One of the best tips I can give anyone who is starting an exercise program, is to be sure you build in adequate rest and recovery time. In our zest to get started on a new exercise regimen we often over do it. Unfortunately, this can lead to loss of motivation and interest in the workout after a very short amount of time. When we exercise, we put stress on our bodies. Rest days offer our body and muscles the chance to recover and repair.
Sadly, many people overtrain and push themselves too hard. I was one of those who pushed myself so hard that exercise was actually making me sick. I was working myself too hard and not taking any rest days. My schedule was full of routines that I followed with no breaks in between. Over time I began to notice symptoms of exhaustion and realized the exercise itself was the cause of my issues. Worse still, I suffered two major injuries that sidelined me from performing any exercise.
The term overtraining implies that the training itself is causing the issues, but it’s more about your body’s ability to recover. Overtraining occurs when you have an imbalance between working out and recovery time. It occurs when you put too much stress on your body and don’t give it enough time to recover between sessions. If you overreach, or push yourself harder than your body is currently ready to handle you could begin to exhibit signs of overtraining. In many cases, we tend to ignore these signs and chalk them up to normal new to fitness aches and pains continuing to push through sessions. Left unattended though, theses symptoms could begin to snowball and have a serious impact on your state of well being. There are some common symptoms that you should be aware of and that might be an indication that you are overtraining:
- Trouble sleeping – This is a big one for me. I’ve been having a lot of trouble sleeping and been extremely restless lately. This is a huge indicator that I need to step it back a bit.
- Body aches – Again, another indicator that I’m over doing it. I feel this coming on usually after lunch at work, I feel achy and tired and just plain exhausted.
- The workout is a struggle – When I go out for an easy run and find myself struggling, this could indicate the need to take a rest day. The other day I got on the treadmill to do a 30 minute easy run and had to stop after 20 minutes as it was a real struggle to get it done. Struggling through your normal routine could be a red flag that you might be overtraining.
- Loss of motivation – You used to be excited for your workouts and now you find yourself dreading them. It could be an indication that you need to change up your routine, or it could mean you are overtraining.
- Hormone imbalance – When I was working with a doctor to monitor my hormone levels, there was a noticeable spike in my levels at one point. I remember her asking me about my running. Specifically, she asked me if this was a new activity and how much I was doing. I had adrenal fatigue and this new exercise routines was impacting my hormone levels negatively. Overtraining can cause hormone imbalance such as increases in cortisol and decreases in testosterone. I recommend getting in to see your doctor if you suspect you are experiencing overtraining symptoms.
- Weight gain – If you are working out and experiencing these types of symptoms, you could experience weight gain. Hormone imbalance could be part of the cause. In my case I’ve experienced abnormal hunger or cravings for sweets. I get sleepy after meals, and often crave carbohydrates such as pasta. More scientific explanations discuss your body taking on extra water weight as it struggles to repair.
I’m coming off a week of vacation during which I worked out pretty hard most days. I’ve noticed an increase in aches and pains and an inability to sleep this week. I’m also feeling exhausted. In reflecting, I believe I overtrained and did not allow enough time for my body to properly recover. Observing these subtle clues my body is sending and acting upon them in these early stages is crucial to the prevention of further regression.
How much time you need to recover depends on many things, including your personal health and fitness levels. For me, when I was in full training, I was able to run at an easy heart rate 5 times a week. I would take two full rest days and be fine. Right now, I’m coming off an injury and even though I did some easy work, I was not in a full training schedule. Despite this, I jumped right back into training without taking into account that my body wasn’t ready yet. This led me to overreaching and a feeling of exhaustion. I also had some radiating pain in my lower calf the past two runs. These symptoms were my body telling me I was overdoing it. Thankfully, I am aware of these symptoms and know to slow it down. I plan to redo my schedule to reflect my body’s needs.
This week’s training tip is to be sure you incorporate active recovery and full rest days in your weekly workout schedule. Also, be aware of the symptoms of overtraining and take immediate action when you feel them, including checking in with your doctor.
Have you ever felt like you were overtraining? Did you get injured? Or, were you able to recognize the symptoms and make changes?
Also, this book was good. Don’t let the title sway you, it’s not just for runners.