Are you constantly sore because you are making those gains, or could it be more?
Are you feeling worn down and unmotivated, but go to the gym anyway because it's a habit?
Are you addicted to the high of a workout but don't know how to expand and retract your fitness?
Is your identity wrapped up in your fitness and you don't know what else to do?
Excessive exercisers are as complex as the above questions. There is tons of nuance that surrounds why women athletes (if you exercise on purpose you are an athlete) struggle with taking rest days or even time off for a vacation. Whether it's obsession or an actual addiction it can lead to overtraining and the negative effects that hinder the progress and health benefits that come with fitness.
Athletes may ignore or deny specific symptoms—or they may believe their health issues are less persistent, frequent, or severe than they are. This can be especially true for those prone to exercise addiction or whose career or identity are connected closely to their workouts. In the new edition of the NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training (7th ed., Jones & Bartlett 2022), overtraining syndrome (OTS) is described as “a condition in which an athlete or fitness client experiences fatigue, declining performance, and burnout."
Overtraining can be associated with any type of sports or fitness program—from running to group exercise to resistance training—and it can happen at any age. In a recent comparison of 22 studies on resistance exercise, the OTS marker that every research team agreed upon was a “sustained decrease in performance."
OTS results from an accumulation of factors, many outside of exercise sessions. This more complex viewpoint is reflected in the NASM textbook’s definition of overtraining as “excessive frequency, volume, or intensity of training, resulting in a reduction of performance, which is also caused by a lack of proper rest and recovery." The amount of exercise is only part of the equation. Complimenting your training with appropriate fuel in the form of nutrition and adequate recovery is the other half.
ADAPTATION VS. OVERTRAINING
For an athlete to achieve their exercise goals—whether they are related to appearance, health, strength, performance, or a combination of these—a stimulus or stressor has to be introduced to the body repeatedly over time. This will result in specific adaptations that are related to that stressor.
This response is known as general adaptation syndrome. Once the body can meet the new demands of that stressor, an additional or different stimulus will need to be applied for the athlete to make further progress. Part of the art and science of fitness programming involves understanding how to select stressors appropriate to the athlete’s goals and progress them safely.
Thus, the ideal exercise approach involves progressive overload, in which the intensity or volume of exercise is increased gradually and systematically to avoid exhaustion while achieving the desired adaptations. My signature offer, Lift with Lindsay is a year-long progressive, evidence-based training program that includes rest days and deloads built-in to help you take the guesswork about how to help your body recover well.
OVERTRAINING VS. OVERREACHING
Many fitness enthusiasts will exercise to excess now and then—for example, when engaging in a competitive event or returning to sport after an extended break. But when overzealous workouts lead to fatigue and a decrease in performance that lasts for a few weeks, it is referred to as overreaching.
When followed by enough recovery, this can improve performance, as the body will “super-compensate” after the rest period; this is known as functional overreaching. Nonfunctional overreaching happens when the body does not enjoy the rest and recovery necessary to repair and regenerate before the next workout.
While overtraining and overreaching sound similar, NASM 2022 notes that “the subtle difference has to do with the amount of time for performance restoration, not the type or duration of training stress.”
• Functional overreaching results in underperformance for a few days, followed by a full recovery.
• Nonfunctional overreaching results in underperformance that lasts up to three weeks and is followed by a full recovery.
• Overtraining syndrome is characterized by two months or more of underperformance. Recovery from OTS can take months or even years.
Notice that only functional overreaching leads to supercompensation, a capacity for higher levels of performance.
Overtraining can occur when you work out without allowing enough recovery time between sessions. After a certain amount, too much exercise can be harmful to your health and hinder your results, especially if your workouts are close together. Overtraining syndrome can lower your fitness level, negatively affect your performance, and cause injuries. Weightlifting, cardio, and HIIT workouts can all lead to burnout. It’s also typical in single-sport athletes.
