Understand What It is
In a nutshell, it’s the athletic version of chronic fatigue, and it’s common in nearly every sport and fitness activity. Overtraining happens when you train more than your body can recover from, to the point where performance declines. Experts believe cases of overtraining are increasing due to the rise of the amateur athlete – individuals who expose themselves to the intensity and volume of training usually reserved for the pros. As Core Collective head trainer Joe Corrie explains, “When it comes to exercise, there is usually a dose-response relationship. That is, the greater the training volume, the more results you’ll see. But there is a tipping point beyond which the amount of exercise performed can start to have a negative effect. Due to this, many of the symptoms of overtraining can be dismissed by an athlete as they become fixated on results. They may even increase the volume in their training programme, which escalates the problem further.” If you’re excessively exercising and simultaneously managing the stresses of working from home, home schooling, and family and financial commitments, you could be putting yourself at risk of overtraining.
Know The Symptoms
A variety of symptoms are associated with overtraining. Some are more obvious than others. “If you feel particularly fatigued, notice a decline in performance or have an injury you just can’t shift, this could be a sign you are overtraining and aren’t dedicating enough time to recovery,” says David Wiener, training specialist at AI-based fitness and lifestyle coaching app Freeletics. “Another more obvious symptom is soreness. Your body typically needs 24-48 hours to recover from a tough workout, but if you are still sore three days later, this is your body’s way of telling you that you’re overdoing it,” David adds. Other signs to look out for include increased perceived effort during workouts; agitation and moodiness; insomnia; loss of appetite; chronic or nagging injuries; loss of motivation; an increased resting heart rate; and a decrease in heart rate variability (HRV). From the less obvious perspective, overtraining can take its toll on your brain power, explains Dean Hodgkin, head of programming at TruConnect by TV.Fit. “Researchers in Paris used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity during cognitive exercises and established that overtrained athletes exhibit greater impulsiveness in decision making, reducing their ability to make the right choices to help them to achieve their goals.”
It Won’t Happen Overnight
If you’ve just started out on your fitness journey, it’s pretty likely you’ll be going from zero to 100 in a short period of time. By the end of your first week, sore muscles and fatigue are a given, but don’t mistake this for overtraining. “It can take months of excessive training without adequate rest days before you start to notice the classic symptoms of overtraining,” stresses Jason Bone, head of strength at Flex Chelsea. “However, there are certain types of activity that will make overtraining more likely,” he says. “Anything that creates particular stress on the body – think high-intensity workouts involving weights and cardio – will, over time, take a toll without adequate rest.”
Get The Balance Right
Training is all about moderation. If you want results, rest days are paramount. “Whatever your sport, you should be taking at least one day of complete rest at a minimum,” says Dean. “If you’re lifting heavy to increase muscle mass, you’ll need a full day off for both your muscles and central nervous system to recover, so exercising for four days and resting for three is a smart plan. If you’re training for a 10k, there may be days when you head out for an easy, steady-state-cardio jog, meaning you could manage five days of effort with just two days of rest.” And if you’re the kind of guy who likes working out twice a day, be sure you’re getting the balance right. “As a general rule of thumb, you should allow six hours between exertions, so two workouts per day is do-able, especially if they complement each other. For example, one gentle run followed by a yoga session will elicit a completely different physiological reaction than two eyeballs-out HIIT sessions,” says Dean.
Give Your Body A Hand
There’s more to a rest day than Netflix and the sofa. “Hot and cold showers, meditation, foam rolling and sports massages can all help your body recovery more quickly,” says David. “Also make sure you are getting plenty of sleep as it’s during the night that your body repairs itself and releases growth hormones. Maintaining a regular sleeping pattern and ensuring your sleeping conditions are optimised will promote a higher quality of sleep, leading to better muscle regeneration and faster recovery.”
Nutrition Can Help
Don’t underestimate the power of your diet for fuelling both training and recovery. “If you aren’t getting enough protein, you’re in danger of using muscle for fuel, which can impact on performance; and if you aren’t eating enough carbs, you’ll struggle for energy and will quickly fatigue and lose concentration,” says Jason. Dean also places importance on getting adequate calories to fuel your training load: “The suggestion that Michael Phelps consumed 12,000 calories per day when training for the Beijing Olympics is almost certainly a myth, but even if he only ate half that amount, when compared to the generally accepted recommendation of 2,500 calories, it demonstrates just how important fuel is.”
Want to avoid overtraining in the first place? Core Collective head trainer Joe Corrie shares his rules…
Spot The Signs
Be open minded and self-aware throughout your training. Stay savvy when it comes to your current training load and recovery protocols – a training log can be helpful.
Heart rate monitors are handy while training but also give an indication of your resting and recovery heart rates, which could indicate overtraining.
Remember To Rest
Training sessions aren’t the only catalyst for improvement – adaptations to your body actually occur during rest and recovery.
Get A Coach
Having an expert take charge of your training programme can be invaluable. It can take away the guesswork and an impartial opinion can help you spot signs of overtraining you may otherwise miss yourself.
Listen to Yourself
If you’re constantly sore, tired, heavy, hungry and thinking about a day off training, scale things back. It’s better to be proactive and take time off than get injured.
Focus On Food
Nutrition is king. If you’re serious about results, don’t leave this to guesswork. Track calories and protein to get the most from your training.
To find out more about our experts, visit TruConnect.fit, Core-Collective.co.uk, Freeletics.com and FlexChelsea.com
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SLMan are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.