In a world where fitness is becoming more of a way of life, it can be challenging to know when enough is enough. Pushing your body through workout stress is not only encouraged, but when it’s done safely, you will actually see more muscle growth (1). However, overtraining is a common occurrence in the fitness community, and it can lead to burnout, decreased performance or even injury.
In this blog post, we will explore what overtraining is, how it can affect your body, and most importantly, how you can avoid it.
What is Overtraining?
Overtraining occurs when you don't allow your body adequate time to heal and replenish energy stores after a workout. Overtraining can happen from training too hard, too frequently, or for too long without proper rest.
Now, this is not to be confused with progressive overload, which is the gradual increase in resistance and stress placed on your muscles during a workout to increase muscle growth. I go into more detail on how to safely incorporate progressive overload in a previous blog post.
Depending on the severity of overtraining, you could see several days, weeks or months of recovery (2).
How can Overtraining Affect Your Body?
Overtraining can affect your body in various ways, both mentally and physically, and present itself differently from person to person. Some common symptoms of overtraining include:
Constant fatigue (3)
Decreased performance (2,3)
Reduced appetite (3)
Lack of/restless sleep (3)
One of the most significant negative outcomes of overtraining is burnout. Burnout can cause individuals to lose motivation and stop exercising altogether, and can also cause long-term damage to your body, leading to chronic pain and other health problems.
How to Avoid Overtraining?
Avoiding overtraining is essential to maintain long-term fitness and health, so here are some tips to help you prevent overtraining:
1. Listen to Your Body
Since you respond differently to training than I do, the most important thing you can do to avoid overtraining is to listen to your body throughout your training. Pay attention to any signs of fatigue or unexpected stress/injury, and adjust your training or seek professional advice accordingly.
2. Rest and Recover
Rest in-between sets and post-workout recovery are crucial parts of avoiding overtraining. Make sure you're giving your body enough time to recover by taking an active or non-active rest day or two each week.
Prioritizing sleep is also essential to help your body recover properly. Based on Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines, aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep regularly (4).
3. Proper Nutrition
Proper nutrition is essential to avoid overtraining. Your body needs adequate nutrients to recover and repair itself after a workout, so make sure you're eating enough calories through a balanced diet that includes plenty of protein and high-fibre carbohydrates.
4. Workout Variety
Variety is key when it comes to preventing overtraining. Ensure you're changing your routine by including compound exercises, different equipment, light-to-moderate cardio, and mobility work. I have more tips on variety in a blog post on gym routines.
5. Track Your Progress
Tracking your progress can help you avoid overtraining by allowing you to see how your body is responding to your workouts. Keep track of your workouts, how you feel after each session both physically, through the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, and mentally, and keep an eye out for any symptoms of overtraining over time.
How do I Alleviate Overtraining?
If you think you’re in the midst of overtraining, my advice to you is rest, rest, rest. I don’t think it can be said enough that the best remedy for overtraining is recovery. Take a day or two off, then reassess to see if you’re ready to return to the gym. As previously mentioned, this could take several days or weeks to overcome.
If you’ve reached overtraining via injury, I suggest listening to your healthcare practitioner and resting.
Overtraining is a common problem in the fitness community, but it doesn't have to be. By incorporating adequate rest and recovery, eating well, listening to your body, changing your workout plan, and tracking your progress, you can avoid overtraining and continue reaching your fitness goals.
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Aragon, A. A., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition, 10(1), 5.
Halson, S. L., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2004). Does overtraining exist? An analysis of overreaching and overtraining research. Sports medicine, 34, 967-981.
Kellmann, M. (2010). Preventing overtraining in athletes in high‐intensity sports and stress/recovery monitoring. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 20, 95-102.
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (2020). Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines. Retrieved from https://csepguidelines.ca.