If your body is exposed to excessive physical strain without adequate time to recover, you’re overtraining. Overtraining is a very common occurrence in athletes of all levels, especially when they’re training with a particular goal in mind. Of course, exercise is all about exposing the body to stress so that it can go stronger, but even in your quest to be at your ultimate performance level, there is a line that you shouldn’t cross.
Differentiating between your upper boundaries where you test and improve your physique, and going beyond this where you can actually cause more harm than good is really important. This is overtraining, and it manifests itself in a variety of ways. Sometimes the specific symptoms differ from person to person, but some are more common than others. Here are five signs of overtraining.
Probably the most common overtraining symptom is experiencing slower recovery and increased muscle soreness for longer periods at a time. It’s normal, even for high-level athletes, to experience some discomfort the day following a workout (known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS), but experiencing this pain for two, three, even four days after is a sign that you’re overtraining. When this happens, the last thing you’ll want to do is more exercise, so you’re likely going into your next workout feeling demotivated or simply unable to push yourself due to the pain.
If the pain from working out ever becomes a problem in your day-to-day life e.g. you’re so sore that getting dressed is painful or tiring, or you experience achy flu-like symptoms it’s a good idea to take it easy until the pain subsides.
Performance plateau or decline
Another common sign is experiencing a drop in performance, or at least a lack of progression. This could manifest itself in terms of strength, speed, stamina, agility, and even reaction time. Having the odd “off day” in the gym or on the track doesn’t mean that you’re overtraining, but if these “off days” persist for a few weeks, it’s highly likely that you’re suffering from overtraining. Your body and your muscles need time to rejuvenate and grow between activities.
A common reaction to reduced performance gains is to increase the frequency or intensity of workouts; the reasoning behind it being: “workouts improve my performance, so more workouts improve my performance even more”. However, in reality, this will only exacerbate your symptoms of overtraining and set you back further.
More frequent injuries
Since overtraining is essentially your body being under an elevated level of stress for an extended period of time, it’s constantly in a weakened state, making you more susceptible to injury. Minor injuries and tweaks become more frequent and take longer to heal due to the lack of rest, which has the knock-on effect of making your more susceptible to further injury, and so on. Someone who is constantly getting injured from their workouts is either overtraining or needs to refine their technique.
Aside from the physical symptoms, you should also keep an eye on your emotions and your mental state. Being more volatile with their emotions, noticeable mood swings, and feeling more irritable and anxious than normal may be a result of training too hard.
Some people experience depression-like symptoms, brought on by the decreased performance we mentioned earlier. In addition, those who are used to exercising a lot will have to take significant rest in order to allow the physical symptoms of overtraining to subside. This change in routine can affect their emotions, causing them to react to situations differently than how they usually would. Exercise is an outlet for many people and serves as a mood booster; being forced to stop training causes them to miss out on this dose of natural endorphins. In some more extreme cases, overtraining can even affect a person’s appetite and their ability to focus on a task.
Counter-intuitively being overstimulated and without adequate rest intervals can wreak havoc on your sleep quality, which is, of course, a vicious circle! This is because the overtraining increases the level of stress hormones you produce, and this hormone imbalance makes it harder for you to get to sleep at night. At the very least it reduces the quality of your sleep. Since sleep is vital for your mind and body’s recovery, this can magnify the physical and emotional symptoms discussed above.
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