Sometimes, damage caused by OTS can be so severe that the athlete may not be able to return to that sport. Fortunately, by learning to identify overtraining symptoms early, athletes can stop their slide down this slippery slope rather than downplaying or pushing through them. As with many things, overtraining can be envisioned as a continuum—ranging from the occasional day of “overdoing it” to a chronic state of under-recovery lasting for weeks, months, or even years.
To help avoid going down that road, here are a few things to consider before beginning any workout:
Did you sleep well last night?
Was your a.m. resting heart rate regular (for you)?
Have you taken in enough nutrition and fluids today or have you been dieting?
If the answer to any of these questions—or multiple questions—is "no," it's an excellent day to dial things back. Still not sure if it’s a good day to go all in? Consider these queries, too:
Are you battling any major life stressors?
Are you dreading the workout or thinking about skipping it?
Do you feel more sore or achy than usual?
Do you have an illness or injury?
Here, a “yes” answer is a good indicator that your body’s not in top form today. Check out this resource for determining how hard you should go today.
SIGNS OF OTS
Appetite Awareness & Body Composition Problems
Working out usually leads to a healthy appetite. However, working out too much can cause hormonal imbalances that can influence how hungry or full you feel. OTS can cause exhaustion, decreased appetite, and weight loss. This can negatively affect health and performance. If your body consistently draws on its energy reserves, you may develop nutritional deficiencies such as anemia. It's important to match your intake to your training.
More serious conditions can arise that affect your cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems. It’s also possible to develop nervous system and reproductive system complications, including period loss or irregular cycles. Get enough calories to sustain your workout by eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of carbs, protein, healthy fats, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Exercising too much without resting enough in between can lead to low testosterone levels and high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. These hormonal changes are often associated with loss of muscle tissue, weight gain, and excess belly fat.
Often, people who are seeking to reduce body weight will reduce caloric intake to the point at which there is not enough nutrition available for recovery. For example, the body needs adequate protein intake for muscle protein synthesis (rebuilding muscles at the molecular level) to occur.
Also of interest is the recent increase in the daily recommendation for fluid intake. Today, 11.5 cups per day are recommended for women and 15.5 for men. After exercising for more than an hour, another 12 to 16 ounces per 15 minutes is recommended.
Chronic Soreness, Pain, Injury
Pushing yourself past your limits during a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout can lead to muscle strain and pain. Overstressing your body can cause soreness and injuries. Extended muscle soreness and injuries that don’t heal are also signs of overtraining. You may have chronic injuries or nagging injuries that linger for a long time.
High-impact exercises like running and jumping can lead to overuse injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, and plantar fasciitis. Other overuse injuries include joint strains, broken bones, and soft tissue injuries. High impact exercise such as running puts stress and wear and tear on your body. If you have an injury, take a break from all types of training to allow it to heal.
Fatigue and Decline in Performance
It’s somewhat normal to feel tired after exercise, but fatigue happens when your body repeatedly doesn’t fully recover after you work out. You may feel excessively drained, especially during or right after workouts. Fatigue can also set in when you regularly don’t get enough fuel before you train. Your body then has to use its carbohydrate, protein, and fat reserves for energy.
Overtraining can cause your performance to plateau or decrease rather than improve. You may find you have less strength, agility, and endurance, which makes it more difficult to reach your training goals. Overtraining can also slow your reaction time and running speed.
If you have OTS, you may feel like your workouts are more difficult, like they take more effort to complete. This increase in your perceived effort can make you feel like you’re working harder even though your body is working at its usual rate.
You may have a higher heart rate while you’re working out and a higher resting heart rate during the day. Additionally, your heart rate may take longer to return to its resting rate once you finish exercising.
Irritability and Agitation
Overtraining can affect your stress hormone levels, which can cause depression, mental fog, and mood changes. You may also experience restlessness and a lack of concentration or enthusiasm. You may find it difficult to stay motivated to work out. This can be due to mental or physical exhaustion, the feeling that you’re not achieving your fitness goals or lack of enjoyment.
