It’s been said that in life over-ambition can sometimes backfire. This happens often with many athletes and fitness enthusiasts who are so driven about achieving amazing results that they lose themselves in exercise and end up in a constant state of being broken down and risking injury. As a health professional, I witness this condition of overtraining all to often in the fitness community.
I’d like this article to be an interruption to those of you who may be caught up in the mindset that if you’re not training intensely all the time that you will lose the results you have and not improve at all. In order to make great progress, we need to understand that intense activity creates a stress response in the body that requires 3 key elements: Sufficient Rest, Optimal Healing, and Proper nutrition.
Effects of Intense Training
After lifting heavy weights or completing a hard run, we may often be left with muscle soreness. This is from the muscle fibers being slightly torn from the stress of the activity, which creates an initial inflammatory response followed by the remodeling of the tissues. That process can creates more muscles cells and therefore more force creating ability so that we become stronger and more resilient.
Most high intensity or long duration activity is creating stress in the body that will cause a breaking down of physical attributes and a depletion of energetic resources that will require replenishing.
For the healing processes to be effective and efficient requires both adequate recovery time and adequate nutrients. Otherwise, the overreaching efforts of excessive exercise will become counterproductive as you eventually fall into a state of overtraining.
Effects from Overtraining
Moving into advanced stages of overtraining you could expect to see a dramatic decrease in performance, undesired physical changes, and loss of motivation. Overtraining leads to shifts in hormonal responses where testosterone (muscle building hormone) levels drop, cortisol (fat storing hormone) levels rise, and the immune system becomes taxed. This combination inhibits healing and regeneration, resulting in loss of muscle, slowed metabolism, increased fat storage, raised overall inflammation, and increased vulnerability to illness. We can also expect to see a loss in coordination of muscles, recovery, and desire to train. In summary, your body and mind will not be able to work for you in the way that you want or need.
Signs of Overtraining
To avert those undesirable effects and actually get the results that you’re working hard for, then you need to take the proper steps to heal and recover.
5 Steps of How to avoid overtraining:
- Schedule your rest. This includes planned periods of recovery in an exercise program, and having a consistent sleep schedule. As a result your corstisol levels will stay down, and growth hormone levels will stay up to promote healing and the desired gains.
- Progress Appropriately. Effects of overtraining can be also be seen if progressions are made too fast in a program. Get on a training program that gives proper progressions for your body, prior fitness level, and goals.
- Optimize recovery. Implement daily the use of self-massage using tools like a foam roller, and stretch especially after exercise.
- Change up your program. Every 2-6 weeks modify any of the following: equipment, training surface, environmental conditions, muscle contraction emphasis, patterns of movement, order of exercise, intensity (load), volume (sets & reps), or recovery time.
- Stabilize Your Blood Sugar. Eat consistent small meals throughout the day (every 3-4 hours) with the proper ratios of protein, fat, and carbohydrates and the correct number of calories for your body and activity level. This will ensure that the body does not become catabolic (state of cellular breakdown), and lose valuable muscle. It will also support a strong immune system. Nutrition is often undervalued, as it is a critical factor to achieve desired physical and performance goals.
There is almost no better feeling than that post-exercise sense of accomplishment along with the endorphin high. As amazing as that can be, it can also lead to an addiction and a sense of invincibility that puts the body at risk. We may overestimate what we think our body can handle, or we may get a poor representation of what a workout schedule should look like from athletes using illegal performance enhancing drugs to promote their healing and recovery.
I realize that to achieve great results it takes great passion and pushing yourself past the limits of comfort, and I applaud those who do. However, it may also be more difficult to notice when we’ve crossed that line from being healthy and productive into being excessive and damaging. Whether you are a recreational fitness enthusiast, or an amateur or professional athlete it can be easy to go down that path and get thrown off track left being counterproductive for a period of time. Climbing out of a hole that you dug yourself is never welcome especially because it’s avoidable.
I suggest that you follow the above steps to so that you can still have the satisfaction of accomplishment and achieve you goals in a safe and effective way. Great results aren’t created by doing more work, but taking a smarter approach to be the best that you can be.
All the best in improving your inner-athlete!