Working hard in the gym in order to reach your goals is great. You become more healthy, fit, strong, more confident and so on. But where do you draw the line? How can you tell if you’re overtraining?
In this article, I will be discussing what overtraining is, as well as how to avoid it.
First of all… What is Overtraining?
To understand what overtraining is, I think it’s important to first note the differences between overtraining and overloading.
Forcing a muscle to work hard increases muscle strength and endurance. As muscles adapt to these greater demands, they must be overloaded even more in order to produce further muscle gains.
This principle is called ‘progressive overloading’ and it’s the key towards gaining muscle mass and strength.
After an intense workout, your muscles need rest in order to recover, preferably for a day. In order for your body to recover, you need to provide your body with the nutrients that are necessary to repair muscle tissues. During recovery, a lighter workout might also suffice, but doing too much too soon, or ignoring the signs of muscle or joint pain, increases your risk of overuse injuries.
This is called overtraining, and ignoring the signs could lead up to lifetime disabilities.
So, in a nutshell:
- Overtraining can occur by training too much and not allowing for your muscles to recover.
- Not ingesting the nutrients necessary for recovery can increase the chance of overtraining.
What Happens to Your Muscles?
In order to remain healthy, your muscles must remain active. When you’ve overtrained, you will not be able to work out like you used to, if at all.
Loss of neural stimulation, i.e. muscle activation due to exercises, will result in disuse atrophy.
Disuse atrophy, or degeneration and loss of muscle mass, will start as soon as the muscles are immobilized. Under such conditions, muscle strength can decrease at a rate of 5% a day!
Now, please not that it’s not a certainty that this exact scenario will take place if you are overtrained!
Symptoms of Overtraining
In any case, there are a couple of symptoms of overtraining that are more common.
First of all, you will notice a drop in performance. You will not be able to lift as much weight as many times as you’re used to. This is one of the most common symptoms of overtraining and it can often be an indication that you should take a step back.
Since overtraining disallows your body to recover, you will find that excessive fatigue is another common symptom of overtraining. There is not enough energy in your body to let your muscles recover, and thus your body will start to burn its own energy stores.
Why not eat a little more then?
Well, overtraining will also lead to a loss of appetite. Not only that, but the body will start to release cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol breaks muscle tissue down to sugars. Increased cortisol levels can also make you more agitated, and nobody likes a Negative Nancy.
Oh, cortisol can also contribute to a decrease in sleep quality, as well as insomnia. Your muscles recover during sleep, and less sleep therefore leads to a decrease in muscle recovery. Less sleep might also lead to psychological stress.
With your whole body being disrupted, certain metabolic imbalances can occur. Now, this can be hazardous for your health. I’m talking for example about gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems.
So yeah, overtraining is bad. Period.
How to Prevent Overtraining?
I’ve actually only got one piece of advice for you.
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.
Really, it’s that easy. I’ve been on the edge of overtraining a couple of times. Being fanatic in the gym is great, but please, listen to your body!
If you’ve just done the workout of your life, take a day off. Let your body recover. Don’t be blinded by the principles of ‘muscle gains’.
You will progress, just take it one step at a time.
A lot of platforms are stating you should kill your muscles every single day, which can be dangerous. A lot of people, especially on the internet, use steroids. These compounds boost your testosterone levels, and they allow for your muscles to recover a lot faster than normal.
By no means do I recommend you to take steroids, by the way.
Still, this will allow your body to take a lot more physical ‘punishment’ than normal, and that’s why some people recommend eating 6000+ calories a day, as well as putting a lot of stress on your muscles.
The only one you should be listening to, is yourself. Sure, you can take a workout program from the internet and follow it. But allow your body to recover and make sure you don’t overtrain!
If you start noticing a decrease in performance, stop what you’re doing and take a break. It’s what I did when I was confronted with a decrease in performance. However, I went all-out the next day, which is what basically broke me for a month.
Do not be blinded by the principles of ‘gains’ and ‘progress’. Being healthy is a lot more important!
How to Treat Overtraining
First and foremost, take a break from training or drastically lower the intensity and volume of your workouts. Make sure your body gets to recover.
Secondly, make sure your nutrition is up to par. In order for your body to perform and recover, it needs its fuel. I’d also recommend lowering the intake of stimulants, such as caffeine, as they may lead to an increase of cortisol. Detoxifying the body is your priority, therefore you should also drink a lot of water.
Make sure you also pay attention to any aches and pains. They exist to notify you of certain imbalances. Do not ignore them.
You might also want to use a supplement that helps your body recover.
A great supplement that I’ve personally used in the past, is CapraFlex. I found that it helped to lessen the aches I had.
CapraFlex combines glucosamine and chondroitin, which causes inflammations to decrease. In other words, it helps reduce injuries and thus facilitate recovery.
Now you know what overtraining is and hopefully how to prevent it. Going all out in the gym is fine, just make sure you don’t overdo it.
Listen to your body.
If your focus is to gain muscle or lose fat, by all means: go for it! Just make sure you’re not blinded by your progress (or lack thereof).
If you notice any symptoms of overtraining, take a step back. Lower the intensity and volume of your workouts or just take a break entirely.
If you’ve overtrained, focus on recovering. Not being able to work out normally will put a brake on any forms of progress and it might have lifetime consequences!
Recovery basically means that you need to rest and supply your body with all the nutrients that are necessary to facilitate internal repairs. Supplements may help to speed up the process. I’d personally recommend CapraFlex, as it did exactly what it needed to do.
All in all: go and break a sweat in the gym! Just make sure you don’t overdo it.
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