How to recognise and avoid overtraining

Despite the dangers of overtraining, there are plenty of overachievers, workout addicts, and top athletes who are pushing themselves past their limit.   Overtraining can come in a variety of forms, all the way from someone who can’t get enough of lifting weights at the gym to someone who pushes past the breaking point as a long-distance runner. Regardless of the form of exercise, overtraining can cause serious health issues. The good news is there are concrete steps you can take to avoid overtraining and keep your workouts as healthy and safe as possible.

What Is Overtraining?

Everybody has a different limit, but there’s a relatively simple way to understand overtraining. It’s usually seen as the point when an athlete’s abilities plateau, either due to excessive workouts or do to an inability to perform at a constant level.

Another way to understand overtraining, is to recognize that training equals exercise plus rest. If your body doesn’t get enough rest, you’re not actually training. After all, the recovery and rest element of training is vital, and helps your body’s cells repair damage and recover from the stresses you put on it.

In general, if you’re doing no more than 5 hours a week of exercise, you’re probably not in danger of overtraining. That being said, there is a serious problem for top athletes and fitness buffs who continuously push themselves.  Within the body, overtraining can result in a variety of physiological changes, including systemic inflammation due to the release of cytokines, protein deficiencies, and overload of the nervous system.

One of the other dangers of overtraining is actually addiction. Many people love working out actually get a “high” from it, and it’s not just “runner’s high” either—street workout athletes also love the feeling of the “pump” they get. In fact, exercise is known to release dopamine and natural endorphins, which can actually wire the brain to want more exercise even when the body actually just needs rest. Some people are just so driven that they can’t “turn it off”, and end up going to a street workout park at an unhealthy rate.

In fact, a study showed that an extreme bout of overtraining can even require recovery times of weeks and even months, underlining why it’s not only dangerous, but can actually lead to long-term performance loss.

How To Recognize Overtraining?

For many athletes, the early stages of overtraining are sometimes hard to read. That being said, there are clear symptoms to overtraining, and they need to be heeded. Here are some to keep your eye on:

  • Muscle Soreness And Fatigue – Muscle soreness is common after a hard workout. However, chronic muscle soreness is another story. If you’re sore 72 hours after a workout, it’s a sign that you’re not resting enough and allowing your muscles to be repaired. If you also find yourself constantly fatigued and experiencing low energy in conjunction with your workouts, it’s a sign you need to give your body a rest.
  • Excessive Thirst – If you find yourself constantly reaching for water because you can’t quench your thirst, chances are you’ve entered a catabolic state due to overtraining.
  • Elevated Resting Heart Rate – A common sign of overtraining is a change is an elevated resting heart rate early in the morning. If your heart rate has increased, it might be your body attempting to change its metabolic state to meet your increased exercise demands. Try measuring your heart rate before you stand up in the morning for an accurate measurement.
  • Mental Changes  – According to this study it’s also possible you experience an altered mental state due to overtraining, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and even a serious breakdown. You may also notice a compulsion to constantly exercise that borders on obsession.
  • Hormonal Response – In response to overstress, your body will produce more cortisol, which is the hormone associated with flight-or-fight. Excessive cortisol production due to overtraining can be harmful to the athlete’s body. Cortisol increases fat storage, reduces fat burning, reduces testosterone production, and can also spike insulin production. This will make you want to eat excessive amounts of carbohydrates, which is undesirable for most bodybuilders and athletes.
  • Insomnia – Although there can be many reasons behind insomnia, overtraining is definitely one of them.
  • Increased Susceptibility To Injury And Sickness – If you’re overtraining, studies have shown that intense training can weaken the immune system and contribute to infections.  On top of experiencing illness, you may also suffer from increased injuries and longer recovery times.

How To Avoid Overtraining?

For many, knowing when to stop isn’t so easy. However, if you consider yourself serious about street workouts and health, it’s time to put an end to overtraining.

The first, and perhaps most important step, is to allow adequate time for rest during training. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with pushing yourself through “over-reaching”. In fact, over-reaching is often how you experience gains in muscle mass, increase your endurance, flexibility and explosive power. However, you need to ensure you’re getting adequate sleep and rest between training sessions.

Second, if you experience any of the symptoms outlined in the previous section, it’s time to step back and realize you’re going too hard. In all reality, you’re probably reducing your athletic performance. If your body is really telling you that you don’t want to go to the gym or start exercising, it’s probably something you should listen to.

Third, it’s important to target different muscles groups when you workout. If you’re always working your chest muscles every time you hit the park, you’re going to quickly strain the same muscles over and over again. By segmenting your workouts between upper body, core body and lower body exercises, you can help reduce some negative effects of overtraining.

The fourth consideration is diet and nutrition. The effects of overtraining can be amplified if you’re not taking in enough calories or getting the right macronutrient profile. You can also take certain supplements, such as whey protein, to ensure you have the right mix of amino acids and vitamins to repair and grow muscle tissue.

Ultimately, ensuring you’re not overtraining has a lot to do with bring a smart mindset to training and realizing your limits. With a bit of foresight and self-awareness, you should be able to recognize when you’re overtraining and take the right steps to correct your behavior.