WHAT IS OVERTRAINING?
Overtraining is an all too popular trend with bodybuilders and other high intensity training athletes such as swimmers, and long distance runners.
Overtraining is all too present in today’s gyms. Those who live high stress lifestyles and overachievers always seem to find their way into the gym. You’ve seen it yourself. It is the one guy in the corner of the gym doing his high intensity, 4 hour, full body workout for the 13th time this week.
You know him, he was there when you left yesterday and has a small blanket tucked under the bench press for when he sleeps in the gym. Another way to pick him out is to look for the guy that is always there but never changes.
- A plateau in performance.
- A drop in performance.
- Elevated Resting HR (an easy way to measure this is to take your resting HR when you first awaken and compare it from week to week).
- Elevated Training HR (if you know at level 6 on the treadmill you normally have a heart rate of 120 bpm, and lately has been measuring 150 bpm, something may be wrong).
- Feeling of “heaviness.”
- Ongoing muscle soreness (chronic).
- A desire to skip workouts (your body is telling you something and you should listen).
- Lack of enthusiasm when it comes to both the gym and everyday activities.
- Decreased concentration.
- Sleep disorder (both too much and not enough).
- Lack of appetite.
- Weight loss (when not trying).
- Aches and pains
- Pain in the joints
- Lack of energy
- Performance decrease
- Trouble sleeping
- Catching lots of colds
- Drop in intensity
- Loss of enthusiasm
- Decreased appetite
- Lots of injuries
- Fanatic about exercising
Thankfully, if you find you are suffering from one or many of these symptoms, overtraining is relatively easy to cure. Take at least a week off.
Drinking alcohol and lack of quality sleep will shoot your cortisol levels through the roof and may even advance your overtraining symptoms. What I mean is take a week away from the gym and let your body recover. Eat adequate amounts of food, being sure to include a variety of fruits and vegetables, fiber, quality protein, and whole grain sources of carbohydrates.
REDUCING THE CHANCES OF OVERTRAINING
There are two factors important in preventing overtraining:
- EXERCISE FACTORS
- Allow for adequate recovery time in between exercise sessions.
- Ensure variety in your exercises, and training techniques.
For help on how spice up your workout, see my previous article Spice Up Your Workout With These New Techniques.
- OUTSIDE FACTORS
- Maintain physical health by engaging in regular exercise.
- Maintain emotional health.
- Maintain spiritual health.
- Maintain mental health.
- Maintain interpersonal health.
Think of each of these factors as pieces making a complete “health wheel”. If one of these factors is missing, or not complete, your wheel will not roll smoothly, or not at all, veering you off the course to success and resulting in overtraining.
Knowing how to spot the signs of overtraining is essential. It is even more important to know how to cure and prevent it.
HOW TO HANDLE OVERTRAINING?
Fortunately, handling overtraining is very simple. Once you stop it, all you need to do is take some time off the gym.
What has always worked for me is a week off weights, with nothing more than a few sessions of light cardio.
Getting a proper amount of sleep is also a key part of preventing overtraining–7 – 8 hours per night is generally considered optimal–as is a proper diet that fully provides your body with everything it needs to repair itself.
You’ll know the overtraining is gone simply by how you feel. After 3-5 days of rest, you’ll feel rejuvenated and ready to train again.
- YOU’RE NOT MAKING PROGRESS.
And most important of all, are you making NO progress and getting NO results for an extended period of time (no new strength, no new muscle, no new anything)? In some really bad cases of overtraining, it’s also pretty common to notice that you are actually LOSING strength and/or muscle. Instead of getting easier, your workouts are getting harder. Does any of this sound familiar? If so, a lack of recovery is an extremely common culprit.
If you are experiencing any or all of the above, STOP WORKING OUT and take a full week off. Spend this time resting, relaxing, eating well, and figuring out what needs to be changed to prevent it from happening again. How? Good question…
HOW DO I AVOID OVERTRAINING?
Well, the simple answer is that you just need to ensure optimal workout recovery is taking place. There are various useful tips for doing this (regular massages, foam rolling, contrast baths, active recovery, etc.), but they are all secondary to the most important tip of all. And that is…
If you truly want to avoid overtraining and all of the negative symptoms associated with it, you need to set up your overall workout routine and diet plan as intelligently as possible. This is the single best way to ensure workout, muscle and overall physical recovery is taking place optimally.
Now, explaining all of this would take a whole separate article or two (or three). Luckily though, I’ve already written them.
The best place to start would be my guide to workout routines and setting up your diet plan. My article about how often to work out each muscle group per week is another good one to start with.