Defined in this Rice University paper as “the name given to the emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms due to overtraining that has persisted for weeks to months,” overtraining is more often than not the culmination of inadequate amounts of rest after heavy workouts at high intensities.
This article, Overtraining: Myths, Facts and Fantasies offers some insights into those scenarios where overtraining is cited (or blamed) where it often isn’t the case.
The term “over-reaching” shouldn’t be confused with overtraining, either. Over-reaching can be used as a tool to actually increase performance levels, strength and stamina. If you are serious about your workout, it’s not to say overtraining doesn’t happen, though.
Used incorrectly or not given the proper recovery protocols, and over-reaching can precipitate overtraining. Recovering from overtraining will require significantly more time out of the gym and away from exercise, so heed the warning signs.
So what are the signs that you might be overtraining? As previously mentioned, it spans emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms that can work singularly or in tandem (as the neuroendocrine system will influence many different systems).
Here are some of the more recognizable signs that you might be overtraining.
Extended Muscle Soreness
This is normal. For up to 48 hours after exercise at least. That soreness is testament to your workout getting the desired effect. However, anything past the 72-hour mark and you have overdone it. Your body becomes stronger as it works to repair all of the microtears, but if pain is evident beyond what are considered normal parameters, it’s a sign that there are rebuilding problems.
Decrease in Output
If you can’t get out a set that you were able to crush a week earlier, your body is indicating it doesn’t have the necessary reserves. It can be accompanied by joint aches or stiffness, as well as an inexplicable muscle fatigue or “heaviness.” These are indicators that your muscles haven’t had enough time to get back to somewhere near their optimal levels.
Depressed Immune System
If you’re taking longer than normal to battle off something as simple as a common cold, it is another sign that your body is routing too many of its resources to recovery, and there aren’t enough in reserve for other functions.
You might find that the endorphin release that used to get you jazzed after a workout simply doesn’t have the same effect. In fact, you feel drained. You might even find it tough to get yourself into the gym. And an overworked system lacks energy and rest, which can lead to depression. Something that should be taken seriously.
Some people who overtrain will become uncharacteristically irritable, too. Little things become reason to explode or over-react.
Sleeplessness or Feeling Unrested
Overtraining can lead to a stress response from your adrenals, releasing cortisol (the stress hormone). This elevated cortisol level interrupts normal sleep patterns. Overtraining can lead to waking up unrefreshed or even fatigued, as the body is unable to use the time to rebuild or recover with diminished reserves.
Heart Rate Irregularity
If you wake up with your pulse higher than normal, or racing, your nervous system has reset its default as a response to your increased metabolic rate. Alternatively, you may find that your pulse doesn’t elevate quite as high when working out, as your body is purposefully depressing your heart rate so as to throttle back on how much energy goes out.
Overtraining is something that should be taken for the serious threat it poses to exercisers and athletes alike. Heed your body’s advice, and if any of these symptoms (or a combination of them) arise, take the week off and see how you feel. If not, you might find yourself taking the next 12 weeks or so off.
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