Have you ever finished a workout and felt like you need to take a nap? Or conversely, do you have an unusually tough time getting your workout started? Both of these are signs of overtraining, and whether you've been training for years, or you finally started the workout routine you've always wanted, they are signs you should be aware of. Like anything in life, too much of even a good thing is bad, and exercise is no exception.
You might be thinking that overtraining isn't something you need to worry about. You barely have enough time in the day to fit in the short workout you do get in—how can you possibly be working out too much? Unfortunately there are other factors that can contribute to overtraining. Read on to discover if you're overtraining and what you can do about it.
1. You feel exhausted after working out
Exercising releases serotonin in the brain, and regular exercise will increase your regular serotonin levels. After working out, this spike in serotonin should give you an energy boost. If you're feeling mentally exhausted after you work out to the point that you have to sleep, you might be overtraining.
2. Your legs (or entire body) feel "heavy" when you work out
Some of us take a little bit of self-motivation to get working out, but if your legs feel physically heavy, or you're body in general feels like it's taking extra effort to get moving, overtraining could be a factor.
3. You’re losing physical & mental motivation to work out
Taking this a step further, you might be losing motivation to work out entirely. If you're in a set routine and you aren't overtraining, you will usually be excited for your work out that day, not only mentally, but physically. If this lack of motivation is carrying on throughout your day, it could be a sign of overtraining.
4. You're sore for days on end
Soreness is a sign of a good workout, and many people learn to enjoy slight soreness the day after a workout. When soreness is lasting for days on end, however, it might be time to address your routine or your diet. It's especially important to watch out for any bone or joint soreness.
5. You're not seeing results
Another one of the symptoms of overtraining is that you are no longer seeing results in some form, whether its fat loss, muscle gain, or performance results. In a weight loss scenario, you might actually be gaining weight despite intense workouts. This goes back to the cave man days. Your body is reacting to a nutrient deficit and storing as much as it can so you can survive. Biology hasn't quite caught up to our modern times. In the case of building muscle or improving performance, your body isn't being given the time or energy it needs to regenerate muscle properly, so you won't see gains.
6. You get sick easily
Overtraining puts your body under serious stress and stress has a detrimental effect on your immune system. Obviously you're not invincible, and you will get sick once in a while. But if it's become a regular thing, or you just can’t kick a cough or the sniffles, overtraining might be the culprit.
7. Your resting heartbeat isn't normal
Heart rate monitors are getting popular these days, especially among fitness enthusiasts. One of the reasons is that a heart rate monitor allows you to see if your resting heartbeat is normal. Of course you don’t need one of these fancy devices to figure out your beats per minute. Just a finger on your pulse and a clock.
8. You're irritable
Why are people so annoying lately? It's unlikely everyone in your life is conspiring against you to push your buttons. It's more likely that you're overtraining. If you're putting too much stress on your nervous system, it could cause you to be irritable, aggressive, or even depressed.
9. You're restless or having trouble sleeping
When you're training right, you should fall asleep relatively easily. After all, you've just gone through a full day that could include work, school, errands, and chores; and you threw in an intense workout. Not being able to fall asleep is—you got it—another symptom of overtraining. This is often coupled with restlessness throughout the day as well.
How Can You Counteract Overtraining?
If you suspect you're overtraining, the first thing you need to do is take a break. Rest is the only way your body can recover effectively and get you back into your routine. How long you need to rest could depend. Usually taking a week off is enough, but if you jump back into training and are experiencing any of the above symptoms again, you should take another week. If you begin training again and you see that you've made a slight gain in performance, that's the best sign, but for the most part you are just looking for similar performance to what you experienced before the symptoms of overtraining set in. It's also important to get your sleep in every night when you’re training intensely because this is when your body will repair itself most rapidly.
Rest is crucial, but to keep from slipping back into a catabolic state, you need to also have proper diet. Diet will largely depend on what your goals are, but at the very least you need to be giving your body enough calories (energy) to keep up with the intensity of your workouts. This can sometimes be a slippery slope, especially if you are trying to lose weight, because you will want to have a slight caloric deficit in your diet, but not enough that your body can't perform. If you are trying to gain muscle, keeping up your normal diet in your off week will help give your body the energy it needs to repair muscle damage from lifting and overtraining, and you might even consider upping your caloric intake and protein as you make gains.