Many people engage in what I consider under training, this refers to Individuals whose time in the gym is spent working out at an intensity that is insufficient to elicit a physiological response. This definition isn’t meant to patronise people who are struggling with small weights or walking on a treadmill as everyone is at a different fitness level, instead it's a criticism of the people who use the gym as a social event, breaking up their weekend recounts with a quick 10 by 3 on the bench press. However, there is a truth to the mantra “Something Is Better Than Nothing”, and even under-reachers are going to be having a positive impact on their health and well bringing - albeit it at a very slow rate - than the person who has missed the session all together
On the other hand, there are those who over-train. Over-trainers have everything dialed up to max, working out at a very high intensity and executing high volume that may include multiple exercise sessions in a single day. While high-intensity and high-volume training is not necessarily harmful, and will actually be a necessary component of training programs, long periods of time (weeks or months) spent training in this mode, especially in non-elite athletes, can lead to inadequate or incomplete recovery, which can not only be very dangerous and detrimental to the body, but can also work directly against weight loss or fitness goals. It's for this reason that most coaches will incorporate periodisation into training schedules that gives the body time to adequately recover after sustained efforts pushing the needle. If overtrained for long enough, it's not uncommon for individuals to completely burn out, often forcing them to completely remove themselves from training for a number of months while the body has the chance to revitalise.
It can be difficult to find the sweet spot between session intensity and recovery management especially when you're self-coaching and are forced to come up with the answers through trial and error. This is why it’s critical that athletes are intune with their body, as being able to identify signs of overtraining when they present will enable protocols to be introduced before an athletes health deteriorates.
What to look out for as a sign of overtraining.
As the name would suggest overuse injuries is term used to describe tissue injuries occurring from consistent repeatable movements with the amount of volume leading to the trauma. These injuries are often discussed in the context of running as newcomers to the sport have a tendency to push themselves irresponsibly. This highlights an important variable present in overuse injuries which is the rate at which volume has increased across the training block. If you’re suffering from what’s believed to be an over use injury it’s generally advised to reduce volume to limit the stress and when recovered attempt a more conservative approach to increasing volume.
Feeling ill is the body's way of communicating that something is not operating as it should. Within the context of overtraining the body may be operating in a continual catabolic state - the process of breaking down nutrients to be used as energy. While this is a natural part of everyone's metabolism, prolonged bouts of time here can lead to the body relying on the breakdown of muscle mass to generate the energy required for bodily functions such as immune regulation. Hence when the body is worn down and in a state of over training the symptoms can present as common colds and illnesses.
Contrary to what many think, over training can actually be a cause of weight loss plateaus and even weight gains. Assuming that an athlete is closely monitoring their caloric intake to remain in a deficit state that promotes weight loss, prolonged time here can put the body under significant stress and have the adverse effect of impacting levels of important hormones such as testosterone and cortisol. While the jury is still out on the direct impact of these hormones on weight management, it’s well known that they will impact cravings and feelings of satiation making it more difficult to stay the course with weight loss goals.
Irregular mood and temperament
When cortisol - the body's stress hormones - is out of balance, it can be difficult to relax and let go of tension at bedtime. The insomnia caused by overtraining is a vicious cycle as failure to get adequate sleep deprives the body of opportunity to repair and recover from the previous training sessions, creating a positive feedback loop that pushes athletes into fatigue. As difficult as it is to admit, mood is one of the clearest indicators of a person's tiredness. Scientists believe that when humans are in a heightened state of sleep deprivation there is increased activity in the amygdala -a brain structure integral to experiences of negative emotions such as anger and rage. This is why lack of sleep can present in someone being short tempered, irritable and irrational in their frustrations.
As a personal trainer I constantly have to remind myself and my clients that their time in the gym represents only a small portion of their day. If their training is compromising their ability to fulfill more important obligations to work, family and friends then they are almost certainly putting an expiration date on their fitness journey when it all becomes too much. As you can see the detriment of overtraining impacts more than just progress at the gym, this is why it’s so important to take a strategic approach to training that finds a balance between physical stress with adequate recovery.
If you’re constantly feeling exhausted from your training and not experiencing the progress that you think your efforts merit then organise a no obligations consultation to discuss personalised coaching that will set you on a path towards your goals.