How to Avoid Overtraining

Overtraining syndrome is a condition which can affect anyone – from pro athletes to people who have only just started working out. There are many different overtraining symptoms and it’s a condition which is sometimes hard to pin down. Nonetheless, anyone who’s experienced it knows just how frustrating it can be.

So, what is overtraining syndrome, why does it happen and, most importantly, what can you do to fix and avoid it?

What is overtraining?

Overtraining happens when you do more training than your body has time to recover from. As a result, you might start to notice a decline in performance, even if you train more intensely to try and compensate. Whether you’re training for a marathon, have decided to take on a fitness boost and are doing gym classes seven days per week, or are trying to bulk muscle up with weights, it’s possible to experience overtraining with any sport.

Why does overtraining syndrome happen?

Overtraining syndrome typically happens when you rapidly increase the intensity of your exercise regime. For instance, someone who’s signed up to their first marathon may usually only do one 5K run per week, yet start to follow a training programme that can see them do ten times this distance each week. This sudden change in intensity means the body simply doesn’t have time to adapt.

Overtraining syndrome can also happen if you don’t eat or hydrate enough. If you’re following a punishing training plan, your body will burn through a lot of calories – you need to fuel it with a well-rounded diet which helps sustain your regime’s demands.

Overtraining symptoms

If you recognise any of these tell-tale signs of overtraining, you might want to reconsider your current exercise regime:

  • Insomnia/disturbed sleep: Overtraining means your body produces too many stress hormones, preventing you from sleeping easily
  • General feeling of tiredness and lethargy: While some tiredness is normal after exercising, if you’re not giving your body enough time to recover, you may experience chronic fatigue
  • Decreased performance, despite increased training: You will likely notice a drop in speed, strength and endurance, despite increasing training intensity
  • Rapid weight loss: If you are not nourishing your body enough after intensive exercise sessions, you may notice a rapid drop in weight
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure, even when resting: Possibly due to your body feeling under constant stress and the hormones released in this process
  • Changes in menstrual patterns: due to hormone imbalances
  • General feelings of weakness or decreased strength: due to fatigue
  • You notice you have colds, sore throats and other minor ailments more often: Your body’s immune system is weakened, so it cannot protect itself so easily

Overtraining symptoms are, clearly, quite diverse, and you may not experience all of the above at the same time. Nevertheless, if you do notice some of these symptoms and if you are also doing more exercise than usual, you may well be suffering from overtraining syndrome.

What to do if you have overtraining syndrome?

If you believe you might be suffering from overtraining syndrome, the good news is that the cure is pretty simple: rest!

Take at least one full week off training and take it easy, eating a healthy, balanced diet and hydrating well. This might be easier said than done, especially if you’re training for a long-distance race or competing in a tournament of some sort. Nonetheless, the symptoms won’t just disappear on their own and you’re likely to only feel worse the longer you keep training.

After you’ve taken a clean week off exercise, try not to rush back into it at the same intensity as before – at least to start with. Gradually build up to your previous levels and don’t just jump back in where you left off.

If your symptoms don’t disappear after a full week without exercise, it might be wise to visit your GP to check if there’s something else going on.

How to avoid overtraining syndrome in future?

If you’ve experienced overtraining syndrome, you’ll know just how frustrating it can be – especially if you’re preparing for a race or some kind of sports tournament. Here’s how to avoid the condition:

  • Reduce the number of days you train each week: Training can be addictive and great fun. Nonetheless, unless you’re a professional athlete, few people should be doing more than five days’ training per week – and four is probably ideal.
  • Shift up your training gradually: Overtraining symptoms often occur when people quickly increase their training levels. Rather than going from one gym session a week to six, gradually build up the number of sessions you do over a couple of months.
  • Rest: Resting is a crucial part of any exercise regime – you should aim for at least two days of rest per week, although three is probably ideal.

While we all want to beat our goals, you don’t want to slow yourself down, thanks to overtraining. Remember the importance of resting – whatever your sport – and focus on gradually building up.