Be Careful Not To Overtrain
Jackie just started a fitness program a few months ago and says she feels terrible! She aches all the time and her energy level is zero. She thought that the more she exercised (she’s doing 7 days a week for an hour or more a day) the better she’d feel and look. But something is wrong.
More is better, right? Well in terms of exercise, more can mean less-less energy, performance and motivation. It sounds like you’re experiencing the effects of overtraining and it can happen to anyone, even those who have been exercising for years.
The way your body adapts to exercise and becomes stronger is through the “overload principle.” When you place a load on your body (either through exercise or other stress) adaptations occur that enable you to meet that load more efficiently the next time it occurs.
Your body is amazingly able to respond to increased loads as long as the loading is incremental and progressive. But, if the load is too great and your body doesn’t have time to adequately respond, you run the risk of injury.
Here’s an example:
You’ve never been a runner, but decide to start a running program. The best way to begin training would be to start with walking to allow your joints and muscles time to adapt to the exercise. After several weeks of increased walking distance and intensity you start running slowly for part of the distance, and eventually switch to running full time when you feel ready.
The least effective way to train would be to start running right away, trying to build up to several miles within the first weeks. Your body won’t have time to adapt to the overloading and you’ll probably experience pain or injury, signs that your body is unable to meet the demands being put on it.
The most important way to determine whether your workouts are overstressing your body is by self-assessment. Do your workouts feel harder than usual, or do you feel more sore and exhausted after a workout? If you’re experiencing any of the signs listed below for more than a few days you should take a break from daily exercise and re-think your training routine:
- Sleep problems such as insomnia or oversleeping
- Muscle and joint pain and/or weakness
- Extreme fatigue that’s not relieved by a rest day
- Increased illness
- Elevated morning pulse
- Unexplained weight loss
- Mood changes and depression
- Lack of motivation and enthusiasm for exercise
An important factor for a successful fitness routine is avoiding overuse of the same joints and muscles. Doing the same type of exercises day after day puts too much repetitive stress on joints and muscles. Mix it up by switching between weight bearing and non-weight bearing exercises (for example running one day and biking the next) to give equal training to different muscle groups.
If you’re doing a lot of high intensity cardio you may need more rest time between workouts. Follow a high intensity cardio day with a lower intensity one, such as a high mileage, hilly bike ride on Monday follow up with a low intensity swim or walk on Tuesday.
If you’re weight training, the muscles that were trained need at least 24 hours to rest and rebuild from the load. If you’re still sore 48 hours after your last bout you may be lifting too much weight and should drop down to a lower weight until your muscles are able to build enough strength to load further.
The biggest mistake most people make when starting a fitness program is doing too much too soon. An overeager attitude will disappear soon when joint and muscle pain becomes a daily problem. Don’t go from three days a week to seven within a few weeks. Add an extra day every couple of weeks, monitor how that increase feels and allow time for your body to adapt.
Here are a few tips for helping you avoid the dreaded fitness slump:
- Always warm up before hitting your training pace. Just start any exercise session with a slow warm up of the activity you plan to do that day.
- Hydrate well before, during and after exercise. Dehydration can cause fatigue and poor exercise performance.
- Check your diet. Make sure you’re eating plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and high quality protein each day. Pre-workout have a complex carb and protein snack 30-60 minutes before you exercise. Avoid sugary snacks, they can create a big energy dip during and after exercise.
- Stretch daily. Fit in stretch times as you wait for your morning coffee to brew, while in the shower and after every workout.
- Listen to and respect your body’s signals. If you’re feeling overtired, sore and depleted take it easy. You’ll be amazed how much more energy you’ll have when you make rest days as important as training days.
- Add an extra 1/2 hour or more to your sleep time. Most people get less than eight hours of sleep each night. If you’re exercising regularly, your body needs at least eight hours to fully recharge. If you find you’re perpetually tired each morning your body is telling you that you’re not getting enough sleep.
- If all else fails take an exercise vacation. Five to seven days of total rest from your usual fitness routine can work wonders. Don’t worry about losing your fitness level in that short a period of time-the recovery gains you’ll get from that “fitness holiday” can help speed injury recovery and boost your energy level.
- Keep in mind that preventing overtraining is a lot easier than having to recover from overuse and injury. By paying close attention to your body’s signals and modifying your workouts when needed you can keep your fitness routine progressing smoothly.
Have you ever overtrained? Share your experiences in the comments below.