Overtraining Syndrome, while commonly referenced in athletic populations, occurs when the body is not able to recover sufficiently before the next training sessions. Is it real?…..Yes! It is very real, and if you have not reached the point where working out is the same as breathing, it can really diminish you adherence and cause you to give up. That is not the goal. Workouts, unlike friends and money, is not a “better is more” event. We must workout smarter, not harder. Avoiding this is why athletes are trained in preseason, season, post season, and off season. It is designed to give the body time to recover, and non athletes need it too. Most muscle development occurs during off days, especially if nourished with carbohydrates and amino acids, especially Leucine. During a workout, muscle fibers are torn down, and in return, when you rest, they build up to be bigger than they were before to adapt to the increased demands you are placing on them. This is the premise behind building muscle and strength, which has the added bonus of increasing your metabolism.
It makes sense to think that with working out, the more you can do the faster you will get to your goal, and that does work, as long as you listen to your body. It takes 24-96 hours for a body part to recover from a strength training session, depending on how intense it is, and endurance muscles need a break too. Let’s talk about the symptoms.
Perhaps the most noticeable, right away symptom is overwhelming fatigue during exercise or anything else throughout your day that was easy before. If you find yourself having to drop the amount of weight, the number of reps, or increase your rest time over several days of working out, please give yourself 3 days off minimum. We’ll get into treatment in a bit. Working out is not supposed to make you feel worn out, drained, and lacking energy. If done correctly, it actually does the exact opposite. Stop immediately and rest!
This next one is a bit of science, but bear with me for just a bit. Your heart is a muscle, and its primary job is to deliver oxygen to where you need it and get it back to the lungs. This is called cardiac output. Cardiac output is based on two things, heart rate and stroke volume (how hard the muscle can squeeze). (Cardiac Output = Heart Rate x Stroke Volume). You’ve seen this. When someone who has been inactive for a long period of time….well, their heart is in the same condition as the rest of their muscles. When they start an exercise program, their heart rate rises quickly, stays higher than expected, and doesn’t drop as fast after the workout is done. That is because their heart isn’t strong enough to squeeze as much as it needs to, so the only way to get more oxygen to those quads is to rapidly increase heart rate. Over time, as your heart adapts, just like all of your other muscles, your heart rate rises much slower, plateaus at a lower rate, and drops back to resting levels very quickly after the activity. That is because heart rate isn’t the main factor in cardiac output anymore. Your heart can SQUEEZE!!! This affects resting and exercise heart rate alike. If out of the blue, your heart rate starts going back up, it is a red flag for overtraining syndrome. Stop immediately and rest! Your heart is a muscle, so it has to replace its energy stores and grow too.
The next symptom is insomnia. Now, in some people, if they workout in the evening, they get a huge energy boost that can make it hard to sleep. I’m not talking about that. This is when you’ve been sleeping like a baby, and now you can’t. Stop immediately and rest!
Next, general aches and pains in places you don’t normally have them. This is a clear sign of inadequate recovery. It also is a sign to you that your ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissue are working overtime to hold all of your joints in alignment. That is not their job. That is a muscle job. They are secondary stabilizers. Injury is coming, stop immediately!
There are many more symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome, but the last one I’m going to mention here is increased viral infections. Working out does lower your immune system a bit, especially with viruses. If you start catching a cold from every single human you see, please stop immediately! Your immune system is not being given enough time to reset itself before your next workout.
Now, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I have emphatically said STOP IMMEDIATELY!! in almost every paragraph. The reason for that is the treatment of Overtraining Syndrome. (I also want to prevent you from injuring yourself.) Cross training can help alleviate this if you recognize it soon enough, but the only treatment for Overtraining Syndrome is rest. Once all of the symptoms above apply, the rest required can range from 4-6 weeks to 2-3 months. I bring this up and emphasize it for a few reasons. First, how long did it take for you to decide to start this new workout program? How long have you been working at it? What happens when you take a week off? It’s hard to go back isn’t it? How defeating is it going to be if you have to take two months off, lose a lot of your results, and start over? As another person talking to you, it’s going to have a negative effect.
It is so important that we always keep in the back of our minds that workout goals and true weight loss are delayed gratification goals. It took all you had to start, you made it through the beginning when the only way to brush your teeth was to set the tooth brush on the counter and move your head back and forth, and you don’t love the gym. Any disruption in your program now could potentially end your program. Achieving your goal is far more important than overworking yourself at the gym. I’m not saying go lazy, but moderation is the key. Listen to your body. And, for all of the Fitness Professionals out there, if you see this happening, put your foot down and protect this person.
Please respond with any questions or comments, or connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear your progress with developing a healthy, successful, and fun new thing to your life.