Its a tightrope-like balance, adequately challenging ones abilities, without causing injury, to avoid a plateauing performance. In this article I am going to debunk one of the biggest myths in fitness, explain the importance of recovery, and share some easy to spot warnings of overtraining.

Overtraining, More is Not Better

The age-long idea that more training, heavier weights, longer hours, and more reps, is better training. You should be unlocking our body’s natural potential during your work outs, but training is created to break down your muscles.

Too much training does not make you stronger, faster, or increase endurance. It makes you weaker, slower, and decreases your endurance, because overtraining causes your muscles to become over exhausted, making you very susceptible to injury.

Recovery –> Training

Although it may seem like common sense, rest and recovery is something that individuals overlook. When working out there is a natural and powerful motivation to drive our bodies to the next level of intensity. But one should always remember that progress is not made solely from the difficulty of training, but also from the recovery that follows.

The main goal of a workout is to cause stress on your body to teach it how to handle a little more stress next time. I spoke about work out breaking down the muscles, but it is from the rest that your muscles are allowed post-workout that make you stronger and faster. Think of it like school. If you give a student too much material to study and not enough time to study they will probably fail their exam. Your muscles act the same way, you are teaching your muscles to act and react in a certain manner during your workout, but you need to give those muscles time to rest and recover before you continue your training.

So now you are wondering, how do I balance my training and rest? Not enough training, and you’ll begin to backslide, but too much training and you could suffer from a serious injury.

When training too hard, too often our muscles become severely broken down, which is also known as overtiring.

I am going to give you some common signs of overtiring to use as tools to help you in discovering your personal training to rest ratio*.

*Follow up articles will discuss strategies to speed recovery and prevent overtiring.

Progression of Symptoms in Overtraining

The following list is the progression of negative effects you will see in your body over time with overtraining.

Long Term Soreness

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness or DOMS, is the uncomfortable sensations in your muscles that settle in after hard workout. Most of this discomfort is normal and apart of our muscles repair process from the micro tears caused by strenuous workouts. Chronic soreness is a condition of muscle tightness or pain that lingers for more than two days. After this length of time if you are still feeling sore in the same area, it would be wise to take some time to rest. Muscles that remain sore for longer than two days are still in a vulnerable state of repair, making that area of your body more susceptible to injury.

Sleep disturbances

Sleep Disturbances

One of the early signs of overtraining is waking up in the middle night, usually between 2 and 3 am. Training causes our bodies to produce the stress hormone known as Cortisol. When this hormone reaches high levels in our bodies, it becomes a double edged sword in your recovery process. First, you are unable to sleep soundly through the night, depleting your energy stores for the next day instead of recharging them, and second, the Cortisol hormone breaks down your muscles, not allowing them to recover during peak hours of sound sleep.*

To learn more about Sleep Disturbances and the Cortisol hormone, please read our Sleep Debt article

Joints Ache

I have already established that working out typically causes small amounts of inflammation. Soreness is the sign that your body is beginning the process that strengthens muscles and ligaments has begun.

This rebuilding cycle is also beneficial for your joints, but when the cycle is not allowed to complete itself, your joints will begin to break down in tandem with your overtrained muscles. Joint is different from muscle pain because joints are the areas between bones. The pain is known to be more sharp than muscle soreness and normally flares in specific areas such as knees, shoulders, ankles, feet, and hands, usually accompanied by swelling.

How can Performance Health & Wellness help you?

  • Active Release Technique (ART) to the soft tissue structures to restore normal function, decrease stress to the injured area, reduce scar tissue, and promote healing;
  • Stretching and Exercises to prevent condition from returning;
  • Chiropractic adjustments to restore proper motion;
  • Cold laser to help reduce inflammation;

Getting Sick

Exercise normally has a positive effect on the immune system. It flushes bacteria out of the lungs, increases your body’s disease fighters called antibodies and white blood cells, and can even prevent the growth of bacteria, preventing infections. But rigorous physical activity walks a fine line with immune systems. High Cortisol hormone levels suppress the immune function, leaving you defenseless to germs.

Prolonged exercise, whether it be over the course of a single or many days, that you have not acclimated your body to will also decrease your white blood cell numbers and ability to function.

Mood Swings and Depression

Physical activity stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, because it is the part of your nervous system speaks to your lungs and heart to increase blood flow and oxygen intake. When your heart rate increases and your begin to breath heavier your sympathetic nervous system releases a hormones as well. These hormones are controlled by the adrenal glands.

This hormonal release is the bodys natural response to cope with the demands placed on the body, but if these adrenal glands are overworked due to too much training, your hormone levels will become imbalanced, causing you to become anxious and stressed out.

No Appetite and Stomach Aches

When your body is active, it should crave fuel and nutrients aka hunger. When your body is training the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, and your parasympathetic nervous system is suppressed. The parasympathetic nervous system stimulates digestion.

When the parasympathetic nervous system is suppressed for too long, your body is unable to breakdown food efficiently, so the nutrients of your food are not being sent to where they are needed. Your stomach becomes upset and your natural craving and hunger disappears, but in reality your body is in desperate need of nourishment.

Performance Plateaus

Performance Plateaus

Despite your hard work and long hours, you are not progressing, improving, or seeing positive change, because burning muscle is a bodys response to the excessive stress created by too much training.

Your performance drop can also be directly connected to your inability to fight sicknesses, sleep, absorb nutrients, and mood swings.

There is a fine line between training too hard and not hard enough.

When you begin to feel these symptoms, its time to rest. Keep in mind that the order of these symptoms can vary, but a cumulation of these symptoms can lead to very serious injuries and setbacks.

Take a couple of days off, eat healthier and sleep.

Stay tuned for follow up articles on strategies to prevent overtraining, reducing the risk of injuries, and performing at your highest level.

Be Smart and Listen to Your Body,
Dr. Christian Barney D.C., D.A.B.C.O, C.C.S.P. ART

Article by Dr. Christian Barney

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