- 8 warning signs of overtraining
- How to prevent overtraining
- How to recover from overtraining
Warning Signs of Overtraining
Professional athletes are born competitive. After all, they won’t win competitions without this trait. Competitiveness, however, can be their Achilles’ heel as it often leads to overtraining. Many athletes go overboard and forget to pay attention to their bodies when training and competing.
If you’re an athlete determined to effectively train at a higher level and succeed, train right and smart—eliminate overtraining from your routine by knowing the signs:
Appetite + Weight Loss
Regular or normal exercise usually leads to a healthy appetite. But overtraining can cause appetite and weight loss because constant rigorous physical movement forces the body to consistently draw on its energy reserves, preventing you from balancing your energy intake and outtake. When your appetite or weight loss becomes severe, you may develop nutritional deficiencies like anemia.
Appetite and weight loss are some of the early warning signs of overtraining. According to a study from researchers in New Mexico, “Recreational enthusiasts should be aware that exercising, even at moderate efforts, stresses the body and results in increased metabolism, additional heat production, and a multitude of physiological and hormonal changes requiring an increased demand for fuel and a balanced diet.” As such, you can tell early if you’re overtraining when your diet changes.
Unusual Soreness And Other Body Pains
Identifying the causes of body pains due to overtraining can be quite tricky since soreness and strains are our body’s natural responses to constant physical movements. Regular and intense workouts can cause soreness or injuries, depending on your chosen activities and physical capabilities.
When overtraining, however, your muscles may encounter microtears and soft tissue injuries. It can even cause body pain and aches for prolonged periods, so monitor your recovery period after rigorous physical training. Watch out for unusual and prolonged body pains that can’t be treated at home. Above all, know the difference between good and bad pain.
Poor Sleeping Habits
Sleep affects an athlete’s performance and vice versa. Your sleeping habits can tell you about the condition of your body, so overtraining can negatively affect the quality of your sleep. It can ultimately lead to insomnia or constantly disturbed sleeping patterns. When your stress hormone levels are being disrupted due to overtraining, you’ll usually find it hard to relax at bedtime.
“Sleep quantity and quality declines following augmented increases (+30%) in training load, and poor sleep is a common complaint among overreached and/or overtrained athletes. Regardless of whether reduced sleep is a cause or effect of overreaching and/or overtraining, it is possible that measures of sleep could serve as an indicator of the presence of overreaching and/or overtraining,” confirmed a study published in the US National Library of Medicine.
Monitoring the quality and quantity of your sleep every bedtime during your training months might provide a clue if you’re overtraining or not. As much as possible, avoid drinking too many sleeping pills as it might only put bandaid solutions to actual problems and may prevent you from identifying other signs of overtraining.
Higher or Lower Resting Heart Rate
Resting heart rate is the number of times an individual’s heart beats per minute (BPM) when at rest. The average resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 BPM. Well-trained or professional athletes may have a resting heart lower than 60 because their heart is much more accustomed to stress.
The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends athletes to have a resting heart rate that falls between 77% and 93% of their maximum heart rate for vigorous exercise. So, amateur and professional athletes are encouraged to measure their heart rate during and after training or competitions. Knowing your own maximal heart rate will give you an idea of what your heart can do under extreme stress or how far your body can go when training. Moreover, it can also help find causes of symptoms, such as dizziness, palpitations, fainting, and chest pain for injured or unwell athletes.
If your average heart rate keeps on changing after every exercise—and not for the better, you’re probably overtraining. A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that an increase in resting heart rate is one of the main signs of overtraining. The study concluded that “an increased morning (resting) heart rate, or more specifically, an increase of more than five beats per minute is indicative of an overtrained state.”
Mood changes are a combination of your physical, mental, and emotional conditions, so it’s a no-brainer that overtraining can also affect your mood since your behavior is controlled by your stress hormone levels. Irritability, anxiousness, and agitation are some common mood changes you may encounter when overtraining. In severe cases, overtraining can lead to depression and mental fog.
You, by yourself, may find it difficult to track your personal mood changes. But the people around you, especially friends and family members, can tell if your behavior is changing. It’s still best, however, to know if your mood changes and attitude are caused by overtraining.
“The performer [athlete] needs to constantly search for which specific moods most accurately reflect their recovery state, and to understand what the intensity of these moods may represent,” said scientists and researchers from a published book entitled ‘Coping and Emotions in Sport’.
This is a no-brainer. Overtraining can easily lead to fatigue as intense physical activities stress the body. Feeling tired after a regular exercise is normal, but fatigue actually happens when your body finds it challenging to fully recover after a workout or training. When you feel excessively tired or drained every night after each intense workout, then you’re experiencing early signs of overtraining and fatigue.
“Athletes experience minor fatigue and acute reductions in performance as a consequence of the normal training process. When the balance between training stress and recovery is disproportionate, it is thought that overreaching and possibly overtraining may develop,” confirmed a study published in the US National Library of Medicine.
Further, overtraining backed by loss of appetite can expedite fatigue as you don’t get enough fuel for your body. When you overtrain and eat less, you force your body to use all the carbohydrate, protein, and fat reserves for energy consumption.
