motion blurred imagery of yellow leaves on white barked aspen trees

The Pitfalls of Overtraining

The benefits of exercise are no secret. We know we need to stay active to stay healthy and lean. But, it’s easy to fall into a common exercise trap—we think that if a little is good, then a lot is better. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sometimes more is better (think vegetables), but sometimes more is just more—and too much exercise can actually have harmful effects. 

What is Overtraining?
Overtraining is a condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an exercise program exceeds the capacity for recovery. We become over-trained when we fail to build adequate rest opportunities into our exercise regimen. Overtraining can result in physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms and can actually impede fitness progress. In other words, when we do too much, we run the risk of losing—rather than gaining—fitness.

What Are the Symptoms of Overtraining?
Often, we don’t realize that we are overtraining until it’s too late and our body cries out for mercy. If you’ve been training for an event or simply exercising frequently, it’s easy to become engrossed in your regimen without realizing that you’re actually overtraining.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may be overtraining:

  • Decreased performance
  • Weight changes (surprisingly, when we are overtraining, we can actually gain, rather than lose weight)
  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Depression
  • Increased incidence of colds or other illnesses

If you’re experiencing two or more of these symptoms, or you just feel “different,” you may be overdoing it.

Recovering from Overtraining
The best remedy for overtraining is preventing its occurrence in the first place by building adequate rest into your exercise regimen. If, however, you have become over-trained, the only thing to do is stop and rest.

  • First, take a complete break from exercise to allow time for recovery. There is no fixed amount of time that works for everyone. Start with a week and see how you feel after that. Returning to intense exercise too soon will only prolong the problem.
  • Increase the amount of sleep you are getting.
  • Assess your diet to ensure you are consuming adequate calories and nutrients.
  • When you resume exercising, start slowly and ease into an exercise routine.

Preventing Overtraining
In the future, paying closer attention to your diet, sleep habits, and exercise routine can help prevent overtraining.

  • Build variety into your exercise routine. Be sure to alternate high-intensity workouts, with lower-intensity workouts and rest.
  • Maintain healthy sleep patterns to allow the body to rest and regenerate.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Monitor your resting heart rate each morning. If your heart rate is 10% (or more) above normal, your body needs a rest day. Listen to it.

Moderation is the key to building fitness. Sometimes less really is more. Listen to your body and choose wisely.