This month has reminded me of the dangers of overtraining. I see a lot of people at this time of year compelled to work overtime to make up for the excesses of the festive season. Often, this compulsion does not work in their interest, and by overtraining they end up doing more damage than good.
Our bodies are designed to respond to external pressures placed on our system. To keep ourselves regulated and stay healthy, our body should be placed under a certain amount of stress on a regular basis. Failure to do so can have serious consequences for our health, and is a major factor in chronic health conditions. It is also the real reason that sitting too much is really, really bad for us.
But we can have too much of a good thing. When we place too much stress on our body in too short a time, our body does not have the chance to recover and adapt to the increased demands. This is the case with overtraining.
So how do you know if you’re overtraining?
· Persistent muscle soreness: it’s usual to feel sore after an intense workout, but if that soreness lingers for days, it could be a sign that you’re overtraining
· Persistent fatigue: again, fatigue after a workout is normal, but if you’re getting a good amount of sleep and you’re still run down, you could be overtraining
· Elevated resting heart rate: a persistently high heart rate after adequate rest such as in the morning after sleep can be an indicator of overtraining
· Irritability: if you notice that you’re quicker to anger than usual, it could be a clear sign
Overtraining can run your body down drastically, so not only are you hampering your results, but you’re increasing your likelihood of getting ill or injuring yourself. It’s important to pay attention and deal with it properly
How to deal with overtraining?
The simple answer, you guessed it, train less and allow more time for recovery. It’s not always that simple though is it, and like anything that makes us feel good, exercise can be addictive. It’s definitely not the worst vice out there, but misusing exercise can have its consequences.
Another real problem is that stressors build up in our life, and I imagine your workouts are not the only stressor. If you’ve got lots of deadlines at work, you’ve been hit with a couple of big bills, and you’ve just had a row with your partner – then it might only take one or two heavy workouts in a week to tip you over the edge. Stress is not compartmentalised as we might like it to be, so staying “fit and healthy” while leading a busy modern life can be tricky.
My advice is to keep your exercise varied, and find a combination of high and low-intensity activities that works for you. For me, it’s weightlifting, climbing and yoga. You might like boxing and swimming or pilates. Whatever your combination is, you know that when other areas of your life demand more from you, you can alter the balance of your exercise regime to keep in shape while not overdoing it.