Overtraining Syndrome12 December, 2012
Overtraining syndrome commonly occurs in athletes who are training for competition and train beyond the body’s ability to recover and without adequate rest and recovery; these training regimens can backfire, and actually decrease performance. But it is now becoming more apparent that regular gym users are becoming so obsessed with muscle gains, fat loss etc and they haven’t got a coach to guide them like athletes, so it is becoming dangerous as they are pushing their bodies to maximal effort and experiencing signs and symptoms of overtraining that they are not recognising. It’s a frustrating situation to find yourself in: you workout six days a week, occasionally twice a day, stick to a strict diet, but despite your demanding workout regime and celestial eating habits, you can’t seem to lose a pound or you’re not getting any muscle gains. In fact, your body fat percentage is inexplicably increasing and your strength is decreasing. Everything feels softer and your trousers seem tighter. No wonder you are in such a bad mood, not to mention that you are unable to concentrate, sleep, or even enjoy, well, much of anything. Your life has become about the gym rather than the gym being about giving you a stronger/healthier life. Anyone’s reaction to this would be to hit the gym harder and to bring down your calories and fat even further, but as counterintuitive as it may seem sometimes eating more and working out less is the ONLY solution to this nightmare. While this advice may be difficult to swallow for obsessed fitness enthusiasts and chronic dieters, once the basic science behind this phenomenon is understood, you maybe able to lead a healthier life and start getting the results you’re looking for.
Common Warning Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome:
Constantly Tired, drained, no energy: training may give you a temporary rush of energy but you are putting your adrenal glands under a lot of pressure, and therefore you body is working overtime, your body will be unable to produce the correct ratio of hormones to allow your body to function normally, never mind pushing it to its limit in the gym.
Daily Soreness, general aches and pains in muscles and joints and increased injuries: these are normal now and again after a hard workout, but you shouldn’t hurt/ache all the time, you need to allow your body to recover in between sessions to heal and grow, and not allowing this will put your body into overdrive, and therefore it will be unable to recover and hence you may be getting injured more, and then if you carry on your injuries become chronic.
Sudden drop in performance: your body can only take so much and you will find that it cannot keep up with the intensity of training you are putting it through, so will start to decline in performance.
Insomnia: when you overtrain your sympathetic nervous system becomes dominant. Symptoms include hyper excitability, restlessness and disturbed sleep, recovery slows, and the resting heart rate remains elevated. Simply put, the body is reacting to a chronically stressful situation by elevating the sympathetic stress system’s activity levels, so you will not be able to sleep well, and without sleep, you won’t be able to train well the next day and your body and mind won’t have rested and recovered properly in between sessions never mind function in your everyday life.
Headaches: caused through the continued stress you are putting your body under, lack of sleep, imbalanced hormones etc etc etc (the list could go on).
Decreased immunity (increased number of colds and injuries): your body is under so much stress when your training and keeping it in a constant state of stress daily will decrease your immune system. The cellular damage that occurs during overtraining can lead to nonspecific, general activation of the immune system, including changes in natural killer cell activity and the increased activation of lymphocytes, which are what defend our body from infections. This hyperactivity of the immune system following intense overtraining can possibly even contribute to the development of autoimmune conditions or adrenal fatigue.
Moodiness. Irritability, depression and decreased appetite: overtraining has been shown to affect blood levels of important neurotransmitters such as glutamine, serotonin, dopamine and 5-HTP, which can lead to feelings of depression and chronic fatigue. The stress caused by intense, excessive exercise can negatively affect the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (which controls virtually all of the hormones, nervous system activity and energy expenditure in the human body, as well as modulating the immune system), which is known to cause depression, weight gain, and digestive dysfunction.
Loss of enthusiasm for the sport or a compulsive need to exercise: you’re either too tired or feeling depressed so you lose your enthusiasm or you are panicking that you aren’t getting the effects you desire. What do you expect, you are pushing your body past its limits consistently.
Weight/fat loss plateau: you’re burning more calories than ever before but it is predominantly glucose/glycogen and muscle tissue. You are altering your hormone balance and making the testosterone/cortisol balance out of sync, sending your body into constant stress and therefore your body will increase insulin resistance and fat deposition, especially around your mid section. High cortisol levels in your body mean decreased muscle production and more fat storage, digestive issues and maybe weight gain.
Loss of menstrual cycle: although a lot of women would invite this, it is also a big indication that your body isn’t in good health, not just for baby making but a drop in estrogen can cause osteoporosis and premature bone loss, making you weaker and more prone to injury.
What should you do?
Have rest days from your training during the week, don’t wait until Sunday, you should take a 1/2 week total break every 3 months, you will come back stronger with a new vitality for training.
Vary your workouts and the intensity, if every session is full-on, you will run yourself down in no time again, make a couple of session lighter and change to a different routine every 4/6 weeks.
Do active recovery, go for a walk, take up a hobby which is active e.g. wakeboarding, do something you enjoy out of the gym environment, even if its not exercise related.
Make sure you are getting enough sleep, 6 hours is not enough especially when you are training hard, you need 8/9 hours to fully recover and to lead a healthy life.
Eat within half an hour after training to give your body fuel to recover and repair for your next session and to aid healing from the workout you just finished.
Get regular sports massages, remember you are not invincible, you are human not a machine, and need treatments to help your body recover.
Eat more low GI carbohydrates i.e. sweet potato, rice and oats as this will help serotonin levels and the nervous system.
It may seem spiritual, but everyone underestimates the power of meditation, it reduces cortisol levels and helps you sleep, and many other things like helping you deal with stress more calmly. Even just 10 minutes a day will make a big difference with sleep and stress, there are some great apps to get for your phone, so you can just plug your headphones in anytime of the day.
Other factors that should be looked at are outside influences as to why you overtrain in the first place if it is obsessional, take a step back and view your life and assess if you are really happy (but I will save that for another blog), and reduce any outside influences that cause you stress or unhappiness.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF, YOU DESERVE IT!