The Signs of Overtraining and How to Fix It
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Photo by W Brian Duncan

More is not always better. Exercise is no exception to this rule. Doing double workouts, 7 days a week may seem like the right thing to do for fat loss. Instead it can set you up for frustration, injury and serious health conditions.

When I talk about overtraining with my clients the most serious version, the female athlete triad, is often what comes to mind. The female athlete triad takes concepts of fitness too far and appears as:

  • Disordered eating: poor nutritional habits that can include anorexia or bulimia but not exclusive to them.
  • Amenorrhea: absent or irregular menstrual periods
  • Osteoporosis: weakened bones that are more susceptible to injury.

While it is most common in competitive athletes, the female athlete triad can happen to any woman. But for most of us overtraining is subtler. In fact it can sneak up on us, especially beginners, without much warning.  One day we have the runners high, the next day we can’t sleep and seem to be snapping at everyone. Classic overtraining signs from the American Council on Exercise include:

  • Agitation and moodiness – not getting that post workout endorphin boost anymore?
  • Excessive fatigue – is your energy failing you during the day?
  • Increased perceived effort during your workout – does your workout seem harder than normal?
  • Nagging muscle aches or joint pain – got a hamstring or shoulder that just won’t stop aching?
  • More frequent illness or upper respiratory infection – can’t shake your cold or do your allergies seem worse?
  • Insomnia – getting to sleep or staying asleep becoming a challenge?
  • Loss of appetite – your favorite foods no longer seem appetizing?
  • Elevated resting heart rate – your pulse races when you’re at rest?

One of these symptoms alone does not mean your spending too much time at the gym but a group of these symptoms may mean that it’s time to rethink your exercise routine. Every so often I have a new client who keeps going above and beyond the exercise homework I give them. They do extra cardio or add “just a few” strength exercise on they days I have scheduled a rest. They are often the ones who end up injuring themselves or getting sick about 6 weeks into their program.  If you feel like you may be overtraining, take these steps to help your body recover and regroup.

  • Take a full week off strength training. I do this anyway about every three months. It gives tired muscles and nagging aches time to heal and you’ll come back to your workouts even stronger.
  • Eat more carbs. Carbs are the first to go when one is “dieting”. Think healthy carbs like fiber rich beans, oats, quinoa, fruits and vegetables to give your body needed energy and fuel for the brain. The brain can’t store glucose so to avoid feeling fuzzy and cranky get at least 150 g of carbs a day from whole food non-sugary sources.
  • Get your sleep. Make sure you’re getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night and eliminate distractions that wake you in the middle of the night. Your body does its major repair work during the deeper sleep cycles. If your body doesn’t reach those levels, recovery is doesn’t get to fully take place. Don’t sacrifice sleep for your morning workout. Set up good sleep hygiene by keeping electronics out of the bedroom and using a sleep mask or black out shades if necessary.
  • Meditate. Increased stress (from workouts and life) can elevate cortisol levels. High cortisol impairs sleeps, which of course is needed to repair. Just 5 minutes a day of deep breathing can go a long way to reducing cortisol naturally.

When you restart your workouts don’t make every day an all out max effort workout. Make sure you have at least one active rest day a week (a nice walk with the dogs or yoga flow class for example) and don’t cut calories below your BMR. You need fuel and rest to be strong and stay healthy!

Every found yourself overtraining? What lessons did you learn from your experience?

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