Last Updated 11th August 2016:
Working out too much? Surely not…
But there are a couple of proven reasons you might want to take those rest days. If you are constantly feeling burnt out and unable to hit your reps or weights in the gym it might be a sign that you’re working out too much.
In this article we outline what overtraining is and the symptoms associated with it. As well as looking in to the solutions and what you can do to avoid overtraining or the solution if you are already in this stage.
An Introduction to Overtraining | What is Overtraining?
Overtraining is described as the point at which an athlete’s performance begins to decrease due to fatigue. Overtraining or “working out too much” can also be described as working out before your body can recover from the previous workouts. The compound effect of this can cause a number of negative physiological and psychological side effects. Although its unlikely that you will ever die from overtraining, there have been studies to show that overtraining can have multiple negative longer term effects.
Overtraining can be caused from both working out at a high intensity too much, as well as simply training and not recovering in the correct way, whether this be sleep, nutrition or muscle recovery. Weight lifters, runners and athletes who perform at a high level in their respective sports are the most at risk from overtraining due to the intensity and frequency at which they have to train to keep their performance at these high levels.
How does it happen? – The Causes.
As the name suggests overtraining can occur from working out at a high intensity too much, but there is a lot more to it than that. Overtraining may also occur from simply using an incorrect training plan, where you’re pushing your body beyond its limits and as a result your muscles cannot recover before they are worked again. The cause can be described as a “rapid increase in the frequency and/or intensity at which an athlete trains.”
Generally the signs of overtraining can be mixed up with the simple misconception of “no pain, no gain” and although there is definitely a baseline to how hard you should train, don’t go above and beyond the no pain no gain slogan! As much as you may hate them, rest days and cleaning up and eating more, might be the thing your body needs more than you realise.
How much training is too much?
This is the most frequently asked question when the topic of overtraining is brought up. The answer depends entirely on the athlete and their lifestyle. An individual who has just started training and lives a sedentary lifestyle will generally reach their overtraining threshold earlier than a professional athlete who has been training for years. Another key element is how well your recovery is. Recovery is extremely important when it comes to strength and endurance training. This is not only how your muscles feel the next day, but also the quality of the foods you eat and how much sleep you get. Under-sleeping and incorrect nutrition make overtraining occur even more quickly, regardless of your athletic ability. Below is a good no BS video to see if you are actually overtrained or not.
The 7 Common Symptoms of Overtraining [Infographic]
There are a number of side effects, both mental and physical of training too much. Below are the 7 most common signs you might be overtraining.
- Unexplainable drop or plateau in performance. – This is the overlying issue with overtraining as it is the exact opposite result you are trying to achieve. Many people believe the more they train, the stronger / faster / bigger they will become. When they experience a drop in performance they feel this may be because they haven’t been training “hard enough” and as a result dig themselves even deeper into the overtraining hole. If you have experienced a drop in performance longer than 2-3 sessions, consider taking a couple of days rest.
- Insomnia / Sleep Issues – Lack of sleep is a cause of overtraining and yet insomnia and sleeping issues result from overtraining itself, it’s a vicious cycle. Sleep aids recovery itself and lack of sleep means you will not only feel tired and fatigued, but your muscles also will not recover as effectively. If this is the case simply take 2-3 rest days from the gym/training cheap synthroid generic. If your sleep issues persist you know its not actually due to your training.
- Chronic fatigue and muscle soreness (not just DOMs.) – DOMs is perfectly natural and a part of training, especially for low-mid level athletes. What’s not normal is chronic fatigue or constant muscle soreness. If you constantly feel drained and have sore muscles this might be a sign that you are training too much.
- Elevated morning blood pressure and heart rate. – Difficult to measure for the average athlete and also related to symptom 2, but if you wake with a faster than normal heart rate and raised blood pressure each morning, this might be a sign that your body is struggling, and hence you may be experiencing some overtraining symptoms.
- “Burnt out” Central Nervous System. – When working your muscular system, you also work your CNS, especially when performing heavy compound movements such as squats or deadlifts. Repeated heavy movements can “fry” your CNS and lead to you burning out and feeling overworked.