Decline In Performance
Since you experience all negative physical, mental, and emotional changes when overtraining, it’s no surprise that you may also see a decline in performance. When you lack sleep and appetite, you have less strength and endurance, making it difficult for you to perform at your peak and reach your training goals.
A decline in performance caused by overtraining can be long-lasting. Sometimes, it takes several weeks or months to recover from it. As such, it’s best to identify signs of overtraining and performance decline when you’re actually training and working out. Notice your focus, response times, speed, and other physical and mental factors.
Delays in Recovery
Lack of sleep, appetite, and rest will delay the recovery process of your body after overtraining. You prevent your body from having the rest and recovery it needs after each session. So the next time you give your body the time to finally rest, recovery processes like muscle and tissue repair, hormone growth, and insulin production will all be delayed. Delays in recovery will hinder you from getting back on track—and even from attending the competitions you’ve actually trained for.
For reference, recovery time depends on the type of exercise and muscle groups used during training. Age and current health conditions also play a role. Most recovery sessions from normal training generally take two days to two weeks. But for overtraining, it may take between 4 to 12 weeks.
Following the recommended recovery period may help an athlete recover from the repercussions of overtraining. However, if additional stressors emerge, the problem may lead to Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) and bring more sub-problems on physical, mental, and emotional health.
“Overreaching [or overtraining] followed by appropriate rest can ultimately lead to performance increases. However, if overreaching is extreme and combined with an additional stressor, overtraining syndrome (OTS) may result. OTS may be caused by systemic inflammation and subsequent effects on the central nervous system, including depressed mood, central fatigue, and resultant neurohormonal changes,” warned a study published in the 2012 edition of Sports Health journal.
How to Avoid Overtraining
You can eliminate almost all chances of overtraining if you take care of your physical health. It’s as simple as that. However, many competing athletes overlook this because of their athletic goals—the urge to become better and succeed. Don’t worry, you can do all that and more without exceeding your limits. Here are ways to avoid overtraining while reaching your athletic goals:
Set Realistic Goals
Before you begin your training plan leading to competition, list down your goals—and make them realistic. Realistic goals that can be achieved within the time period required can prevent you from practicing too soon and too harshly. You can take things slow while still achieving results when you have a realistic main goal and subgoals during training.
Have A Training Log
If you have a tangible record of your days, weeks, and months of training, you’ll easily identify the challenges your body has been through and still experiencing during training. Through this, you can easily schedule your rest days and come back stronger. A daily pattern can help you follow the right amount of training and rest you need.
Improve Your Pre and Post-Workout Nutrition
Having enough body fuel will help you recover faster, allowing your body to eliminate early and moderate symptoms of overtraining. Review your current pre-workout and post-workout nutrition plans. Then, maintain or update them based on your training plan and athletic goals. Make sure that the amount of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and other nutrients you consume is enough to fuel your body.
Snooze And Unwind
Give your body the rest and leisure activities it deserves after training. Make sure to get the right amount of sleep each night to recover faster and allow your muscles to repair themselves. Health experts recommend 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night after training. Aside from taking the time off, try to participate in relaxing activities that can calm your body and mind, such as deep-tissue massages and yoga sessions.
Listen To Your Body
You can consciously skip all the other tips mentioned here, except this one. Your body will tell you if your training is enough and you have reached your limits. If you feel extremely tired and your muscles are really sore, then you need to rest and recover. Again, as we’ve mentioned before, it all comes down to identifying the difference between good and bad pain.
How to Recover From Overtraining
Preventing overtraining is easier said than done, especially if you have a serious or huge competition coming up. If you have a habit of overtraining and are still in the process of breaking out of it, here are effective ways to recover.
Take A Full Week Off
Completely stop your training program if you notice signs of overtraining. Take a full week off or extend if necessary, and just do nothing. Grab the chance to properly rest and recover, while fixing your sleeping pattern and athletic diet.
Modify Training Plan
Your entire training plan and athletic goals are to blame for overtraining. If you’re already starting to feel the previously mentioned signs of overtraining, then it’s finally time to cut back on your training sessions. Reduce your workout sets and reps, duration, and intensity. Continue to adjust all variables until you recover.
Sleep More Throughout the Recovery Period
You can exceed the number of days recommended by experts to properly recover from overtraining. Remove all distractions during your bedtime, such as smartphones and television, and snooze off. Aim to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep.
Relieve Tension And Stress
The reason behind your tendency to overtrain causes tension and stress, preventing you from resting and recovering properly. As such, try to do some stress-relieving activities and unwind more often. Do any type of activity that won’t hinder your physical recovery.
See A Professional
If you have OTS or you feel like you’re not recovering properly, you can seek help from a professional. Doctors, coaches, therapists, psychologists, and other relevant professionals can help identify the physical, mental, and emotional factors affecting your recovery and tendency to overtrain.
Overtraining is just one of the many problems professional athletes face. Due to the demands of training and the pressure of competitions, many athletes fall prey to various mental and physical problems. The best way to overcome these challenges is to recognize them, take immediate action, and break the cycle.