Overtraining is defined as “the result of giving your body more work or stress than it can handle. Overtraining occurs when a person experiences stress and physical trauma from exercising faster than their body can repair the damage.” But how do you know if you’re overtraining? Look out for any of the below five signs:
Having sore muscles after an exercise session is not unusual and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) can be expected to last a few days after a particularly hard workout. But if you have sore muscles for longer periods of time it could be a sign that your body is struggling to recover, it is overworked and over trained. While our bodies are designed to adapt to the challenges we put them through – and it is true that they will grow stronger from challenging exercise sessions – if we challenge them too much, they will not be able to cope, we certainly won’t achieve our fitness goals and we will be at a much greater danger of injury.
If you are finding that you have trouble sleeping regardless of the big training sessions that wipe you out, it’s most likely due to nervous and hormonal system overload – from overtraining. A high intensity workout (such as strength training) places stress on your body, which activates your sympathetic nervous system by increasing levels of certain hormones. With sufficient recovery these hormone levels will return to resting levels, but without recovery they can remain in a chronically elevated state, interfering with the production of hormones and proteins that are needed to achieve quality sleep, causing insomnia.
In the same way that too much resistance training can cause sympathetic overload, endurance athletes that overload their training volume can typically develop parasympathetic overtraining syndrome. This too can cause an imbalance in certain hormones, this time resulting in decreased resting heart rate and debilitating fatigue (both mentally and physically). Both excessive fatigue and insomnia have a knock on affect in all areas of life, including mood, motivation, anxiousness, depression, irritability, everyday functioning, so they aren’t something we want hanging around for long – take a look at your training levels if you notice a shift in your sleeping patterns.
Research has shown that athletes exercising at a high intensity for 90 minutes or more experience a steep drop in immune function that can last up to 24 hours. Suggesting that yes, too much exercise can make you sick! This drop in immune function is caused by the elevation of stress hormones released during and following heavy exertion exercise. During this drop in immune function, the body is more susceptible to sickness. A study conducted at an LA marathon suggests the same findings, when one out of seven runners who participated in the event got sick once it was over and runners who trained more than 60 miles a week during the months before the race doubled their odds for sickness compared to those who trained less than 20 miles per week.
It is true that many professional athletes can train for hours each day and see amazing results, but the majority of us are not professional athletes! Professional athletes have reached their performance and training levels with years of rigorous planning, monitoring, programming, program tweaking and more. For the general population, this is not the case and excessive training everyday without adequate recovery has the potential to lead to poor performance, deterioration in health and everything you have worked for will be compromised. Absolutely keep up your training, but also keep an eye on your training levels and listen to your body to avoid overtraining.