Within the past several years, the fitness world has adopted a much more militaristic, no-pain-no-gain mentality than used to be common. And, while it's fantastic that people are taking fitness more seriously and enjoying their workouts more, many experts warn that this hardcore, all-out approach to fitness could be misguided.
The reality is that you can work out too much, too frequently and too hard – even causing some pretty significant damage to your body. This state, known as overtraining, is a very serious condition that, at the very least, is counterproductive to all of your otherwise lofty fitness goals.
What causes overtraining? What are the symptoms? How can you avoid it?
Too Much of a Good Thing
The simple truth is that your muscles do not grow or improve while you're working out. Instead, that activity provides the stimulus for the desired improvements, letting your brain know that the situation has changed and that more is required of your muscles in order to meet the demands of the outside world.
Those improvements, though, happen when you're resting. Based on this, many coaches explain the situation with this simple, understandable formula:
Training = Work + Rest
But, what happens if you don't give your body enough time to recover from your workouts? In that situation, your system is already rattled and your muscles are already compromised.
Asking more of them in that state, then, will only do more damage. No significant improves will occur. This is how overtraining happens.
What to Look For
So, what are the symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome? Because so many aspects of your physiology are involved, overtraining can actually manifest in lots of different ways. The most common and noticeable symptoms, though, include:
- Decrease in athletic performance
- Lack of progress
- Mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
- Digestive problems
- Increase muscle and joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme thirst
Clearly, there is good reason to avoid overtraining.
But how? Again, the trick is to provide the stimulus needed during your workouts to trigger muscular improvements while also allowing those improvements to take place.
Primarily, this requires you to take enough time off between workouts and to make sure that your workouts are appropriate to your fitness level. This means taking days off during the week, wherein you either don't work out at all or you engage in a different type of training. If you normally lift, for example, use your rest days to take care of your cardio.
But, “rest” also includes sleep. And adequate sleep is absolutely vital, since this is when most of the rebuilding work will take place. For most people, this means no less than 8 hours of sleep each night but, depending on your personal situation, you might need even more.
Finally, no rebuilding work can be accomplished without proper materials. When it comes to muscular development, those materials are delivered through your diet – primarily in the form of protein. Those proteins are then broken down into their individual amino acids, reorganized, restructured and repurposed to create whatever your body needs at the time.