Overtraining - Are You Working Out Too Hard? Here's How To Spot The Symptoms And Fix It.
You've found the perfect workout routine. It can get a little intense, but you're grooving along nicely. You've found a rhythm of training and resting that seems to suit you, and you're making gains, in performance, in muscle, in shaping your body, in whatever aspect of your life your training is meant to serve.
But one day it all goes horribly wrong.
You don't feel motivated. That's okay. Some days it's hard, but you work through it, put in the gym time anyway, and promise yourself it'll be better tomorrow.
But it isn't. Or the day after. Training starts to get harder, and you're not seeing gains anymore. You start to wonder why you're doing this in the first place, and finding a reason to turn up for a training session is getting harder and harder.
Plus you feel awful. Got a cold coming, maybe. And one of those little aphthous ulcers in your mouth, hurts like the devil and takes ages to heal. People around you seem to be a little distant. You wonder why, until one of the braver ones admits they're sick and tired of you constantly biting their head off when they're being perfectly civil. Not only do you feel bad, you're starting to act like a bear with a sore head, and it's affecting your relationships.
Finally, you've had enough. You skip the gym. You skip it again. You push away the guilt. (And what is that about? Feeling guilty because you didn't train? Isn't life hard enough?) After a while, your sleep is back to normal, you've got your appetite back, you wake up happy instead of vaguely worried, and you're human again.
So what happened? Overtraining Syndrome
You trained too hard. Simple as that. The warning signs come too late for most of us, which is why it happens. By the time you realize you've been doing too much exercise, the effects are already making your life a misery.
Runners get shin splints and those zombie black rings under their eyes. Body builders get aches and pains and generally feel under the weather. In plain old fashioned terms, you've been over-doing it. And the only cure is rest, sleep, good food, absence of stress, and a break from your heavy exercise regime. The zombie circles are evidence of anaemia. If you feel breathless and tired, look pale and have a fast resting pulse, that pretty much confirms it.
The short temper and sleep disturbance are signs of exhaustion. Exhaustion manifests as mental fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, irritability, depression and, oddly enough, sleep disturbance.
Physical overtraining symptoms such as aching muscles, headaches and appetite disturbance are also common, as are light headedness and dizziness. In all cases, the first thing to do is stop working out, for a minimum of two weeks.
'But I'll lose all the gains I made and turn instantly into a pile of flab.'
No you won't. You don't build muscle while you're exercising. That comes after, with food and rest. Remember how it works: work the muscle, feed the muscle, rest the muscle. Skimp on any part of the process and you're setting yourself up to fail.
For those of us who aren't the genetically gifted freaks who excel at such sports as body building, the recommended gym workout frequency is three times a week. I tried this for a while, but the best gains I ever had came when I cut back to two sessions a week, with two or three rest days between workouts. I ate like a horse, slept a minimum of eight hours a night, and cut gym sessions short if I began to feel stressed or tired. Best gains ever.
What's the solution? It sounds counter-intuitive, but the best training gains come when you stop trying too hard. If you keep an eye on your health and your attitude, you can spot the first signs of over training and cut back before they get worse.
How do I recognize the signs of over training
Feed The Muscle
The first part of the remedy for overtraining is this: Make sure you have a diet that's adequate, in terms of calories consumed, and in terms of nutrients absorbed, for what you're trying to achieve.
If you're trying to build muscle, you have to eat. A lot. Many people underestimate just how much extra food they need to eat to put on muscle mass, which is why there are so many hard gainers.
You've done the hard part - working out. Now you have to eat, or the hard work is just wasted. There are calorie calculators online where you can work out how many calories your diet contains. Keep a food diary for one week, then work out if what you eat is sufficient to achieve your goals. Find out you're not eating nearly enough? Check out this hub. Don't know what to eat for a healthy diet? Take a look here.
Feed The Muscle
Rest The Muscle
The second part of the remedy for overtraining. Are you getting a good night's sleep? Every night? Aim for a minimum eight hours, but don't stop there. Try and fit in a nap during the day.
And spend time doing things you enjoy. If your life is just work and working out, you're going to burn out at some point, probably sooner rather than later.
Work is another thing you have to take into consideration. If your job is physically or mentally demanding, you might want to rethink your workout routine. Work shifts? Night shift? Forget working out. You're probably permanently tired. Work changing shifts? You're probably too addled to talk, let alone work out. I worked days, nights and afters for three years, and didn't get a decent night's sleep in all that time. Be realistic: if your job is a stress pit in hell, forget working out until you get a better job.
You have to rest. Rest is when the body can rebuild damaged muscle and adapt to the stress of working out by growing muscle mass. You have to balance the risk of detraining, or losing muscle mass through not working out, with the risk of overtraining, which is just as destructive. Wait too long between sessions and you shrink. Work out too often and you never grow.
So what's the third part of the remedy for overtraining?
Are You Overtraining?
Monitor Your Body
Keep a close eye on the way you feel and your health in general. Leap out of bed at the start of the day ready to tackle a tiger? Yep. Nothing to worry about.
Crawl out of bed and stumble through your day praying for death? You should probably ease up on everything. And forget about the gym for now, while you concentrate on rest and eating well.
Overtraining can be a problem, but not if you follow the simple advice given above. Listen to what your body is telling you, make sure you eat well, and get enough rest.