Are You in Danger of Overtraining?
Many exercisers work very hard in order to succeed in achieving their goals. They run many miles, spend long hours at the gym and work assiduously day after day, in their mission to achieve their objectives.
However, too much training can actually lead to a serious decline in performance. Here's some help in spotting the signs of overtraining and what you can do to combat it.
What is overtraining?
Overtraining is classified into two types: overreaching and overtraining (staleness). Over-reaching is the first phase of overtraining and is the more easily remedied of the two. Over-reaching is unusually intense muscle soreness that takes place when an exerciser doesn’t allow sufficient recovery time between intense workouts. This usually occurs after several consecutive days of hard training.
Overtraining/staleness occurs when exercisers ignore the initial symptoms of overreaching and regardless, continue to exert themselves heavily. Unfortunately, many exercisers actually believe that weakness or reduced levels of performance indicate a need for even greater training intensity and consequently pile the pressure on, but this only compromises the body further still! It is very difficult to recover from overtraining and the process can easily take weeks or even months. This can be very challenging for someone whose life is much affected by exercise, so identifying overreaching early is very important. Remember that we ‘train to live, not live to train’.
Keen exercisers are more susceptible to breakdown and overtraining if there are other strong negative stressors also present in their lives such as problems at work, school or in relationships, etc. These people should use this ‘enforced’ rest time from their training, to evaluate and balance these other important aspects of their life.
The major warning signs and symptoms of overtraining
- Unusual muscle soreness after a workout, which persist with continued training
- Inability to exercise at a previously manageable level
- "Heavy" leg muscles, even at light exercise intensities
- Significant delay in recovery from exercise sessions
- Performance plateaux ( no progress) or even declines
- Thoughts of avoiding or cancelling exercise sessions
- Prolonged holistic fatigue
- Increased tension, depression, anger or confusion
- Inability to relax or experiencing sleep difficulties
- Low energy, decreased motivation, mood changes
- Increased occurrences of sickness
- Increased blood pressure and elevated morning pulse
- Irregular menstrual cycle or actual loss of periods
- Weight and appetite loss
- Constipation or diarrhoea
Once overtraining has been diagnosed, what measures can be taken?
Once you recognise the signs and symptoms, talk to your trainer and GP. Working as a team, you’ll receive some guidelines for recovery, which will probably include the following:
You may be advised to temporarily stop or significantly reduce your exercise. You might even be asked to cancel your participation in an exercise event or competition. And it is vitally important that you take the advice on board in the knowledge that is for your own ultimate wellbeing, despite the fact that you might well personally consider such guidance a little ‘excessive’ at the time!
Examine your eating habits carefully. Have you been depriving your body of the calories, protein, vitamins and minerals it needs for high quality and high-intensity work?
Consult a properly qualified sports nutritionist (not someone with a few weeks or a few months training) for the guidance to provide your body with the energy and nutrients that it needs for the healing process.
A gradual return to training
Your doctor will help you determine when your body is ready to begin significant exercise again. Your signals for resuming full activity again, are renewed interest and the ability to exert yourself strongly with completely normal responses.
Remember though…Start low and go slow! Your exercise volume may well have been reduced by up to 50 or 60% so only increase again by about 10-15% each week.
Listen closely to your body and work closely with your trainer if you have one, making sure you let them know every step of the way, precisely how you’re feeling.
Keep an exercise diary which records your feelings of well-being as well as the amount of exertion you undertake.
Balance your exertions with recovery time to achieve maximum safe benefits. Adequate rest is certainly not a sign of weakness, so give yourself at least one complete rest day each week. Arrange alternate hard and easy exercise days for a specific activity or discipline whilst utilising cross-training methodology if you’re an athlete, or other forms of "active rest", only gradually increasing your workload and intensity..
If you find yourself becoming unhealthily obsessed with exercise, feeling somehow compelled to continue when injured or in pain, or you feel guilty if you go a day without vigorous exercise, make absolutely sure you talk to a well qualified trainer or GP about these feelings.
Be fully aware of how well qualified your trainer is, in terms of the depth, quality and actual length of the training that they have. Titles of certificates and diplomas can be very impressive, but dramatically misleading, sometimes having only a few weeks to a few months training lurking behind them. Ensure you solidly establish the ‘get real’ value of your trainer’s qualifications, as you are placing your physical health and wellbeing in their hands, so be wholly sure that those hands are realistically well trained and credibly experienced.
Inadequate intake of carbohydrate and protein leads to decreased muscle glycogen storage levels, muscle fatigue and poor muscle tissue repair. Again, consult a well-qualified nutritionist to evaluate your eating habits and ensure that you’re getting enough of these vital nutrients. Most keen and regular exercisers need at least 55% of their calories from carbohydrates, as well as 6-12 ounces of good quality protein every day, depending of course, on activity level and bodyweight.
Make sure your calorie intake matches your body’s need for energy to cater for both your exercise and the requirements of muscle tissue repair.
Avoid obviously nutrient deficient foods, otherwise known as ‘junk’, as during this time of the healing process, their physiologically negative presence could create an increased susceptibility to infections.
Dehydration very significantly contributes to muscle fatigue. Consequently, drink a minimum of 8 glasses of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages every day and ensure your drinking choice is absolutely free from physiologically destructive artificial sweeteners like ASPARTAME and look carefully, because it’s literally everywhere these days! This efficient attention to detail should ensure that your urine reflects levels of competent hydration by being copious and light in colour. If at any time it is dark, you usually need to step up your fluid intake, but if it still retains its darker hue, to be on the safe side, ensure you visit your GP for a check up as soon as you can.
For more information about personal training courses please visit www.nrpt.co.uk/become/training/index.htm
Alan Gordon MSc. Biomechanics & Applied Human Movement. BSc. (Hons 1st) Sports Nutrition. Alan Gordon began his career at the Royal Air Force School of Physical Training. After studying physiotherapy at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court in Surrey, he continued his studies at Loughborough University. The diversity and level of Alan's qualifications reflects 14 years of training alone, as well as a total of 41 years working as a professional exercise and nutritional consultant.
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