- Anxiety, confusion and lack of focus. – 3 of the common mental side effects of working out too much, which can lead to issues not only in your training or sleep, but also in your work life.
- Overall feeling of heaviness, tiredness and lack of motivation. – The overall fatigued feeling you get when you are overtired and overtrained.
Solutions & Treatments
Although overtraining is a complex disorder to diagnose, as many individuals might have similar symptoms from other aspects of their life, the solutions are extremely easy to implement. The easiest treatment is to take a few rest days and allow your body to recover. This is the first stage in establishing whether you were in fact overtrained. If you feel better after 2-3 days out of the gym, chances are you were going “too hard” or too frequently and should drop the intensity or change your workout programme.
Deep sleep – During your time off training ensure you are also achieving deep sleep cycles. Deep sleep or REM is when the highest amount of HGH (human growth hormone) are released. HGH is essential for establishing muscle growth and recovery.
Although the solutions are all highly effective, preventing a problem in the first place is always the desired outcome. Below are the key elements behind preventing overtraining:
- Nutrition – As previously mentioned nutrition and eating the correct proportion of foods is the key to avoiding the symptoms of overtraining. Below are some of the top tips I’d recommend as general training nutrition tips.
- 0.6-0.8g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. Ensure you are eating enough protein to allow your muscles to repair themselves. If losing weight is your primary goal, ensure you consume high protein, low carb/fat foods. These are usually very easy to find, e.g. Tuna, Beef, Chicken, Salmon. If you are sturggling to hit your daily protein goals, I recommend picking up some Isolate Whey Protein from Myprotein. Their products are well priced and high quality, although any isolate protein will do the job, this is just who we personally use.
- Consume Carbs – Generally (due to poor dieting information) when an individual is looking to lose weight they drop a lot of carbs out of their diets. Instead of this, we recommend keeping carbs at a steady level and even increasing if you are looking to build muscle and not lose weight.
- Total calories – If you are looking to gain muscle / strength you should be in a slight caloric surplus, this means you consume more calories than you burn and hence gain weight (usually both muscle and a bit of fat.) For more information on this click here.
- Micro-nutrients – The “5 a day” rule. Although I’m not going to recommend you eat exactly 5 pieces of fruit and veg a day, you should mix and vary what you eat so you consume a variety of different foods, all with different micronutriential benefits. If you’re lazy like me you can just pick up some multivitamins.
- Fish Oils – There have been a number of studies conducted on the benefits of fish oil. The primary benefit is improving overall joint health. These are taken by a number of athletes across all levels. The best thing is that fish oil is super cheap! £5 for 90 capsules is what I’d recommend.
- BCAA’s – Branch chain amino acids are a recent phenomenon in the bodybuilding / strength training world. Personally I’m not 100% convinced yet on the overall benefits of them. There have been studies for and against the overall benefits. But generally if you have the budget they can aid in your recovery and hence would be recommended. Again you can pick these up from Myprotein here.
- Creatine – One of the most researched fitness supplements on the planet. The benefits have been proven again and again with no side effects. Creatine is also one of the cheapest products, the form I would recommend is creatine monohydrate. Again you can pick these up from here for only £4!
- Sleep – Getting enough sleep is something a number of individuals struggle with, and also tend to disregard as unimportant. But a number of studies show that high quality sleep is directly related to muscle growth and the release of HGH (human growth hormone.)
- Training Schedule – Base your training routines on the level at which you are at. For example more experienced athletes can train 6 times a week at a higher intensity. If you’re a beginner you should begin by training on a lower intensity training routine.
- Rest days – Ensure you have adequate rest periods where you don’t train at all. I recommend 2-3 entire rest days for beginners and at least 1 full rest day for more experienced athletes.
Although overtraining is a serious issue, don’t fall into the rather large category of people who think they are overtraining but are in-fact are simply suffering DOMs or feeling lethargic from eating or sleeping poorly. Learn to establish the symptoms and differentiate between when you actually might be training too much versus when you might just need a rest day.