Posted on September 13 2018
Guest post by Briana Bell
Ever heard of “The Law of Diminishing Returns?” While generally applied to economics, the law rings true in many other aspects of life. The law of diminishing returns states that at a certain point, the more effort you put in, the fewer results you see. If you find these conditions to be true regarding your workouts, chances are you are overtrained.
As a dedicated athlete, you hit the gym day in and day out. You log every set, every rep, time your rest periods and maybe you even bought that useless supplement that the sleazy salesman pushed on to you. Meanwhile, you’re not seeing any gains. Maybe there is another piece to the puzzle? Yep, you guessed it! Being able to recover from your workouts is just as critical as showing up to the gym–period.
Overtraining starts to take its toll when you cannot recover from your workouts sufficiently to progress. To help speed up your recovery from intense workouts, make sure to use compression gear while you’re working out. Let’s take a closer look at this aspect of training to define exactly what overtraining is and then we will define some of the symptoms of overtraining:
What Is Overtraining?
Overtraining is the state your body reaches when it is taxed beyond its capacity. While this is very common and measurable in the weight room, every athlete will face the effects of overtraining during their athletic career. Overtraining is a state of physical exhaustion, the result of taxing workouts without sufficient recovery time.
What Causes Overtraining?
Before we get into overtraining, let’s look at the basics. There are 3 main critical components to success in your workouts:
Proper Training Protocols–The first is a proper training program, meaning one that is in line with your goals and aspirations that allows for progression–think baby steps here. Also, keep in mind that your body needs to be challenged to make adaptations and grow stronger. Your program should include hard work!
Diet–Another very important piece of the puzzle is your diet, although it is overlooked very often. The phrase “you are what you eat” has a lot of truth to it. Nourishing your body with a good diet is essential to progressing in your workout routine.
Recovery–This one ties the first two aspects together and is possibly the most important of the three. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on recovery the most. Your training fully depends on what you can actually recover from, which is dictated by your current level of conditioning. Magazines love to promote their product by advertising that they have professional athletes’ workouts to share with you so that you can get similar results to theirs. What they don’t tell you is that it took the athletes years and a whole team dedicated to improving their fitness levels. You cannot expect to start working out tomorrow and follow a training routine that a professional athlete has spent years building up to.
Your workouts should be designed with your current fitness levels in mind. Taking on a workout routine that continuously stresses your body excessively is a perfect recipe for overtraining, and you can actually do this by neglecting any of the 3 components mentioned above. An overly aggressive workout routine will cause excessive trauma to the body, not allowing you to recover in time for the next workout.
Your diet also affects your recovery as well. An athlete performing intense workouts is going to need plenty of protein to rebuild the muscles, carbohydrates to prevent the body burning protein for energy and fats to encourage testosterone production (yes, your body actually depends on dietary fat intake to produce testosterone, the king of muscle builders) and provide your body with a secondary energy source in addition to carbohydrates.
Finally, your recuperative capacities will dictate how much training you can handle without burning out. Your ability to recover from workouts is influenced by genetics and lifestyle factors. Things like getting enough sleep, the quality of your sleep, your diet, stress levels, how long your workouts last and how often you work out will have an influence on recovery. Many successful athletes will tell you that all of these are crucial to preventing overtraining. Sometimes what we do outside of the gym is more important to our success than what we do in the gym.
Signs That You May Be Overtraining
Now that we’ve identified overtraining and some of the causes of it, let’s take a look at some of the signs that you’re overtrained:
- Everything feels heavy–When you’re overtrained, even the lightest weights can feel like a ton. This is your body’s way of telling you that it is exhausted.
- You lift weights but you’re not getting a pump–The muscles work best when they are full of glycogen. When you’re overtrained, the body does not have enough time to rebuild that glycogen and store it in the muscle, leading to a weaker muscle that has a deflated look to it. Given that compression gear assists with blood flow, it may also help a muscle pump up while working out.
- Elevated resting heart rate–Your body works harder to rebuild itself when you constantly challenge it with intense workouts. Check your heart rate a couple of times a week to get a good baseline. If you notice a 5- or 10-beat increase in your resting heart rate, with a concurrent decrease in your exercise performance, it’s safe to say that you’re overtrained.
- Lack of motivation to train–When it seems like you have to force yourself to train, you might be overtrained. When the mental game is not there, you will have a poor workout. This is another way your body signals you to give it a break.
- Frequent colds–Overtraining lowers your immune system and leaves you susceptible to infections.
- Loss of strength, muscle–We don’t actually build muscle in the gym, we tear it down. With adequate rest comes recovery and development of bigger and stronger muscles. When your training program is too aggressive, you tear muscle down at a rate faster than you can rebuild it which leads to weaker and smaller muscles.
- Sore joints–Overtraining causes your muscles and joints to ache without any real obvious cause. Pain in your joints is a sign that you have to back off a bit. For sore knees, make sure to try a soft knee brace that will provide compression and pain relief in the affected area.
These are just some of the symptoms outlined here. Everyone has a unique makeup and overtraining may affect you differently. Keep in mind that if you’re not making progress and actually becoming weaker in the majority of your exercises, it’s highly likely that you’re overtrained. Make sure to train hard but listen to your body.