Has your workout performance plateaued or even declined? Has your enthusiasm for fitness waned in the past months?
Are you constantly plagued with soreness, swelling and inflammation? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you might be suffering from overtraining.
But don’t put away your gym bag and sports mouthguard for good just yet — it’s totally possible to recover from overtraining.
In this guide, we explain the signs of overtraining and offer six tips for preventing it in the first place.
What Are the Signs of Overtraining?
The first step in avoiding overtraining is knowing the signs of overtraining. Overtraining can manifest both physically and mentally. Physical signs of overtraining include:
- Chronic exhaustion and fatigue, especially after working out
- Plateau or decline in performance, often with no discernible cause
- Unusual levels of soreness or stiffness that are slow to dissipate
- Not feeling rested and rejuvenated even after rest days
- Recurring injuries, especially repetitive stress injuries
- Decreased immune system and increased susceptibility to colds and other illnesses
Overtraining isn’t a purely physical phenomenon. Mental signs of overtraining include:
- Lack of motivation for working out (which may manifest as skipping or shortening sessions)
- Decreased interest in training and related activities
- Decline in self confidence associated with training
- Difficulty focusing on exercising and maintain concentration
- Experiencing anger, irritation, restlessness, and other negative emotions while training or planning workouts
Many of the signs of overtraining overlap with those of other conditions, including depression. Thus, it’s important to determine if you are only suffering from overtraining or if there is something else going on in your life.
When it comes to overtraining, most of the symptoms will concentrate on the workouts themselves — i.e., you won’t be motivated to put in your moldable mouthguard and hit the gym or the field, but you’ll still want to engage in other hobbies — but this is only a general guideline.
Physical and mental health professionals can help you determine if you are experiencing overtraining or if the underlying cause is something else, as well as determine an appropriate treatment plan.
How to Avoid Overtraining
If you are looking to prevent overtraining, there are several steps that you can take to stop the problem before it starts. Here are our tops tips for how to avoid overtraining:
- Plan rest into your schedule.
Dedicated rest days (and weeks) are key to stopping overtraining before it starts. Plan at least one day a week where you rest and consider taking two days off if you are really fatigued.
If you absolutely must move around, then do some light active recovery for a few minutes, and then call it quits.
It’s also a good idea to plan a full week of active recovery every month or two to give your body a longer “reset” period.
This week will also give you a chance to re-evaluate your training goals and plan out your workouts for the next couple of months.
- Consider tracking your performance.
Tracking your workout performance via a fitness journal, heart rate monitor, blood pressure monitor, workout app or some other means can also be beneficial.
Not only will it allow you to see improvements over time, but it can also catch early signs of overtraining such as flagging performance or increased perceived exertion.
If you don’t already track your workouts in some way, consider starting that now so you can monitor your performance over time.
- Get enough sleep.
Sleep is absolutely essential to recovery, and there’s no replacement for it. Taking one or even two days off each week won’t do you much good if you’re only sleeping five hours a night.
Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep every single night. If you’ve really been hitting the gym hard, you might need even more than that to help your body recuperate.
To promote better sleep, practice good sleep hygiene such as going to sleep in a completely dark room and waking up and going to bed at the same time each day.
- Eat enough of the right food.
Many people dedicated to training are so concentrated on muscle building that they focus on protein at the expense of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates have been demonized, but they are essential for muscle building, energy and recovery.
If you don’t eat enough carbs, and you don’t have a lot of fat reserves to burn, your body will end up burning mass for fuel instead — probably not the outcome that you want!
Focus on healthy carbs such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains so that you will give your body essential nutrients as you replenish your carbs.
- Try hot and cold therapy or massage.
The use of hot and cold temperatures is a great way to treat post-workout soreness after you strip off your stinky gym clothes and take out your boil and bite mouthguard.
Heat helps with stiffness, while cold eases swelling. Hot and cold therapy can take many forms, including baths, heating pads and reusable ice packs.
If you can afford a professional massage, that is also an excellent way to soothe sore muscles on your day off.
If a professional massage is outside your budget, then there are many self-massage tools available, including foam rollers, massage balls and massage sticks
- Reassess your training plan.
A training plan that you made months ago, or even a few weeks ago, may no longer be applicable, which is why it’s a good idea to periodically check in with your training goals to see if you need to make any adjustments.
No one will simply progress on a continuously upward trajectory with no changes whatsoever.
At some point, you will need to drop your weight or reps (or both) and that’s totally okay — and to be expected. Set a reminder to yourself to periodically check in with your training goals and schedules to see if something needs to be changed.
Follow these tips to help stop overtraining before it starts. If the signs of overtraining already sound familiar to you, then consider getting checked out by a professional just to ensure that nothing else is going on.