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Overtraining Symptoms, Causes and Recovery

Have you ever set a goal, created what seemed like a great plan and then proceeded not only to follow that plan but to do even more? Chances are you were highly motivated and wanted to cross the finish line in the least amount of time possible. Suddenly, you hit a road block, you burned out, you got tired, you lost motivation or maybe you even started to lose some of your early results though you continued working hard. If all of this sounds familiar, you may have experienced overtraining.

Although the “more is better” approach may work for a short period of time, it will often lead to unwanted consequences and setbacks. Below is information that will help you identify whether your burnout may actually be the result of overtraining, the causes and what you need to do in order to recover from overtraining.

10 Symptoms of Overtraining

  1. Fatigue or lack of energy
  2. Loss of strength
  3. Poor sleep
  4. Irritability and moodiness
  5. Loss of enthusiasm
  6. Elevated heart rate while resting
  7. Decreased immunity or getting sick more frequently than normal
  8. Decrease in performance
  9. Unwanted weight loss
  10. Persistent soreness in joints and muscles

What Leads to Overtraining?

Lack of rest and sleep will lead to fatigue, irritability and decreases in performance and increased resting heart rates. The harder your work, or the more intense your routine, the more rest you will require.

Poor nutrition – Not eating enough or eating foods lacking in nutrients that fuel your body’s recovery from the stresses of intense exercise. Without the right nutrients and calories, your body can not repair the damage done. The ultimate goal is to give your body enough good food to overcompensate for the increased loads of stress you are applying to it, and thereby becoming more fit.

Lack of variety in your training methods or regimen can lead to overtraining of specific muscles or joints resulting in soreness that does not go away with regular rest between workouts.

Recovering from Overtraining

Take time off. How long you should take off will depend on how long you have been overtraining. Three to five days off may be enough for most people, but if you have been overtraining for an extended period of time, you may need more time off.

Eat a healthy-balanced diet including lean protein, which is used to rebuild muscles. Carbohydrates are essential for replenishing your energy stores. Healthy fats are needed for energy and joint protection and the absorption of some vitamins and minerals.

Stay active but stay out of the gym. Great active recovery options include walking or recreational swimming. Movement increases blood flow, which is important for supplying nutrients throughout your body.

Get plenty of sleep. There’s a reason research continues to show six to eight hours of sleep is best.

The next time you begin to experience these symptoms as a result of your overzealous workouts, remember to incorporate some active rest and review your rest and nutrition needs. It will help prevent overtraining and help lead you to increased results in the long run.

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Rest Periods – A Vital Part of any Fitness Routine

When designing their fitness routine — or even just talking about it — most people will discuss their strength training, cardio training, flexibility and diet. Few, however, will even mention their rest periods.

Most exercisers figure that if some exercise is good for you, then more is even better, but this practice can be counterproductive and even cause injury. Understanding what rest does for you body will help you appreciate the importance of rest days in your schedule.

What Happens During Rest?

Put simply, your muscles grow during rest, not exercise. During exercise the muscle fibers break down and your stores of glycogen, your body’s main fuel source, are depleted. This is true for both cardiovascular exercise and strength training. When you allow yourself periods of rest, however, the muscles adapt to the challenge by rebuilding and increasing in strength. Without sufficient rest, your muscles will continue to break down, leading to overtraining injuries.

The psychological effects of taking time to recover shouldn’t be overlooked either. Rest will give you something to look forward to during particularly difficult workouts, and leave you feeling refreshed and ready.

Symptoms of Overtraining

Overtraining can manifest itself in a variety of ways. When a particular set of muscles are not given time to recover and refuel, pain and any number of injuries can result. On a broader scope, overtraining can adversely affect your entire body — both physically and psychologically — by upsetting the delicate balance of the hormones DHEA and cortisol.

These two hormones have contradicting effects: DHEA builds muscle while cortisol tears it down. In a healthy, well-rested body they are used to guide muscle growth in response to the stresses of the environment. However, in an overtrained body, DHEA production is reduced and cortisol greatly increases. This is probably because cortisol, which is sometimes called the “stress hormone,” is released in response to periods of perceived starvation or danger, causing the body to cut back on expensive metabolic actions and horde fuel in the form of fat. This hormone imbalance can lead to exhaustion, mental confusion, moodiness, nutrient deficiencies, and increased blood pressure and cholesterol.

How Much Rest Do You Need?

Exactly how much rest you need in between exercise sessions depends on many factors, including your genetics, fitness level and overall lifestyle. At the very least, one day a week should be scheduled as a rest day.

A good way to decide how much rest you need, and when to schedule in your rest days, is by keeping a training log and paying attention to how you feel. A detailed log will allow you to see how your body responds to certain stresses and redesign your program accordingly. If, for example, you notice that your time for a distance you routinely run has increased, it’s likely because you were not properly rested, and you can adjust for future runs accordingly.

Active Rest

Rest and recovery doesn’t have to mean complete inactivity. Depending on your fitness goals, you may benefit more from “active rest” than from simply taking a day off. Active rest can generally take two forms: cross-training or a light workout.

Cross-training allows you to work in an activity that isn’t usually your main focus. For example, if your main sport is running, you may chose to strength train as a form of active recovery. If you usually ride a bike, go swimming instead. If you do try cross-training, though, it’s important not to overwork any muscles that are already sore from your normal workout.

Light workouts keep you involved in your sport, but at a reduced intensity. Although your total distance may remain the same as during a more difficult day, your heart rate should only be at about 70 to 75 percent of your maximum. As a general rule, on these “easy” days you should exercise at a pace that allows you to comfortably carry on a conversation. Runners World Magazine suggests that these light workouts should account for 80 to 85 percent of your total weekly mileage.

Although it can be difficult to take a day off or even take it easy on yourself, proper rest and recovery is a vitally important step towards reaching your fitness goals.

Have any tips for incorporating rest into your schedule? Please share them in the comments!