Overtraining is a buzz word used a lot in the fitness industry – but what does it mean and what actually happens to the body when it’s experiences too much stress?
What happens to my body when I train?
When you have a good workout session, certain hormones come into play such as cortisol (the stress hormone), growth hormone and testosterone to name a few. This is a good thing, and the body is generally very good at coping with the stresses placed upon it by exercise.
However, overtraining is a different kettle of fish and can wreak havoc on your body’s hormones. Overreaching and overtraining are two concepts that are often confused.
Overtraining vs Overreaching?
It actually takes a lot more than most people realise to overtrain – this has a negative effect on the body. However, overreaching is a great tool that can be used to an athlete’s advantage to improve strength and power; it should be noted that it does result in a short term decline in performance, hence why it can cause confusion and be confused with overtraining.
This can be recovered from in a matter of days, unlike over-training which can take months to recover from.
Overtraining can have a negative effect on the body’s secretion of hormones. This can lead to delayed recovery, therefore your results will also be stagnated.
Risks associated with overtraining
Feeling burnt out and generally under the weather can be a symptom of overtraining. This can result in a lack of motivation to train and also a tiredness that you find hard to shake off.
✓ Often athletes that are overtraining have difficulty getting to sleep at night which contributes to the cycle as they are also tired from lack of sleep which has a negative effect on recovery.
This occurs in female athletes when hormones are out of sync, often from low body fat levels and overtraining. Amenorrhea is the absence of menstruation for three or more periods in a row.
✓ It also presents its own set of potential complications if the hormone balance is not restored including osteoporosis and brittle bones due to a loss in bone density.
Weakened immune system
Your immune system can struggle to keep up the pace if you are training hard and frequently.
✓ This is especially the case if you are overtraining. You may notice you get annoying colds and flu more frequently and that you find infections harder to shake off.
Greater risk of injury
Overtraining is a major cause of injury in most athletes.
✓ Not allowing enough time to recover between sessions and training hard are two factors that can lead to niggling and chronic injuries in athletes.
How to avoid overtraining
So now that we know what over training is and the impact it can have on the body, how can I avoid it?
#1 A realistic & sustainable training plan
While realistic and sustainable are two key words to note, I also list progressive as we do not want to go too easy on ourselves in the gym either from fear of overtraining.
✓ Setting realistic goals and ensuring your workouts are sustainable will make life a lot easier as it will be less of an effort to stay consistent in training.
#2 Ample rest and recovery
Probably the most important factor in avoiding overtraining and the least appreciated by many, is simply allowing yourself downtime to rest and recover between sessions. When we rest, we grow – not while we train. If we do not allow ourselves the time to recover, we are at a much greater risk of injury and also may halt our progress in the gym.
Consistency is key when it comes to results, and it will be very difficult to remain consistent with both your diet and nutrition if you are laid off sick or injured. Getting enough sleep is crucial to everyone, but especially those whom exercise frequently.
✓ When you sleep the body recovers, and you should be shooting for a solid eight hours a night to get the maximum benefit from your shut eye!
#3 De-load week
Consider adding de-load weeks into your training plan. This is basically a week that you place into your programme to allow your body to rest and recover; it is not a week off training altogether, but a week where you reduce the volume of your training and intensity temporarily after a few weeks of progressive training.
✓ This can be of huge benefit and most people will hit personal bests after a de-load week when it is used as part of a progressive training programme that has been designed well.
#4 Solid nutrition plan
Nutrition plays a key role in your body’s recovery post training. A solid nutrition plan will ensure that you body receives all the key macro and micro nutrients needed to perform and recover at its best potential.
✓ If you do not provide your body with the fuel it needs, you cannot expect maximum recovery from it and this is a sure fire way to lead yourself down the path of overtraining.
Take home message
While over reaching can be a positive thing in a well planned programme with ample de-load weeks, overtraining is a negative state that be tough for an athlete to recover from and may hold you back from your goals.
Consider implementing the steps above to safe guard your health and gains at the gym!