If like millions of other people, you’ve started a new workout routine this January, it might be time to stop and take a check of how you are feeling. If you’re feeling exhausted due to a lack of sleep, have a lack of energy, and have an overall ‘blue’ feeling, it might be the warning signs of overtraining syndrome.
Studies have shown that up to 60% of endurance athletes, particularly runners, are likely to suffer from overtraining syndrome. That said, even if you’re not training to an athlete’s level, the warning signs you’re doing too much are similar.
There are two classifications for doing too much — overreaching and overtraining. Overreaching is when you push your body above and beyond your normal range, and don’t give yourself sufficient time to recover between workouts. Luckily, the effects of overreaching can normally be reduced with a few days’ rest. Overtraining is when you ignore the signs of overreaching and continue to push yourself. Recovery from overtraining takes a lot longer and usually involves prolonged time off.
But what are the signs to look out for, and how can you avoid overtraining when taking on a new training plan, or say, training for a marathon. Here’s everything you need to know.
What are the signs of overtraining syndrome?
While it’s natural to feel tired after particularly difficult training sessions, if you feel like you aren’t recovering, or that your performance is getting worse and worse, it might be that you are overreaching. Here are the signs to look out for:
Extreme soreness or strains
Sure, your legs are likely to ache after leg day, but overstressing your body will lead to more serious aches, pains, and injuries. In runners, overuse injuries like shin splints, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis are common.
Even if you’re not suffering from injury, another sign of overtraining is that the achy feel you get after a hard session never really goes away, even after a few days rest, or a couple of days of training at a lower intensity.
Performance stops getting better
If you’re training properly, you can expect your performance to get better over time as you get fitter and stronger. If you’ve noticed your training has plateaued or gotten worse, it might be a sign you’re doing too much. You might find that you’re finding it impossible to push yourself any harder, you might be overtraining.
Athletes suffering from overtraining syndrome often find their heart rate is higher during exercise and takes longer to return to its resting heart rate once they have finished. It’s also possible that your resting heart rate might be higher. If you are worried this applies to you, this might be something to track using one of the best fitness trackers, or best running watches. In fact, some of the best Garmin watches will tell you if you’re overreaching, which might be a sign you’re doing too much.
Sure, it’s January, and we’re now two years into a global pandemic, but if you’re feeling more fatigued than ever before and you’ve changed your training, you might need to take a break. Fatigue happens when you don’t give your body enough time to recover between workouts. You can also get fatigued if you don’t fuel your body correctly, or eat enough to fuel your workouts.
If you’re exhausted, but finding it difficult to get to sleep, or stay asleep at night, you might be suffering from overtraining. Overtraining affects the body’s stress hormone, which in turn, affects your ability to relax and get a good night’s sleep. As well as poor quality sleep at night, you might be finding it difficult to relax in the evenings.
Overtraining can cause both weight loss and weight gain. This is because not giving yourself enough time to rest and recover can lead to high levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. A rise in cortisol is often associated with weight gain.
On the other hand, working out too much can lead to hormonal imbalances, which in turn affect your appetite. As well as exhaustion and fatigue, overtraining syndrome can cause a lack of appetite and weight loss.
Loss of motivation and low mood
Finally, if you’re struggling to motivate yourself to complete day-to-day tasks, as well as training, you might want to take a bit of time off. As mentioned above, when your stress hormones change, so does your mood, so if you’re finding yourself in a bit of a low mood rut, it might be rest, not exercise, that helps you recover.
How long does it take to recover?
Recovery from overreaching and overtraining varies from person to person, but either way, the main tool is rest. Listen to your body during this time and only return to gentle exercise when you feel up to it. It’s also a good idea to chat with your doctor.
When you do feel ready to return to exercise, trying gentle things like yoga and Pilates can help. Looking for inspiration? Here’s a 30-minute Pilates workout, and a yoga workout perfect for beginners.
How to avoid overtraining
But how do you avoid overtraining? Here’s what to do when you’re increasing your workout schedule, or taking on a new routine.
Make sure you’re taking rest days: Rest days are vital to help your body recover. Avoid scheduling two challenging workouts back to back. You can also schedule active rest days that involves going for a walk or doing a yoga class, to give yourself time to recuperate between training sessions.
Make sure you’re fueling your body correctly: If your calorie intake doesn’t replenish what you’re burning, you won't be left with enough for your muscles to repair themselves. If you’re worried you’re not fueling properly, it’s a good idea to have a chat with a nutritionist. You should also make sure you’re staying hydrated before, during, and after training sessions as well. Here's our list of the best water bottles in case you're in the market.
Listen to your body: When you’re training, it’s important to check in with your body to see how you’re feeling. If you find yourself becoming obsessed with working out, and struggling with rest days, it’s a good idea to chat to a coach, personal trainer, or doctor.