What is Overtraining? What to Look for and How to Train Smart

Conventional wisdom tells us that the harder we work, the more progress we will make. Put in the extra hours at the office, for example, or study on the weekends, and you’ll be that much further ahead. Same goes for athletics and exercise, right?

Not quite.

What is Overtraining?

As it turns out, too much training can have adverse effects. Though it might seem counterintuitive, working out too hard can harm the body, stunt progress, and lead to injury. Once you reach this tipping point, you might experience overtraining syndrome, or the symptoms associated with training with more frequency and intensity than your body can feasibly recover from.

Signs You Might Be Overtraining

Have you ever gone out for your morning run and said to yourself, “Wow, I just don’t have it today?” Sometimes, you’re just having an off day. It could be sleep related. It might be due to something you ate the previous day. If it’s happening chronically, though, you could be suffering the consequences of overtraining.

Here are some symptoms to look out for:

  • Mood swings
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Diminished performance
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Incomplete or interrupted sleep cycles
  • Loss of appetite
  • Injury

You can find overtraining syndrome in people of all skill levels and conditioning. People starting new workout or training regimens, for example, are prone to overtraining. In their eagerness to start something new, newbies will often dive into a gruelling regimen headlong without giving their bodies ample time to adjust, recover, and repair.

Overtraining can affect even the highest level athletes, too, especially those with gruelling training programs. Distance marathoners, boxers, and and professional weightlifters come to mind.

No matter what kind of training you do, it’s important to train smart.

How to Avoid and Recover from Overtraining

The problem with overtraining syndrome is that it can be difficult to identify. Many of the symptoms are shared by other illnesses and disorders. If you think you might have triggered overtraining syndrome, it’s important to first seek your physician’s recommendations.

When you do return to training, mark your progress by increments and include rest and recovery days. Some days, it’s best not to do any training at all. And remember that no workout regimen can be successful without adequate sleep and a mindful diet. Here a few other tips to avoid overtraining:

  • Get at least eight hours of sleep a night
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day
  • Always warm up and stretch before exercises
  • Always cool down your body after training
  • Work “off” days into your training regimen

Finally, listen to your body! The human body is a complex machine with built-in mechanisms that signal distress, pain, and overuse. Listen to what your body is telling you, and remember that a “play through the pain” attitude can have serious consequences.