Overtraining: Are You Exercising Too Much?
by Nick A. Titley, M.S., NPI-Certified Posture Specialist
Our exercise goals are important to us. We strive and struggle through so much to reach our markers. Many believe that no pain no gain is the answer and the more you train the better your results. The problem with this belief is that you could be putting your body through more stress than needed and you run the risk of sickness and overuse injury.
Are you overtraining? How would you know if you’re overtraining and just exactly what is it? In an article by University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM), overtraining is described as burnout, staleness, a term used by professionals to describe fitness enthusiasts and athletes who suffer impaired performance and increased fatigue due to excessive training routines
Overtraining is often confused for overreaching; according to Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide, overreaching refers to an accumulation of training loads that lead to performance decrements that require days to weeks for recovery. Overreaching is sudden, it can be as simple as drastically increasing your workout load and feeling exhausted to the point where you need to take some serious down time.
Overreaching followed by rest can be positive, but when it’s extreme and combined with additional stressors then Overtraining syndrome (OTS) can occur. OTS usually occurs as a result of rigorous training schedules that dramatically or suddenly increase, lasts for sustained periods of time and are performed at high volumes or high intensities without a sufficient recovery period.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), one of the best ways to avoid overtraining is to pay attention to your exercise program. Excessive volume or intensity may produce less than optimal results and could impair your performance. If physical performance continues to suffer for extended periods of time and you require long recovery periods then overtraining has occurred.
While increasing exercise intensity and volume are positive for your development, ACSM stresses that you adhere to a proper exercise program that provides sufficient volume and intensity i.e. following a workout program that meets your needs, but allows for recovery time and respects your current fitness level. While there are phases within your training program where you may experience short-term performance decrements these can be overcome with several days of decreased exercise stress.
You know you’re overtraining when you can’t seem to perform right, you’re excessively tired, you need longer periods of recovery between workout routines and just don’t feel like exercising. Overtraining syndrome comes with the risk of injury and illness and ACSM says that overtraining has other physiological effects also. Altered resting heart rate, blood pressure and respiration patterns, decreased body fat and post-exercise body weight, chronic fatigue, menstrual disruptions, headaches, muscle soreness and damage, joints aches and pains, and gastrointestinal distress are a few of the effects listed.
While overtraining syndrome is the extreme, many overreach and burn out after going for weeks without proper recovery. There are many exercise programs that have risen to fame because they boast about the fat blasting effects of their workout, but many of the people who need to lose the weight and get into shape can’t aptly perform these programs. Some avid exercisers have also found these programs to be too much and after a few days fall off the program. I watched a personal trainer put his clients through a popular routine and it was cringeworthy watching their body language after barely making it through a routine that wasn’t designed for their fitness level. Some of those clients no longer work with that trainer.
Overtraining yourself is a real dilemma; you’re exposed to so many stimuli and made to believe that harder, faster, heavier are better at the expense of proper nutritional habits, proper alignment and body mechanics and adequate rest time. The results of this are usually suboptimal; if you’re not careful you could become sick and/or injured. Please consult a professional about designing a workout program that fits your needs and pay close attention to the way you’re feeling during and after a workout. You don’t have to train seven days a week to see results and despite what popular voices may say you must ultimately follow a program that suits your specific needs.
- Kinucan, Paige, and Kravitz. "Overtraining: Undermining Success."Overtraining: Undermining Success. University of Maryland Medical Center. Web. 28 July 2015.
- C. Fry Ph.D., Andrew. "Overtraining with Resistance Exercise." Current Comments. American College of Sports Medicine. Web. 28 July 2015.
- Kreher, Jeffrey B., and Jennifer B. Schwartz. “Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide.” Sports Health 4.2 (2012): 128–138. PMC. Web. 27 July 2015.