Are you overtraining? With obesity becoming an epidemic it’s hard to imagine that there are many people that are actually exercising too much these days. Overtraining is abundant not only in the athlete population but also with the weekend warrior and everyday exerciser and can leave you more susceptible to illness and injury if you push onward without proper rest. Do you feel like you’re working hard as ever but aren’t seeing the results you did earlier in your fitness program? Are you chronically tired and sometimes feel as though your desire to exercise has diminished? If so, you may be overtraining...
Some of the signs and symptoms of overtraining may include: • Insomnia • Achiness or pain in the muscles and/or joints • Loss in appetite • Sudden inability to complete workouts • Decrease in performance • Fatigue • Headaches • Elevated morning pulse • Feeling unmotivated and lacking energy • Increased susceptibility to colds, sore throats and other illnesses
If you experience any of the above symptoms, you may consider visiting your doctor to make sure it’s nothing more serious. If you’re given a clean bill of health, you may only need to revise your workout program to ensure you correct any overtraining.
What causes overtraining?
You're exercising too much and not getting adequate rest, recovery! Don’t forget, it’s during the rest and recovery phase that muscles actually build and you become stronger (anabolism). When you workout everyday and don’t get proper rest your muscles breakdown (catabolism) which may lead to overtraining, boredom and increased risk of injury. If what you’re reading sounds familiar to you, there’s a good chance that you will need to make some changes to your program and in time you’ll be back on track.
One of the first things you’ll want to implement into your training program is REST. That’s right, rest is your friend. You need to rest as hard as you train for your body to emerge stronger and more powerful. When you create tiny micro-tears in your muscles during exercise your body regenerates and they grow back denser (hypertrophy). Secondly, ensure that you are alternating muscle groups or muscle fibre types when you are working out. As an example, one day you may consider working out your back, hamstrings (pull exercises) and then alternating the next day with chest and quadriceps (push exercises). If you are training by muscle fibre type, you may consider doing some fast, powerful movements that employ the use of high resistance one day (type 2 fibres) followed by more endurance-based exercises, tempo and resistance the next (type 1 fibres).
So now that you have a handle on what do with your resistance training program, what about cardio-based exercises; is it ok to do the same cardio exercise every day? Most athletes will opt to train in their sport each day, further adding to their sport specificity. Take swimmers and cyclists for example; they will opt to train in their particular area of expertise every day but will usually cycle in some cross training for a physical and mental break in the off season. The average person will do best with cross training and from constantly changing the exercise they do to give both body and mind a much needed rest, thereby preventing repetitive strain injuries and cumulative trauma disorders that occur over time. Also, some exercises place more stress on the body because of the sheer nature of the activity. Take running for example: high impact forces act on the joints of the body because of the amount of force generated by each running step (ground reaction force is as much as 8x body weight). These forces are gradually dispersed as they travel from the small bones in your feet all the way up to your neck. And not unlike your body, you’ll require a mental break from doing the same exercise every day to prevent staleness and mental fatigue. The mind gets tired of doing the same thing the same way the body does so you need to be cognizant of this and change the intensity of your exercise, the type of exercise you are doing or the duration of which you spend engaging in that particular exercise. For example, if you are used to running 30 minutes every day, one day you might consider running 45 minutes at a slightly slower pace, another day running faster for 20 minutes and possibly doing another activity like studio cycling or swimming to give your joints and mind a break.
Another way to prevent overtraining is to start off gradually with your exercise program. Doing too much too soon can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, injuries and illness. Start off gradually and then increase your intensity and/or time performing the exercise by 10% per week.
You may also consider the following strategies to prevent overtraining:
• Ensure you warm up adequately before you begin exercising to reduce the risk of injuries (strains, sprains, tears). • Maintain your body’s range of motion by incorporating some light stretching after exercise and/or consider yoga to keep the body from overcompensating with other muscle groups. • Healthy nutrition will nourish your body and give you the energy your body needs to recover and keep going; eat well. • Sleep and rest as hard as you train so your body will recover. • Monitor how you feel and consider using a heart rate monitor when you train which will act as a guide and tell you when you should be doing a light workout. If you feel tired, some days it’s best to listen to your body and opt for a recovery or rest day. One of the reasons people don’t rest enough (and why overtraining is so rampant) is the fear that de-training will occur and that by taking only a week off, the body will lose its level of fitness. In actual fact, it takes 2 weeks of inactivity for the body to begin losing strength and endurance. When you’re tired, rest. You’ll be quite surprised how refreshed you feel from a few days off and your body may actually be stronger after a short rest period. This type of training effect (known as tapering) is how athletes prepare for races which I’ll save for another blog entry.