the intensity is at a level that the body can’t keep up with.”

Sign #2 – Increased Muscle Soreness

Feeling sorer than usual, and for a longer period? “When your body doesn’t recover within 72 hours from a training-session, it is time to allow more healing time,” states Eisenstadt. “The ache of overtraining in the muscles is a deep ache that feels a little different than regular, post-workout pain.”

And according to Joseph Horrigan, DC DACBSP, who directs the Soft Tissue Center at DISC Sports & Spine Center, “when muscle fatigue occurs, the strength and speed of contraction of a muscle decreases.” He stresses that weights feel heavier and power-output and movement-speed decrease. “Recovery of minutes does not provide improvement in the muscle’s ability to work (within the context of a single workout)… occasionally, there may be cramping in a fatigued muscle especially in the presence of dehydration.”

When these symptoms occur, rest is essential for muscles to recover. “The rest could take hours or days, depending on the situation,” states Horrigan. “If the entire system (body) has been pushed too hard too many times without sufficient recovery, we have entered into either overreaching or overtraining, which can take weeks to recover.”

Sign #3 – Fatigue

Are you always tired? Give your body a break, already! In the study, “Overtraining, Exercise, and Adrenal Insufficiency” appearing in the Journal of Novel Physiotherapies and published in the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Healthy, “Overtraining Syndrome (OS) has been described as chronic fatigue, burnout and staleness, where an imbalance between training/competition versus recovery occurs.”

The research indicates that “severe overtraining over an extended period can result in adrenal depletion… where the adrenal glands are no longer able to maintain proper hormone levels and athletic performance is severely compromised.” By reaching a state of burnout, your body is trying to protect itself from long-term stress and potential, medical issues. Because of this, it’s essential to give your body the rest it needs in order to improve performance-levels.

What To Do When These Warning Signs Appear

It can be easy to over train if you are a driven athlete or work out frequently. The key is to notice changes in your body and take appropriate action. When it comes to recovery, Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of “The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health” and the medical director for the Nutritional Magnesium Association, has some advice. “You need to cut back to no more than a 10% increase for a couple of weeks and slowly increase by no more than 10% in terms of distance, time, etc., if you are trying to increase your fitness.”

Dean also stresses the importance of getting your recommended daily dose of magnesium. “Exercise and stress deplete the body of the key, anti-stress-mineral magnesium, which relaxes muscles, prevents cramping and twitching and helps normalize heart rate and aids in exercise recovery; it is one of the key electrolytes,” she states.

Be Aware to Get the Best Results

When you start to feel the symptoms of overtraining, it’s time to listen to your body (and the experts), rest and adjust your workout-intensity accordingly.

“A successful fitness program incorporates adequate rest in between training days to prevent injury and avoid burnout,” states Claire Shorenstein, RRCA certified running coach and Registered Dietitian (MS RD CDN) with Eat For Endurance. “Recovery is crucial to achieving your athletic goals. Otherwise, you risk getting sucked into the vicious cycle of overtraining that ultimately derails your progress. Signs of over training may include prolonged muscle soreness, mental and physical exhaustion, disturbances in normal sleep patterns, reduced appetite, changes in resting heart-rate, greater susceptibility to illness and/or injury, and trouble staying focused, all of which make it harder to complete a planned workout and perform well in a race or other athletic event.”

Now, what is your body trying to tell you?


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