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Are you Overtraining? How to move ahead by taking a step back.

I lived much of my life with a simple mantra. Too much of a good thing is never enough. It's a philosophy that worked fine in my teens. Unfortunately, as I went through my 20's and 30's it became painfully obvious that moderation wouldn't just be desirable; it would become mandatory.

Working out in the gym is one of those areas where I had to learn restraint. After a couple years I stopped showing progress. Routine muscle soreness was taking longer to recover from and I wasn't excited about going to the gym anymore. These were warning signs of overtraining.

When you workout your muscles are being torn down using weights and machines. Muscles don't grow during the workout, it's when you rest that they repair and rebuild. If your body doesn't have enough time to heal, repetitive stress injuries or overtraining is the result.

If you're experiencing some of the symptoms below, you might need to take a break from your regular workouts.

A word of caution. With most conditions a physician can diagnose you based on specific symptoms and tests. This isn't the case with overtraining. Rather, a diagnosis is reached using two steps.

  1. Your personal history. If all other aspects of your program are unchanged it may be overtraining that's causing problems.

  2. Your medical profile. Before overtraining can be given as a diagnosis, other conditions that produce similar symptoms must first be ruled out through a medical exam and lab tests.

Minor aches and pains are a normal result of stretching and growing your muscles. But if those aches and pains continually hold you back and aren't going away, or when it takes longer than normal for your body to recover from a workout, you may need a break. Consider a couple days off or 3 - 4 weeks with a lighter program.

If your resting or training heart rate has begun to increase, you might be overtraining. Take 4 days off and rest.

If you've been doing the same workout program for more than 6 months, you may not need time off from the gym, but it's definitely time to change your routine. Give your muscles some new stimulus and avoid repetitive stress injuries.

If you stop increasing muscle mass or if your strength hits a plateau, these are warning signs. Getting weaker or losing coordination are also typical symptoms of overtraining. If you haven't been making progress for a couple months, consider taking a 4 day vacation.

Signs of overtraining aren't always physical. Too much exercise might make you irritable and depressed. When the gym starts to become a chore or if your appetite suffers it's possible you have a problem. Disrupted sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating or feelings of apathy are other indicators you might need time off. If you're experiencing these, take a week off and relax.

If you're pain-free and making good progress, it's still a good idea to take a break once every 6 months. Kick back for a couple days and consider it a vacation well earned.

When you do take a break, don't go to the gym at all unless it's required for your job. You should be taking a mental break from working out, not just a physical one.

Spend time during your break exploring other interests that aren't as physically challenging. Go swimming, take walks or ride your bike. Stick to activities that aren't competitive. Avoid more strenuous sports like wind surfing, rock climbing or running.

Don't rely on excessive supplementation or nutritional modifications to speed your recovery. There is no evidence that higher-than-recommended doses of antioxidant vitamins or amino acids will get you back into the gym sooner. Just make sure you're getting an adequate amount of nutrition based on your physical activities.

If you don't know what you should be taking in, visit the USDA's website, www.choosemyplate.gov for specific nutritional recommendations based on your sex and age. For more detail, schedule an appointment with a licensed nutritionist.

Finally, don't feel guilty. Everybody needs time to rest and recuperate. It's your reward for all the hard work getting in shape.

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5/13/2005
Updated 12/29/2017