Overtraining is best defined as a state where a fitness enthusiast has been repeatedly stressed by training to a point where rest is no longer adequate for recovery. It is manifest in a collection of emotional, behavioural and physical symptoms, which are commonly referred to as “burnout”. It is different from post exercise tiredness; it is a cumulative exhaustion that persists even after rest.
Here’s why it happens – hard training may be necessary for improved performance, but it also breaks you down and makes you weaker. Rest is what makes you stronger. When the cardiovascular and muscular systems are stressed, the body responds by improving efficiency of the heart, increasing capillaries in the muscles, and increasing glycogen stores and mitochondrial enzyme systems within the muscle cells. During recovery, these systems are in overdrive to compensate for stress applied, building an increased level of performance. Therefore without sufficient rest, there is no regeneration and performance plateaus.
Overtraining is accompanied by one or more symptoms including:
- Persistent muscle soreness
- Persistent fatigue
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Reduced heart rate variability
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Increased incidence of injuries
Look out for these signs
1. Increased resting heart rate
Under normal conditions, resting heart rate should be back to normal within 24 hours of a workout. Over time, however, your heart rate should decrease both at rest and in response to a fixed workload. The decreased heart rate response under both situations is a result of improved cardiac muscle function—the heart is stronger and can move more blood with each beat. If you are not fully recovered, then your heart rate at rest will be elevated because it is still working at repairing tissues and replenishing fuels. What’s more, if you are not recovered, your heart rate during exercise will not increase to where it needs to be to supply the needed blood flow. This results in sluggishness or staleness, and so although you try to work harder, you cannot because the heart rate cannot elevate to give you the blood supply you need.
How to fix it Using a heart rate monitor can prevent this from happening. Record and monitor your resting heart rate and exercise heart rate response to a given workload as often as possible. Understand how your heart rate should respond both at rest and during exercise as you train. Make sure it is increasing and decreasing as you would expect.
2. Insatiable Thirst
Do you frequently have an unquenchable thirst? If this coincides with a period of increased gym-time activity, it’s a sign your body has gone into a catabolic state. This metabolic phenomenon, where excess cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands to make up for the loss of muscle tissue after an intense workout, causes dehydration, along with weakness. Thirst is one of the first signs of dehydration.
How to fix it A protein drink can be beneficial after a round of rigorous training. Intake of carbohydrates and proteins about one or two hours before and after a workout will work wonders for your body, and keep you from feeling lethargic. Consuming foods or beverages that contain vitamin C (such as orange juice) before training can help stave off a catabolic state.
3. Muscle soreness
It’s normal to have muscle soreness for a day or two following a workout. However, if you’re still sore past the 72 hour mark, be sure to schedule a break and rest. This type of extended soreness is a sign your muscles aren’t recovering and negatively impacts your muscle-building efforts.
How to fix it As a personal trainer and transformation specialist I say when weight-training, “you should be able to get in a gym – in and out – in 60 to 75 minutes max.” Pay attention to your muscles and don’t overstay your welcome in the gym.
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