Sleep Issues and Illness
When your stress hormones are out of balance, you may find it hard to relax and let go of tension at bedtime. This cuts into the crucial time your body needs to rest, repair, and restore itself during sleep. Lack of quality sleep can also lead to chronic fatigue and mood changes. Good sleep hygiene begins with choosing a time to go to sleep and a time to wake up, then sticking to them consistently, even on weekends.
Along with feeling run-down, you may find you get sick more often. You may also be prone to infections, mild illnesses, and upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs).
WHAT TO DO NEXT
As previously indicated, overtraining does not happen only due to overdoing it during workouts or underprioritizing recovery. Seemingly unrelated factors can also make a person more likely to become overtrained.
This can include following a monotonous program, participating in only one activity or sport, having a recent illness or injury (even if it has resolved), having recently participated in a competitive event or extreme workout session (such as a Crossfit competition), experiencing a significant life event such as a move, death, divorce, job loss or job change, or even something positive like the birth or adoption of a child.
Take an extended break from training if you have any injuries that need time to heal completely or if you’re experiencing burnout. During this time, stay away from any high-impact or intense forms of exercise. Give yourself time to make a full recovery. Lift with Lindsay includes a deload week after every four-week cycle. Read more about deloads here.
Several treatments and home remedies can promote physical healing. Rest is the most important factor. Relax and take a break from all activities. Slow down in all areas of your life.
Go for a professional massage that will target the affected muscles. Opt for a deep-tissue or sports massage to prevent injuries and relieve muscle tension. If a professional massage isn’t an option, you can do self-massage using essential oils or a muscle balm. You can use a heating pad, sauna, or hot bath to soothe aching muscles. A cold shower or ice pack may help reduce pain and swelling.
Individual recovery times will vary. If you take a complete break from the activity, you can expect to see improvements after 2 weeks. However, it may take up to 3 months before you’re fully healed. During this time, you can do gentle exercise to stay active. Listen to your body during this important time. If you begin training again and start to experience symptoms of overtraining, return to resting.
To prevent overtraining, schedule regular rest days after long or demanding workouts. Take a break from targeting a muscle group for 1 or 2 days if you do weight or resistance training. At the same time, don’t allow for too much time to lapse between workout sessions.
Have a rest period during your workout. Rest intervals can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. If needed, reduce the volume and intensity of your sessions.
Schedule active rest days that include low-impact activities such as walking, yoga, or swimming. This will relieve muscle tightness and help you stay active while recovering from a strenuous workout. Plus, varying your activities helps develop your whole body.
To balance your stress levels, you can also do relaxing activities such as meditation or yoga.
Talk to your doctor if you have injuries that worsen over time or don’t heal or if you regularly have muscle soreness that lasts more than 24 hours or joint and ligament pain.
Your doctor can help you come up with a training program that balances rest and recovery with an adequate amount of training to meet your fitness goals. This is especially important if burnout is affecting other areas of your life.
BOTTOM LINE: TRAIN WITH A PURPOSE AND A PLAN
Excessive training can be detrimental to your fitness goals. Develop a training program that balances different types of exercise that match your fitness level and goals. Rest your muscles after you exert them, and let yourself relax. Take days off to rest and recover, and allow time for plenty of low-impact exercise.
You will not lose all your gains from resting. If you keep pushing harder every day non-stop without structure or intention you might.
Lift with Lindsay is a progressive strength and muscle-building program with a focus on quality movement, balanced conditioning, and helping restore the relationship with fitness, food, and your figure.
This program is delivered through a mobile app, with weekly check-ins with your coach so that you feel 100% supported through the whole process.
If you love lifting, enjoy making gains, and are ready to jump off the chronic diet train === this program is designed with you in mind!
Jump on the waitlist now before it's too late!!