Workout fanatics, exercise addicts and recreational and competitive athletes spend hours challenging their bodies – day after day, in search of results and improved performance. With the adoption of HIIT, grueling regimens like CrossFit and intense races and obstacle course competitions, it seems like more people now are working hard all the time.
While consistent exercise and progressive challenges indeed are good, more isn’t always better. There is a delicate balance between volume of exercise and greater outcomes. In fact, too much exercise without adequate recovery can lead to overtraining, which ultimately impairs performance.
But it’s not always clear if you are really suffering from overtraining or simply have had a tough week of workouts. Pay attention to your body and how you are feeling over time. Consider the signs of and treatment for overtraining syndrome if you are someone, or know someone, who may be at risk.
Signs of Overtraining
Overtraining syndrome is chronic overwork of the body, without allowing sufficient time for rest and recovery, that can lead to potential problems with the immune, neurological and endocrine systems, along with mental health issues. Ultimately, overtraining leads to declines in performance.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of overtraining include:
- Persistent fatigue, lack of energy
- Muscle or joint soreness, general aches and pains
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Increased perceived effort during workouts
- Decreased training capacity or intensity
- Lower immunity
- Increased injuries
- Moodiness, irritability or depression
- Reduced appetite
- Compulsive need to exercise
You don’t have to be dealing with all these symptoms to be suffering from overtraining syndrome, but generally, you will experience several signs, versus just one.
Treatment for Overtraining
Ideally, there would be a universal method to prevent overtraining. But that’s not possible, because every exerciser and athlete tolerates various intensities and demands differently. What may be just right for some individuals can be too much for others.
Most exercise aficionados and athletes know their bodies very well, and are able to quickly notice changes in mental and physical health. The danger is that their strong perseverance, which makes them powerful achievers and competitors, often takes over and keeps them pushing through fatigue, pain or diminishing returns that signal overtraining. This can lead to an injury or illness that totally sidelines them.
The treatment for overtraining is relatively simple, but can be difficult for hard-core exercisers to actually implement. They must understand that addressing overtraining is a smart investment in their long-term performance.
- Rest. The body needs to relax and heal, so a reduction in training is absolutely necessary. You don’t have to stop every workout, but significantly reduce intensity and frequency, and build in regular rest days. If you must move, active recovery, light exercise is acceptable. But aim to get more sleep at night or add daytime naps.
- Recover. Employ various methods to facilitate healing, such as stretching, using a foam roller, hydrotherapy, massage, chiropractic, cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers, acupuncture and more. Try different tools and therapies to see which you like best and that are most effective for your body.
- Fuel and hydrate. Assess your diet to ensure a balanced nutrient intake and consumption of sufficient calories. Eliminate extremes – like high protein and low carbs – and seek to eat a variety of healthy foods. You may also need to take vitamin supplements, depending on your diet. Drink more water or electrolyte drinks to prevent dehydration.
- Cross train. Incorporate variety in your exercise regimen to change stresses to the body and spike interest. Take on yoga, Pilates or swimming, for instance, to counter your frequent running or HIIT routines.