The Overtraining Syndrome
As we move into the fall and winter seasons many of us will find ourselves falling into a new routine. Be it focusing more on work, school, or your Netflix account; inevitably spending more time inside and closer to the stresses of daily life. If you are a fitness junkie like me your escape will be the gym and one day you may wake up and realize that you spend more time there then you do at home or out with friends. On the outside this may not look too bad, aside from being told that you’ve become anti-social. What we don’t see is how this constant state of stress is affecting our body on the inside.
Overtraining is defined as a result of extreme levels of training measured by frequency, intensity, volume, or all three without a sufficient amount of rest or recovery in between sessions. Once your body falls into this state for a constant period of time an athlete is diagnosed with overtraining syndrome and at this point you may begin to see your performance decrease.
Would you define yourself as an “Overtrainer”?
Let’s take a look at some of the negative effects overtraining may have on the body. As we become more fit it is understood that our heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood through the body, thus resulting in a decrease in resting heart rate. Once an athlete hits a state of overtraining the opposite may occur; resting heart rate may increase and, even more shocking, exercise-induced heart rate may actually decrease. In an overtrained athlete the heart is not as efficient as it was once trained to be.
Muscle recovery is also affected by the state of overtraining. Due to the higher volumes of training, levels of creatine kinase will increase alerting the body that there is muscle damage. In connection, glycogen levels will decrease. Essentially this means that the muscles are not recovering as they should because they are constantly being broken down without sufficient time or resources to repair.
Hormonal changes may also be seen among both men and women. Levels of testosterone in men may see a significant decrease which is just unwanted all around. Being one of the main hormones aiding in muscle building, sex drive, and growing a beard things may go significantly wrong. Cortisol levels have also been reported as increasing due to overtraining. Cortisol is the main stress hormone in our body which alerts the brain that something isn’t right and we should be prepared. Cortisol is also know to increase body fat, mainly because we are in survival mode and this is a natural response in preparation.
Other effects of overtraining include:
- Decreased oxygen intake
- Increased muscle soreness
- Increased anxiety, depression, anger
- Increased fatigue/chronic fatigue
- Decreased drive
- Lack of confidence leading to depression
- Repeatedly getting injured
In the end you will notice a change in your overall performance. Failing on lifts you previously were able to hit, having trouble getting through workouts, and just feeling overall sluggish. You are starting to regress. Actively getting weaker, slower, and your stamina is deteriorating despite the regular physical activity you are taking part in. These are all signs of overtraining.
The solution is simple: REST. Take a break from the gym for a few days and let your body heal itself. Give it a break from the constant stress of exercise and focus on other activities.
If all of this information is not enough to turn you away from the gym for a few days hopefully a real life situation will. Being a coach at another CrossFit box I have seen overtraining and its effects first hand. We had one client who had the typical CrossFit mentality of pushing oneself day after day leaving no room for rest. She started to see her body deteriorate from the over stimulus. She lost strength, drive, and stamina leading her to become frustrated. Upon the suggestion of one of the coaches she took a full week off from the gym. She did absolutely nothing gym oriented for 7 days. On the day she came back she immediately jumped onto the pull-up rig and busted out 2 strict pull-ups. To make even more of an impact, she had never been able to perform even one pull-up prior to her week of rest. Giving her body that time of rest allowed her muscles to recover and perform beyond what she was able to do before.
Next time you question whether you should head to the gym for a workout listen to your body, identify your own motives for training, and educate yourself by either talking to a trainer/coach or researching. In the long run switch up your training routine and don’t push yourself every time you workout. And most importantly rest!