Yes, this is a real phenomenon! It happens to me from time to time. I didn’t realize that overtraining was possible. I mean, I am not an olympic athlete, so it never occurred to me that my constant aching muscles, or my struggle to sleep, could be related to “overtraining syndrome”.
It wasn’t until I started researching my symptoms that I stumbled across articles related to overtraining. Of course this makes perfect sense. If you train more than you allow for recovery, than the muscles and tendons never get a chance to repair.
We tend to believe that “more is better” with exercise. We get excited about a new sport, getting better at our current activities or loosing weight for that special occasion. So, we hit the gym, and hit it hard. So how do you know if you are overtraining or just hitting a natural plateau?
Symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome
You are restless at night and having trouble sleeping.
This is a tough one because many things can be disrupting your sleep. Hormones, eating too close to bedtime and daily stresses from work or kids, are all valid reasons that you may be missing your much needed shuteye. When you exercise too much your body is stressed and can be releasing cortisol, which will stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, keeping you awake. Evaluate your training or exercise program if you are not finding stressors in your daily life, and particularly if you have any of the other symptoms of overtraining.
You have odd pains in your muscles, joints or bones.
This is my big clue that I am doing too much! The pains are mostly in both my arms, and are especially bad when I lay down to sleep. They ache all night, waking me if I make the slightest movements. The pains usually begin in my biceps or shoulders and make their way to my forearms and grip strength. When I am training for a half marathon my hips will hurt. This is the time to back off!
You are getting sick more often than normal.
When we tax our body to repair itself, our immune system is stressed and unable to fight off infections as easily as it did before overtraining. Resting will allow your immune system to reboot and regain full strength.
You are feeling depressed and irritable even after a great workout.
That wonderful feeling after the endorphins are released is great. That runner’s high that you look forward to at the end of a run. If those are not happening you may be overtraining.
Loss of enthusiasm for a sport or activity.
If you suddenly are no longer the first person at the gym, or have to drag yourself to the soccer field, you may be overtraining. A drop in performance can also be a sign. I know that if I suddenly drop a grade or two at the climbing gym, it is a sign that my body is just too depleted to operate at my basic level.
Some other common symptoms may include: headaches, decreased appetite and increased injuries.
Everyone is different and their body will respond with a variety of these symptoms. You need to listen to your own signals, and learn when you are approaching the edge.
So how do you avoid, or recover from, overtraining?
Build in recovery and rest days to your schedule.
This doesn’t mean you have to do nothing. Think of this as an opportunity to cross train. I will hike, or do yoga, when I need to give my climbing muscles a break. Swimming and cycling are great non-impact activities that will allow you to recover one muscle group while still advancing your health goals.
Improve your nutrition and hydration
Are you eating properly before and after your workouts? Are you taking in enough water so the cells can make repairs? Most of us can improve in this area! Check out N is for Nutrition if you want a refresher on the recommended guildelines.
Get more sleep.
This is the fastest way for your body to heal itself. Sleep is restorative on every level, physically, mentally and emotionally. It will also help you reduce your overall stress and inflammation levels.
Consider getting a sports massage.
This can help with circulation which can assist the immune system in removing pathogens. Massage can lower overall stress levels and aid muscle fibers in healing. I try to do this every so often but it can be hard to schedule these into a busy life. If it is too costly, consider other ways to relax the muscles. Soak in a warm tub and gentle stretching can help the cells make repairs.
Enjoy your workouts! And, watch out for overtraining! 🏋🏻♀️