Are you overtraining?
Like, when did you last take a rest day from your fitness program?
Listen, if you have been on your grind for the last 9+ days and showing up to the gym every single day let me start by saying I am so proud of you.
That’s a huge effort. It isn’t easy to front up nine days in a row!
However (and it’s a big however) that kind of guns-blazing action might be okay for short periods to get you through a plateau but long term it’s not good for you.
Rest days are just as important as days in the gym because it’s during rest that our bodies repair, build muscle, and get even stronger.
If you’re not taking them, you could be overtraining and therefore increasing your risk of injury and diminishing returns.
Are you getting addicted to exercise?
Well, duh. It’s pretty hard not to get addicted.
That release of endorphins you get after a good run, known as the ‘runner’s high’, can get you hooked, can’t it?
Even the ‘burn’ you feel when lifting weights day in and day out can flood you with a sense of strength and triumph is addictive, spurring you on to keep powering on.
But when you get so addicted to it that you never miss a workout – not when you’ve hurt yourself, not when your real life plate is overloaded, not even when you’re too sick to go to work? It may be time to meet the sneaky little gremlin that could be the reason for your results plateauing … overtraining.
So what is overtraining?
When you over train, you are pushing your body above and beyond its capacity to recover and adapt in time for your next training session. This means that your body is still in a weakened state and unable to perform to its highest potential the next time you hit the pavement or pick up a weight.
Overtraining is basically working too hard without giving your body time to recover and heal.
Each time you work out, you are actually tearing muscle tissue, which takes time to heal. In fact, it takes four to seven days for muscles to fully recover their strength after an intense workout.
If you don’t give your muscles the rest they need to recuperate, they will basically just keep attempting to repair themselves, rather than build new muscle mass. The muscles can become exhausted and you may fail to see the results that you wish to see.
But overtraining isn’t limited to the weights room. You can also overdose on cardio. Yes, really.
The human body (whilst designed to be far more active than is usual in today’s sedentary world) was also not designed to endure high intensity cardio over long periods of time.
During long periods of high intensity movement, your body begins to produce and release the stress hormone, cortisol.
Cortisol is an evolutionary survival relic of our caveman ancestors (we can blame ‘em for a lot), produced by the body when it perceives itself to be in danger. It thinks that you’re on the run from a great big saber-tooth tiger who is ruthlessly tracking you down in the woods.
So, it spares available glucose from the brain, which generates new energy from stored reserves and diverts energy away from things that it perceives as being a low immediate priority, like immune system function, in order for you to survive imminent threats or prepare for intense physical exertion.
Unfortunately, too much cortisol in your blood stream becomes toxic and starts to detrimentally affect your health.
Thinking that you may not be able to eat or drink for a long period of time because that saber tooth tiger’s two steps away from you, cortisol actually encourages the body to hang on to fat and water, both of which are essential for survival in high stress situations, to give the body energy and hydration.
It especially holds on to the fat around your stomach and your butt. But that’s not all.
Over-production of cortisol can result in high blood pressure, loss of bone density, depletion of lean muscle mass (the very thing that encourages the body to burn fat and keep you shapely), and can even affect fertility in some cases.
And you thought going like the clappers on the treadmill for an hour seven days a week was the healthiest thing on the planet. Guess again.
How do I know I’m overtraining?
Exercise is awesome and it’s meant to make you feel good.
That runner’s high, that lifter’s rush?? You get that for a reason.
And when that feeling stops? You get that for a reason, too.
Some of the physiological signs of overtaining can include:-
- Decrease in performance
- Inability to gain muscle mass
- Loss of co-ordination
- Prolonged recovery times
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Elevated resting blood pressure
- Frequent or recurring headaches
- Loss of appetite
- Frequent muscle soreness/ tenderness that doesn’t go away after a day or two
- Tummy upset
- Decreased immune system
- Increased risk of injury – like back pain, knee injuries or shin splints
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- You feel exhausted all the time
- You find yourself unable to keep up with your regular workout routine
- In women – disruption of menstrual cycle, causing periods to cease altogether
There are other signs, too. Overtraining doesn’t just affect you physiologically, it can affect your mental and emotional wellbeing as well. Signs include:-
- Depression and/ or anxiety
- A feeling of apathy
- Difficulty concentrating on other things
- High emotional sensitivity
- Reduced self-esteem
- Feelings of extreme guilt and anxiety if you accidentally miss a workout
- Loss of enthusiasm for exercise – you don’t work out because you want to, but because you feel you need to
We all have days when the last thing we want to do is put on our sneakers and workout. And you’ll hear me repeat ad nauseum that the best cure is get out of your head about it and just show up anyway.
But when that feeling of obligation to your gym is a recurring theme – and you’re exercising every day, or several times a day, even to the detriment of your health and/or social life – maybe it’s time to take a bit of a breather.
Who knows? It may actually be the very thing to bust your plateau!
But I need to build my habit of working out every day
I hear you! Did you know it only takes 21 days to build a habit you’re likely to stick to long term?
However, just remember you don’t have to go balls to the wall all 21 of those days! At least once a week (maybe even twice a week) schedule in a day of “active rest”, where rather than an intense workout you do enjoy recreational movement or restorative movement like yoga.
This way you’re still building the habit of getting active and staying consistent without overtraining.
Some ideas for your “active rest” days could include:
- Going for a walk in the park
- Going for a leisurely swim
- Taking a yin yoga class
- Doing some deep stretching
- Playing a game of football or backyard cricket with your family
- Going out dancing with your girls (just mind the cocktails)
- Work on your favourite active hobby (a team sport, tennis drills, dirt bike riding)
Overtraining can do more damage than good when it comes to your fitness goals.
It’s great to throw everything into your fitness journey. Just remember – you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Slow it down, breathe deep, stretch those strong muscles of yours, and take time to replenish your energy.
Taking a rest day or two isn’t going to hurt your fitness journey – in fact, it’s going to help it!
What’s your favourite way to enjoy an active rest day? Let me know in the comments.