Weight management programs are on the rise in the UK, with more and more people discovering potential adverse consequences of excessive body mass and looking for ways to correct their appearance. Modern customers, however, are getting less interested in fad diets and other “miraculous” solutions, perceiving such shortcuts as unhealthy and questionable .
While the desire to lose weight is trending up, instead of quick fixes, most consumers are looking into healthier diets and increased amount of exercise . High-protein diets, putting more vegetables on the plate and purchasing products from the sports nutrition segment are the most notable trends .
While these positive changes are overall extremely beneficial for the population, some individuals are pushing certain components of the weight loss journey a bit too far, sabotaging their own long-term success. For instance, doing more exercise than one’s body can take can quickly lead to so-called overtraining.
Overtraining! What is it, exactly?
Basically, overtraining is engaging in a pattern of physical activity that does not provide adequate time for recovery. In other words, overtraining occurs when stress and trauma from training sessions occur so often that the body cannot repair the damage.
Obviously, achieving such state is not ideal, as in this case you are at high risk of getting a serious injury and completely wiping out all the progress you’ve been working for. This article has all necessary information to help you find a healthy balance when it comes to training – therefore, you will achieve the best results possible within realistic timeframes, no self-sabotage involved.
Are You Training Hard But Not Seeing Results, Personal Training Can Help!
From absolute beginners to elite athletes, everyone can experience overtraining and become a victim of its adverse consequences, sometimes very dangerous. There are a number of mechanisms involved, including muscular microtrauma that doesn’t have time to heal , protein deficiency in the muscles  and stress-triggered systemic inflammation , which results in excessive release of cytokines and persistent aches and pains.
Remarkably, the most recent evidence suggests that the volume of training as such is not likely to be a problem . For instance, professional athletes absolutely must be prepared for intense performance, therefore to get their bodies ready and prevent injuries they are required to train hard; if increased workloads as such were a problem, “big sports” would simply not exist .
Apparently, a key component of overtraining prevention for athletes of all levels is a well-designed training regime . Therefore, the best strategy to avoid overtraining and exercise safely is to consult a professional personal trainer, who will be able to design an appropriate plan for you, based on your individual goals, fitness level and most recent scientific findings in the area.
Working with a personal trainer will help you avoid injuries and enhance performance dramatically, saving you a lot of valuable time and skipping unnecessary frustration.
Sometimes, despite all precautions, things do still go wrong – to avoid serious consequences, it’s important to familiarise yourself with common signs and symptoms of overtraining, including:
- Muscle soreness that doesn’t seem to go away or at least decrease for over 48 hours
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Frequent infections, colds and flu’s
- Frequent injuries
- Lowered mood or even signs of depression
- Extreme irritability
- Disrupted sleep patterns – insomnia or extreme sleepiness
- Loss of motivation
- Persistent fatigue
If you are experiencing any of those signs and suspect you may be overtraining, consult your physician to rule out any potential conditions with overlapping symptoms. If given “all clear” from the doctor, make an appointment with an experienced personal trainer to evaluate your training plan.
The 3 Stages Of Overtraining
Unfortunately, in the very early stages of overtraining symptoms may be very mild or even absent. To help you prevent the disaster sooner, we would like to elaborate on the 3 stages of overtraining – knowing the science behind the processes in more detail, you’ll be able to spot the upcoming troubles in advance.
You may start noticing some subtle symptoms and signs, which tend to be written off as unfortunate accidents: slight lower back pain in cyclists, aching ankles in runners or persistent wrist pain in power lifters – these are just a few examples. Alternatively, you may not have any distinct reactions, but instead, be “a little down” at training.
Your personal trainer will likely notice these subtle changes if you have one. If you’re training on your own at the moment, another reputable trainer Andrew Read recommends to look out for signs like :
- Frequent, unexplainable minor injuries and aches
- Hormonal imbalances (including menstrual irregularities in women) – although at this early stage of overtraining bloodwork often comes back normal
- Decreased libido
- Fatigue, anxiety and depressive moods
By ignoring the first signs of overtraining, you are heading towards stage 2, characterised by an uncommon feeling of increased energy and irritability, explained by the attempts of the adrenal system to cope with the stress of increased demands . Many people feel restless during this phase, and they can seemingly go for days without sleep – or any kind of rest, in fact.
