Newcomers to the world of health and fitness have a lot of questions. They want to know everything about diet, nutrition, exercise, sleep, and supplementation. One question that tends to arise is about overtraining. Is it possible to overdo it with too much exercise?
The short answer is yes. Overtraining is definitely a legitimate condition with real consequences. But the long answer is more complicated and requires a bit of digging. The more you know about fitness, nutrition, and recovery, the better you can fast-track your results without risking overtraining.
It’s a fine line between giving it your all and overtraining, but we’re going to give you some tools and techniques to determine the best path forward for your overall health.
What is Overtraining?
The basic definition of overtraining can be found in its name. Overtraining syndrome (OTS) is a real medical condition that can affect athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and even people who work long hours performing physical tasks. It can result in decreased performance, reduced immune response, and worse.
While it may not seem like such a big deal to overtrain at first, you can drastically limit your results in the gym by overdoing it and not allowing your body to recover. You also leave yourself vulnerable to injury that can keep you sidelined for weeks or months at a time.
Wouldn’t you rather take things a bit more slowly and optimize your health, rather than burning out quickly in hopes of speeding up the process? This is the balancing act you need to consider when stepping into the world of fitness.
Of course, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t apply full effort and concentration to every workout, and you are probably capable of doing even more than you think. It’s important to push yourself to the limit every week, but be able to recognize the symptoms of OTS if they do pop up.
The truth is that overtraining is far more likely for the highest-level athletes in the world, especially those who do extreme endurance sports such as ultramarathons, triathlons, and cycling. Powerlifters and bodybuilders are also prone to OTS, which is why professionals are always under close advisement of trainers and coaches.
For someone just starting out on the path to better health, overtraining isn’t a likely scenario, but it’s still important to know the signs, and how to bounce back from it.
Signs of Overtraining
Have you been hitting it hard in the gym and you think you may be overtrained? It’s entirely possible, and you should know which symptoms to look for so you don’t make things worse.
Here is a quick rundown of some common signs of overtraining, and how they might impact other areas of your life:
- Muscle strain and pain: The clearest and most obvious signal of overtraining is a constant feeling of soreness and strain in the muscles. A little aching is normal the day after a tough workout, but if the feeling persists and worsens over time, there’s a chance you’ve gone too far.
- Physical and mental fatigue: Brain fog, cloudiness, cognitive issues, and general sluggishness are all symptoms of overtraining in the gym. This isn’t your normal morning drowsiness before a cup of coffee. Your hormone profile could be impacted, and this can lead to ongoing fatigue that diminishes your overall quality of life.
- Change in appetite: Are you always craving food and never seem to get enough? Maybe your hunger is nowhere to be found, and you aren’t getting the calories you need to keep the energy up. Any unusual fluctuation in appetite is a sign that your body needs to completely reset and recover.
- Performance decline: You could be on track for a record mile time or a personal best on the bench press, but overtraining can set back your progress significantly. Your lifts will take a hit, your endurance will be shot, and you may not even want to work out in the first place. It’s a clear sign your body needs a break.
- Reduced immunity: Find yourself with a persistent cough or runny nose? Not recovering from your seasonal cold as quickly as you used to? If you’re in the midst of a heavy training regimen, it may be time to pump the brakes and let your body heal up before you do any further damage.
- Sleep problems: Exercise and nutrition get all the attention, but sleep is the third pillar of health that deserves a closer look. If you overtrain, you could find yourself with insomnia or sleeping the day away without ever feeling rested. Slow down with your training and focus on maximizing your sleep quality every night.
If you’ve ever put yourself through a hard few weeks of training, you’ve probably experienced some of these symptoms yourself. Optimizing your health is about listening closely to what your body is telling you, and changing course if necessary.
Tips to Avoid Overtraining
The world’s greatest athletes do everything in their power to find that sweet spot between maximum output and avoiding injury. They take many precautions to protect themselves from overtraining since their livelihoods depend on peak performance.
You may not be on the Olympic track and field team or fighting in a pro kickboxing competition, but you should certainly apply the same principles to keep your body safe from harm while pushing the upper limits.
The first thing to keep in mind is the concept of gradual progression, which will save you a lot of headaches (and other types of aches) in the long run. Like with any goal in life, you need to start small and steadily work your way up to harder tasks and bigger challenges. It’s true with art, business, and especially fitness, so get used to taking things slowly at first.
Next, you’ll want to focus on optimizing recovery when you aren’t at the gym, out on the trail, or doing an at-home workout routine. We tend to focus so much on the active aspect of health and fitness, but forget that our bodies make real progress during downtime.
The science of recovery is complex, but there are a few basic rules to follow: eat clean nutritious food, drink plenty of fresh filtered water, keep stress to a minimum, and make sure you get at least seven hours of deep uninterrupted sleep each night.
We all know on an intuitive level which foods are best for our bodies, and that getting enough sleep is crucial to our health, but many of us still struggle in these areas of our life. If you start to take fitness more seriously, you’ll need to dial it in on all levels to ensure you don’t overtrain and stay on the path to success.
You can also do some low-key physical activity on your off-days to help your body relax and recover from those harsh workouts.
Yoga classes are great for stretching out your muscles and decompressing the spine. Sitting in a hot sauna or steam room is also a fantastic way to let your body heal with natural heat and hydration. Some folks enjoy red light therapy or outdoor suntanning to get a much-needed boost of vitamin D, which helps promote healthy hormones.
Everyone’s recovery routine will be unique, but the message is simple: exercise is only a small component of health and fitness. It’s a 24/7 commitment that reaches out into all aspects of life.
Team Up With the Pros
Want to dive headfirst into a healthy new lifestyle but are concerned about overtraining? It may be worth teaming up with trainers and consultants who know exactly what the body needs to succeed.
There are lots of internet marketers and “gurus” who claim they have the most hardcore workout program available. That’s a quick way to get injured and sidelined from your goals! Find a system that sets you on track for great results without running the risk of overtraining.
Working one-on-one with a trainer is a smart call if you’re new to the scene, but training alongside a group of like-minded individuals is even better.
When you’re part of a bigger team working towards the same vision, you get that extra accountability and support that can make all the difference. You can ask any questions, voice concerns, share small victories, and be super proud of your results at the end of the road.
Overtraining is a scary prospect that should be avoided at all costs, but if you know the signs and how to properly recover, it will likely not be a problem. Stay focused, treat yourself with love, and you’ll be on the path to a happy, healthy lifestyle!