Overtraining and Me (And You Too)


I was talking with a good friend of mine a few weeks ago about overtraining. What is overtraining you ask? Overtraining is inflicting more stress and/or trauma (physical or otherwise) on your body without sufficient rest for it recover and repair the damage being done, and continuing to do so. In short, working out too much and not resting enough.

You didn’t know there was such a thing as  exercising too much did ya? Well trust me, there is. I feel it is important for me to point out that overtraining  doesn’t happen overnight, in one or two workouts or even in a week or two, so for someone  to say that  they are going to avoid  regular, consistent exercise just to avoid becoming overtrained is just someone’s way of  looking for a way out of exercising…and I’ll have none of that!

Regular exercise is good for you (if you’ve gotten anything out of reading my blog I hope it is that much). But while regular exercise is good for you, you need to remember that part of what exercise does is break down your body. The rest and recovery you take after the exercise is where the improvements are actually made and where you become stronger and healthier. Ah-ha! (Light bulb moment huh?)

While exercise is definitely the most common form of physical stress placed on a person who is overtrained, there are other stresses to take into account that can easily put you at risk of becoming overtrained. They include stress from family situations, relationship issues, money issues, commitments at work or anything else that causes you to worry (especially if you worry excessively). All three types of stress (physical, mental and emotional) contribute to your body’s overall health.

So how do you know if you are overtrained? Well, there aren’t any test that everyone agrees on yet that prove overtraining beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, the list of physical as well as psychological symptoms should be able to help you  narrow it down. Some of you will read through the list and not feel like any of the symptoms describe  you, if so that’s awesome! Others will read through the lists and notice that  anywhere from a few to several (or even most)  of the symptoms feel like an accurate description, if so I would recommend backing off of the exercise and take some time off for your body to recover. However, if you find yourself nodding your head and thinking to yourself, “Oh my goodness, I’ve never even met Laura. How did she describe me in every detail on her website?” Stay out of the gym…you’re overtrained big time and your body needs time to repair all the damage you’ve done. Harsh reality to take huh? Tell me about it. Now let me be honest.

I spout fitness knowledge day in and day out. I am asked for advice from people on what to do to achieve their desired fitness results constantly. I help them fine tune nutrition and adjust their exercise routines all the time…but very rarely do I take a look at my own workout routine. So after having this conversation I started telling you about with Lizzy, I really started  looking at my own workout schedule…at how much was I working out, what the intensity was, how much rest was  I giving my body to recover? None of the answers were very good. When I sat down with a calculator and added it all up, I was working out even more than I thought I was. Red flag number 1 was the quantity of workouts in a given time period.

Those of you who have worked out with me before know my motto (adopted from a dear friend who I love to death) “Go Big or Go Home!”..which simply put means; if I’m working out…I’m working out. There is no half way for me, it’s all or nothing. My mother taught me a long time ago that anything worth doing is worth doing right. I apply that to everything I do, including my workouts. Red flag number 2 was (way) too much intensity in a given time period.

When it came time to answer the third question, I found myself making a face as I read it. I already knew the answer to this one, in fact everyone knew the answer to this one. No way in hell was I getting enough rest to allow my body to recover from what I was putting it through. Red flag number 3 was not only a lack of sleep (or any rest really) but also a  lack of doing anything other than working out.

So, I sat there at my desk knowing exactly where I was at, knowing what I had told Lizzy and knowing I now had to apply it to myself. Talk about a crappy day….. I brought up google and searched symptoms of overtraining. Kinda ironic since I already knew the signs and symptoms of being overtrained, huh?

As I sat there waiting for it to pop up, I  asked myself why I was searching it. I even told myself I knew exactly what was wrong…but still I sat there waiting for what Google had to show me. I quickly came to the decision that I just needed to see it in black and white so I wouldn’t second guess myself and my self diagnosis of being overtrained. Sure enough, google delivered 92,500 results in about .12 seconds and there they were, right in front of my face. Article after article, list after list reaffirmed what I already knew.

Okay, I’ve shared the list that blew me away  the most with you below. Go ahead, read through and see how you rank in the overtrained category. You may be closer to being overtrained than you think. As I read through the list…I was amazed…almost every single one applied to me (I think there was only one that didn’t). In fact, I’ve put my sassy little thoughts and comments as I read through the list in parenthesis next to each symptom…feel free to read through them or ignore them completely. The choice is yours!

