It is such a great feeling to get into a routine with your exercise. You start feeling good, you have more energy and you start seeing some progress - physical activity can be incredibly rewarding! But is it possible to do too much?
Unfortunately, being human means that we can over do it. Too much of anything, even a good thing, will make it a bad thing. Remember - moderation and balance make for a healthy and sustainable life.
What is Overtraining?
Overtraining is exactly in the name; doing more physical activity than your body is able to handle. It negatively impacts you physically, and mentally. Sometimes you may not even realize it is happening.
Increases in frequency, intensity or duration of training can all lead to overtraining. Especially when these happen quickly, without any build up. This can happen to anyone; beginners, high level athletes, runners, swimmers, weight lifters, and anyone who moves. Your body needs rest and fuel to recover and make progress. It doesn’t mean don’t exercise! Physical activity is important for everyone. Do it intelligently, build up slowly and listen to what your body is telling you.
The Physical Impacts of Overtraining
Decreased Athletic Performance: Training too hard will lead to less progress! Your strength and endurance will suffer and you will just generally perform poorly.
Workouts Feeling Harder: You may find, along with decreased performance, that your training and workouts feel much harder than they should!
Increased Fatigue: Not giving your body the fuel and rest it needs means you are pulling energy from a place there is none. This only leads to more fatigue and exhaustion.
Restless Sleep: Overtraining significantly impacts your stress hormones. Increased stress hormone production will lead to insomnia and restless sleep, further impacting your fatigue levels.
Increased Risk of Injury & Illness: When your body is overtrained, all your systems are taxed. This makes it a lot harder to fight infection or protect your body from injury. You are also at a higher risk of chronic and nagging injuries. It takes a lot of energy to repair and recover injuries, without it - those niggles will stick around and turn into something worse.
Decreased Ability to Recover: If you aren’t giving yourself the chance to recover because your workout sessions too much, you also decrease your body’s ability to recover in general. Your body will need longer rests. Decreased recovery leads to excessive soreness which nobody wants. A bit of tightness after a workout is fine, but that shouldn’t be going on for days and days.
If you thought ‘hmm this sounds familiar’ to even one on that list - reevaluate your training program and take a few rest days. Treat your body with respect and it will do the same right back.
The Mental Impacts of Overtraining
Just as your physical performance decreases, so does your mental performance. Overtraining takes away important energy from other important brain functions.
Reduced Cognitive Function: You will find it harder to remember, and focus. You may just generally feel a bit slow.
Slower Reaction Times: Whether in sport, or life - you will find you are reacting slower to things!
Restlessness, Agitation & Irritability: Overtraining significantly impacts your stress hormones, specifically cortisol and epinephrine. These imbalances will impact your mood and your ability to regulate it. This also puts you at a risk of depression, anxiety and other mood imbalances.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself - Are you feeling grumpy or snappy? Maybe you are feeling just a bit down? These imbalances can be hard to balance back out if you let it go on for too long, so get on it early.
How Do I Avoid Overtraining?
Take Rest Days: Take at least one a week. You can still move but not intensely. Stretch, walk, do some light yoga, but give your body the time to repair and recover.
Plan and Schedule: A well set out and responsible plan will stop you from adding in other unnecessary exercise and overdoing it. You will know what you are supposed to be doing each day and be able to plan out other activities (like going for a hike) around those workouts.
Sleep: Sleep is underrated! Your body needs a sleep routine and enough sleep to keep functioning 100%. Try to get more than six hours each and every night.
Keep a Log: Logging your workouts, how they felt and your recovery is a great tool to make sure you’re not overtraining. It allows you to check back on how much you have actually done over the week and how you have responded to it.
Listen to Your Body: If your body is telling you something, listen. If it is still feeling sore, switch out your hard workout for a walk and some stretching. You may need more than one or two rest days. Same goes for injuries and niggles, if they’re hanging around or getting worse; go see a physio, avoid aggravating the area and adjust your workouts accordingly.
Overtraining isn’t doing you any favors; you aren’t making any progress. Team ‘No Days Off’ is lying to you. No one is superhuman, everyone needs to take rest days. Be responsible with your body, as cliche as it is, we only have the one. If you read this and thought a few (or all) of the things rang true, take some rest for your brain, and your body. If you are worried, get some help. The negatives of overtraining can be with you longer than you’d like.
Get your injuries looked at, keep yourself hydrated, make sure you are eating enough food and for the love of everything - TAKE YOUR REST.