I'd been working hard at fitness in the six months or so leading up to when I started marathon training at the top of the year. Or so I thought.
The first full week of training beat me up, mentally and physically. By day three, I could not wait for my rest day -- and I was so beat, I asked my boss to let me work from home so I could truly rest. And I began to wonder: Am I overtraining?
What Are the Signs You're Overtraining?
Experts warn of some specific symptoms of overtraining; click here and here for some of those. But I'd like to add a few more general signs that I've noticed in my own life.
- You just can't get up. I'm not talking about the usual hit-the-snooze button mornings that every Regular Guy goes through. I mean you seriously can't get your head off the pillow. Your body is asking for rest.
- Recovery seems to take forever. If you're truly working hard, you're going to have soreness. That's a badge of honor. But when it's carrying over into the next workout, and then the next, and then the next, you need to think about whether you should back off.
- You dread your workouts. I get it -- it's not always fun or easy to exercise. But if you find yourself really worried about it, maybe there's a bigger problem. This is a voluntary activity, after all. Nobody's forcing you to do it.
- Stuff you should be able to do is hard. One morning in the early fall, I found myself unable to complete a set of dumbbell presses at a manageable weight. I was tired, I had a headache, and they just wouldn't go up. The prescription: a week off from all exercise.
- Stress disorders. Exercise should be a stress reducer, not a stress inducer. Here are some physical manifestations of stress that may be signs you need to ease off the throttle:
- Generalized chest pains. (Though don't mess around with this if you're not sure.)
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Tension headaches.
- Acid reflux.
- Worsening of a chronic injury (e.g., a bad back, sciatica).
What Can You Do About It?
The obvious advice for someone who's overtraining is to cut yourself some slack. But that's easier said than done. Obviously, you don't want to give up hard-earned fitness gains. And perhaps you're in the midst of competition-focused training, like I am for the marathon.
So what can you do to keep your momentum but get back to feeling right?
- Dial back the intensity. Not every workout needs to be done to exhaustion, every set of lifts to failure, every run to the point of collapse. Chances are, if you're overtraining, you've hit a plateau anyway. Give your body a chance to regenerate.
- Reduce the frequency. The magic number for the average Regular Guy is three days a week at minimum. If you're not on a competition-training plan, consider working in a few more days off.
- Shorten your workouts. If you're generally exercising for an hour at a time, try a few quicker workouts. Again, it's OK if you're not completely worn out at the end.
- Take two days off. Two days off isn't going to screw anything up. It might just be the recharge you need. Most scientists agree that you don't start to lose significant fitness for at least 10 days.
- Take stock of the other stuff. Is your nutrition on target lately? Have you been getting enough sleep? Are you exerting yourself physically in other aspects of your life? Maybe you can fix things without altering your training routine at all.
Whatever You Do, Don't Just Work Through It
If your car is almost out of gas, you don't just keep driving, so you? No. You refuel -- or you run out of gas completely. Likewise, if you're truly overtrained, simply trying to work through it isn't an option. If you keep going, you're just going to be more overtrained, and at some point, your body is going to stop responding at all. Next thing you know, you'll be out of the game for weeks or even months.
This is one case where an ounce of prevention is way better than a pound of cure. So take heed, look for the signs, figure out how you can combat it, and keep on rockin'.
What Say You?