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Overtraining: What Are the Signs?


To achieve something meaningful without healthy doses of effort and diligence is rare.

If you grew up an athlete, this sentiment likely hits home a little harder. Be the goal professional or personal, there is no substitute for hard work. The outcomes we desire from training are no different, as they require grappling with the singular fact that struggle is crucial to accomplishing anything worthwhile.

Even if your day doesn’t revolve around training or you can’t spout off your 1, 3 and 5-RM pressing weights, you must admit the endorphin rush from intense, physical exertion is addicting. Of course, that feeling of euphoria isn’t exclusive to lifters. Runners often talk about the “runner’s high,” while cyclists may recant a particular ride where at mile thirty, they were more machine than human. It’s exhilarating.

If you clicked on this article, it’s likely you take training pretty seriously. Or at the very least, you’re considering taking training pretty seriously. But how serious is too serious?

As a physiotherapist, I can confidently say that many need proper coaxing to train their bodies at all much less worry about training too much or too often. However, the latter is what this article is about. At what point is training all too abundant or intense that gains begin to halt and health begins to decline? It’s a real phenomenon, and it’s called overtraining.


What is Overtraining?

Overtraining is defined as excessive frequency, volume, or intensity of training that results in extreme fatigue, illness, or injury (which is often due to a lack of sufficient rest, recovery, and perhaps nutrient intake)1. Overtraining is not to be confused with overreaching, which is when the trainee uses excessively high volumes of exercise for a brief period of time seeking “super compensations” for some short-term benefit. We can get into the weeds there, so let’s stick with overtraining.

Obviously, the consequences of overtraining are not sought after. Fatigue, illness and injury are all ramifications that not only halt performance but also regress it.  Therefore, it’s important we know the warning signs before it’s too late.


So, what are the warning signs of overtraining?


Poor Performance1

Each and every time you step into the gym or onto the field, you should have purpose. Intent gives exercise structure, and without it, simply going through the motions becomes all too easy.

Over time, productive training should yield favorable results like the ability to lift heavier, run faster, etc. Too much training, however can undermine these adaptations and through fatigue, illness or injury, cause performance decline. This is one of many reasons why it’s so important to log your training. If you’re noticing a decline in performance and are feeling overly beat up, you might be overtraining.


Psychological Decline1

As the least objective warning sign reported here, the psychology of an athlete requires great introspection. You’ll often hear people report a lack of motivation to train and feeling “burnt out.”

Grinding your body into the dust day after day incurs a debt. The physical debts are plenty, but maybe more important is the psychological warfare existing between your mind and body. Imagine the hardest or longest workout of your life. Now, imagine doing that four, five or even seven days per week. Good luck.

Yes, the body fights back, but so too does the mind, and the ammunition it uses comes in the form of wanting motivation and porous excitement to exercise.


Physiological Effects1

The body doesn’t enjoy being in an overtrained state, and it fights back in several ways. This suboptimal function manifests because your body isn’t able to recover time and time again from overly vigorous training. Some signs to be aware of are…

  • Blood pressure and heart rate tends to increase at rest due to over activation of the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Immune function tends to dip, meaning the body is less able to fight infection and disease.
  • Sleep quality is reduced even when total number of sleeping hours is equated.
  • Mood disturbances and emotional fragility may occur.

This is not an all-encompassing list but some low hanging fruit to be aware of.


The Bottom Line On Overtraining & How to Avoid It

Overtraining is not desirable for the reasons listed above and many more.

Gains suffer. Your mood suffers, And most importantly, if done chronically, your health can suffer.

So what do you do? Well, what’s most important is to set yourself up for proper recovery after each and every workout. This means getting quality sleep and eating an effective diet worthy of an athlete.


What about supplements?

An essential portion of recovery is hitting your daily protein target, allowing your muscles to rebuild and repair. This is easier said than done for an athlete because protein intakes should be far greater than the general population. If you’re finding it difficult to hit your target, consider supplementing with whey protein. Whey is a quick-digesting protein often taken post-workout or with breakfast when muscles are in great need for repair.

If you’re looking for whey protein that both tastes great and sets your body up to get bigger and stronger, consider choosing CNP’s new flavor, Spooky Toffee Pudding.



Author, Dr. Brian Grant, PT, DPT, CSCS 

References

1. Haff, G., & Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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