Sounds exciting? Not so fast. The skyrocketing cortisol levels can lead to increased insulin, which is a straight road to reduced fat burning and gaining fat storages .
As training regime remains intense, insulin response is maximised – as a result, it’s not uncommon to get uncontrollable carbohydrate cravings, which will be stored as fat, worsening the problem and initiating a vicious circle .
If it sounds familiar, it is seriously time to stop, back up on training and, ideally, seek help. Otherwise, welcome to…
During stage 3, you are likely severely worn out and exhausted. Not surprising – chronic overtraining may lead to very serious consequences, including brain, muscle and metabolic imbalances, which are capable of literally killing you over time .
In major cases, severe fatigue at this phase is combined with a drastic decrease in performance, to the point where some people give up for good. Serious hormonal imbalances, affecting the adrenal glands, thyroxine production, growth hormone regulations and much more, put an overtrained body at risk of multiple health complications such as cardiovascular disease .
It may take years to recover from this kind of damage, and sometimes complete recovery is not possible. Therefore, take care of yourself and aim to never come close to stage 3.
How To Overcome Overtraining & Get Back On Track
A professional athlete, dancer and trainer Fawnia Mondey recently shared her strategies that can seriously help overcome overtraining and return on a healthier, more productive track :
- Take some rest. Remember – recovery is an integral part of your regime, and it’s just as important (if not more!) that exercising. Sometimes a day is enough, while at times taking as much as a full week off can help you feel better and enhance performance.
- Back off a bit. If you don’t feel like breaks are for you, reduce the volume and/or the intensity of your routines. Do less sets, or take lighter weights and focus on form, for instance.
- Time for a massage. Certain types of massage, such as deep-tissue or sports massage, can be amazing recovery aids, provided the procedure is performed by an experienced professional. Massage helps decrease muscle tension and prevent injuries, so don’t take this option lightly. You can even try self-massage with foam rollers, spiky balls or even folded towels – there are many helpful tutorials on the internet.
- Hot and cold. Temperature contrast therapy, such as hot and cold showers, boosts the immune system, improves circulation and promotes smooth digestion. Add reducing the levels of stress hormones and lessening pain sensitivity – and you don’t have any excuse to skip this tip.
- Quality nutrition. Make sure your nutrition is complete – everything should be perfect, from energy intake to individual macronutrients, vitamins and minerals. Consult a personal trainer or a dietitian if you are struggling to create an appropriate meal plan, and you’ll notice the difference shortly.
- Split training. When you’re ready to exercise again, make sure you are splitting the workload by working different sets of muscles on separate days. By planning your training ahead of time, you will be able to minimise unnecessary muscle overworking and avoid injuries.
Exercise is a very important part of achieving your health and fitness goals, and it’s very tempting to skip the whole “recovery” part, especially when you start seeing first results.
But remember – training is exercise and rest, not just exercise. By allowing yourself to recover properly, you will avoid many problems and achieve amazing results!
- Weight Management in the United Kingdom 2015: Euromonitor International.
- MacKinnon, L.T., Overtraining effects on immunity and performance in athletes. Immunology and cell biology, 2000. 78(5): p. 502-509.
- Lowery, L. and C.E. Forsythe, Protein and overtraining: potential applications for free-living athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2006. 3(1): p. 1.
- Smith, L.L., Cytokine hypothesis of overtraining: a physiological adaptation to excessive stress. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 2000. 32(2): p. 317-331.
- Gabbett, T.J., The training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? British journal of sports medicine, 2016. 50(5): p. 273-280.
- Read, A. Overtraining Can Kill You: The 3 Stages of Overtraining, Part 1.
- Read, A. Overtraining Can Kill You: The 3 Stages of Overtraining, Part 2.
- Mondey, F. Overtraining: Signs and Solutions! 2014.