Too much of a good thing – What happens when you overtrain

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Too much of a good thing – What happens when you overtrain

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Most of us are programed to think that the harder you work and the more effort you put into something, the better your results will be. Study harder in school, you will get better grades. Work harder at your job, and you are more likely to get promoted. When it comes to exercise, more and harder is not necessarily better.

Sure, there are lots of people who aren’t getting the results they want with their fitness because they aren’t challenging themselves properly or being consistent enough in their workouts. But what about if you hit the gym and go hard almost everyday of the week, yet aren’t making progress with your goals? If this sounds familiar, you could be in danger of overtraining (also known as under-recovering).


Overtraining can wreak hormonal havoc, causing disruptions in the balance of hormones like cortisol, insulin and testosterone. These hormonal disruptions can cause your body to start storing or gaining fat, and even burning its own muscle mass. If you overtrain consistently, you are actually working against your own fitness goals.

In addition to storing and gaining fat, here are some other symptoms of overtraining:

  1. Chronic fatigue and sleep disruptions – an inability to sleep or restlessness at night, and general feelings of fatigue throughout the day

  2. Appetite issues – some people experience a very low appetite while others have strong cravings for lots of starchy carbs, neither of which is good

  3. Decreased healing ability – injuries that are taking unusually long to heal, and nagging aches and pains that seem to come out of nowhere

  4. Immune system issues – catching every cold or flu bug that goes around, and taking longer than usual to recover

  5. Decreased performance in your training sessions – feeling like you don’t have the energy you used to in your workouts, and hitting performance plateaus

Chronic and extreme overtraining can even lead to more severe health issues like rhabdomyolysis (the death of muscle fibers and the release of their contents into the bloodstream), requiring medical attention.

So how can you make sure you stay on track with your goals and avoid overtraining?

  1. Follow a smart training program. Periodized training is key to making sure you progress in your training and avoid burning out. Sets, reps and loads being lifted need to be waved so that you are not always trying to go heavier or push harder. Your training needs to include days where you go hard, as well as days when you dial back and do less.

  2. Understand that exercise is a form of stress to the body, and your body perceives all stress the same way. It doesn’t care if you are stressed in a “good” way from hitting it hard in the gym, or in a “bad” way from having to put in a 60 hour work week or only getting 4 hours of sleep. Yes, exercise can be helpful in relieving stress and allowing you to blow off steam. You just need to make sure your training takes into account other things you have going on in your life, and you may need to wave back the intensity of your training somewhat when you are dealing with other life stresses.

  3. Embrace the fact that progress comes not from your training sessions, but from how your body recovers and repairs itself after that training session. This can be a challenging thing to accept for people who use exercise as stress-relief, or are addicted to the feeling of going as hard as they can every time they hit the gym. In addition to waving the intensity of your training sessions, you should have at least one full day of rest each week. Don’t skip out on things like foam rolling and mobility work, and try to get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.

  4. Recognize that exercise and nutrition have to work together for optimal results. I have known too many people who try to out-train a poor diet by thinking that if they just workout harder they can eat whatever they want. Or people who spend their weekends over-indulging, and then try to make up for it by punishing themselves in the gym on Monday morning. Of course we all need to be able to enjoy splurges occasionally, but if you aren’t getting the proper nutrition 85-90% of the time you will not get the best results in your training.

  5. Don’t compare yourself to anyone but you. You may think that by following your super-fit friend’s fitness routine, you can get the same results. Or you have heard about a celebrity who does “this” or a pro-athlete who does “that”. But your lifestyle, medical and injury history, fitness background and nutrition are likely very different from that person you are comparing yourself to. What really matters is that you are getting the results you want and are feeling great!

With a plan that includes a well designed training program, proper nutrition and good recovery, you have a recipe for success!!

Strength & Love – Kati

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