Physical Signs & Symptoms of Overtraining

  • Elevated resting pulse / heart rate (Check! The doctor was right…..Hmmm, weird.)
  • Frequent minor infections (Yeah! Stupid freaking sinus infection that feels like it will never end.)
  • Increased susceptibility to colds and flu’s (Only if every other weekend counts…that’s not normal right?)
  • Increases in minor injuries (Uhmmm, yeah.)
  • Chronic muscle soreness or joint pain (CHECK! So I don’t have to live this way forever?)
  • Exhaustion (Double Check!!   Okay, one more check mark just for good measure.)
  • Lethargy (So that’s why I felt like a slug  most days.)
  • Weight loss (Yep, even though I  haven’t been trying to and people keep telling me I am starting to look sick.   Aren’t friends are great?)
  • Appetite loss (Check. I didn’t used to think that  food was over rated.)
  • Insatiable thirst or dehydration (So that’s why a gallon plus a day isn’t cutting it!)
  • Intolerance to exercise (Ahhhhhhh! Uh-huh, that explains  a lot!)
  • Decreased performance (Uhmmm yeah! Which has been pissing me off  too. I’ve worked  so hard to get to where I am…well, where I was.)
  • Delayed recovery from exercise (Delayed?!!? How about nonexistent?)

Psychological Signs & Symptoms of Overtraining

  • Fatigued, tired, drained, lack of energy (YES!!)
  • Reduced ability to concentrate (After reading this one, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought to myself; See? I knew it! I’m  not ADHD!)
  • Apathy or no motivation (Well that explains why I really didn’t care one darn bit if the ~insert naughty word here~ Christmas Tree got put up…or taken down for that matter.)
  • Irritability (No comment. But to be safe, put a check mark  by it.)
  • Anxiety (I plead the 5th! But again, safety first so check mark it.)
  • Depression (So my life doesn’t suck? Sweet!!)
  • Headaches (Ahhhhhhh! Okay, that’s good to know. I was starting to think there wasn’t enough Excedrin on the planet to tackle these headaches from hell I’ve been having.)
  • Insomnia (Seriously? That is so NOT my problem!)
  • Inability to relax (That’s why my shoulders have been in my ears for the last two years…)
  • Twitchy, fidgety or jittery (See! I’m really not ADHD…more proof!)

So how did you do? I hope you did better than me, that’s for sure! If you came out of reading the list unscathed, good job and keep up the good work! You are giving your body a good amount of exercise and sufficient time for it to recover, and it will reward you with the benefits of doing so.

If you had to check mark a third or more of the symptoms, you’re headed to an ugly place. Take a break from  your regular exercise and give your body a chance to recover and repair itself. When you start back into your workouts, cut back on your frequency or intensity and make sure you allow yourself enough time in between GRADUAL increases in either factor (but never both at the same time).

If you came out anywhere close to where I did, you need to stop exercising immediately and take at least a week off from the gym and from working out period. Like me, you’ve pushed it way too far and that can only be undone with time off. Try not to think about exercise, there’s no point in feeling guilty about not working out for a few days. (On the other hand, I know all too well that is much easier said, than done.) While you’re resting, try to get as much sleep and time spent relaxing as possible. Go to bed as early as manageable and make sure to catch a nap whenever you can. Make sure to increase your calories a bit and focus on highly nutritious foods (I also took  extra vitamins and minerals).

When you do start working out again, you can’t just head straight back into what you just got yourself out of. You have to ease yourself back into it gradually. Most of the research I found stated that it’s okay to start off with the same intensity OR length of time OR frequency of the exercise you were doing before you took a break and that you should maintain that level for a week or two before gradually increasing any one of those factors.

Sometimes, whether you are overtrained or not, it’s a good idea to have a rest. It gives your mind and your body a chance to fully recover from any problems, injuries or damage that may be building up without you even knowing or feeling it. It also revives you, gives you renewed motivation and dedication to help you to look forward to not only your exercise, but your whole life again. Don’t underestimate the benefits of good rest, they are phenomenal. A very smart man once told me, “Laura, optimum results are achieved with a combination of the right amount of work and the right amount of rest.” and ya know what? He was right. 🙂

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