Part of my job this past week or so has been to create a poster on the topic of overtraining. It is full of informational material and speaks on a topic that I have experienced for myself, so I thought this would be the perfect place to share it!
Overtraining or overexercising is exactly what the name suggests: too much exercise!
Now, I know – this is a fitness and wellness blog; I love love love fitness and working out, so why am I talking about working out as if it were a bad thing?
Well the truth is, exercise can become a bad thing, especially when it is abused. Just like with anything in life, there is a sweet spot that determines how much is too little and how much is too much.
And when it comes to exercise, that sweet spot can be hard to determine because each body is built to handle different amounts of exercise based on our genes, lifestyle factors, and nutrition. So, what works for one person in terms of exercise volume, duration, type, frequency, and intensity will not necessarily work for another person.
Therein lies the problem: we are told so often that we must “eat less, and exercise more” to be healthy and lose weight. But when does the “exercise more” part become too much?
Like I said above, it’s hard to tell when you’ve crossed over that line and become overtrained, especially because often exercise makes us feel so good!
But, after a certain point that good feeling goes away, and we start to notice the symptoms of overtraining creeping in. These signs and symptoms include:
Lack of motivation
Poor workout performance
Restless sleep or insomnia
Loss of appetite
Elevated resting heart rate
Increased susceptibility to sickness
Irritability and depression
Now, these symptoms will vary person to person, but the overarching theme is clear: overtraining occurs when you have continuously pushed your body passed its limit without rest for an extended period of time. You don’t develop overtraining overnight – it is a process that builds up over the course of weeks, months, and maybe even years!
And that brings up another problem: if we find ourselves in this overtraining state for months or years, by the time we finally start to realize this and make changes, it might be a bit too late. Our body may be able to recover eventually, but it will take a ton of rest, recovery methods, and mental work!
What most people don’t understand about overtraining too is that it is about more than just exercise – it is also a mental game. It becomes an addiction, just like a regular food or drug addiction.
When it comes to recovery, the process will take time, effort, and patience! We don’t develop overtraining overnight, so we can’t expect to recover overnight.
In order to recover and prevent overtraining from happening again in the future, we must:
Rest and recover, taking extra time to unwind and not pushing ourselves past our physical limits
Eat nourishing real, whole foods and avoid stimulants like caffeine, sugar, and processed foods
Overcome and reduce stress – what many people do not realize is that exercise is a stressor on the body, so if you are pushing yourself in the gym for 2-3 hours a day, 7 days a week on top of a stressful job or family life, your body is taking quite a hit
Mix up your fitness routine
Reduce the time spent at the gym
Enjoy walks outside at a leisurely pace
Take rest days and use that time for a massage, yoga, or other self-nourishing activities
Recovering from overtraining is hard - mentally and physically. When our lives revolve around fitness and working out, we have to find things to fill our time. This is where it is crucial to have supportive friends and family, as well as a job that keeps you busy, but not overly stressed.
And last but not least, when it comes to exercise, there are general guidelines that we can use to base our exercise duration each week.
For general health and wellness, aim for 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity activity at least 5 days per week.
For weight loss or weight management, work your way up to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, or 60 minutes, 5 days per week.
For athletic performance, work for 200 or more minutes per week following sports-specific guidelines. It is crucial to watch athletes for overtraining and make sure that they are eating and resting enough to allow their body to heal and recover after games, tough practices, and long workouts.
For everyone, at least two days per week of resistance training (aka strength training) is recommended, along with daily stretching.
Lastly, general recommendations recommend two rest days per week where you avoid extreme activity and keep it light. Consider taking a relaxing yoga class or going for a short walk.
See this chart from ACSM (American Council of Sports Medicine) for more information:
Here are my final thoughts: exercise is a glorious thing - I love it, and I love preaching all about the benefits we get from physical activity.
However, we can take it too far, and that point will vary from person to person. For some people, it could be over an hour a day, but for others, maybe its two hours per day that pushes them over the limit. It's up to you to listen to your body and watch for any signs and symptoms that might pop up. If at any point the desire and need to exercise becomes intertwined with guilt and extreme anxiety, it's time to seek professional help and back off on your training.
In a future Part 2 post, I'll delve more into my own personal journey with overtraining, but for now, please exercise, but don't take it too far :)