It’s something I see and hear almost daily, and would certainly never fault anyone because their intentions are good. What exactly is overtraining? Overtraining is when one’s physical exercise and stresses he or she puts on the body is greater than their ability to recover. That’s right, it is possible to work out too hard or often (duration or quantity of days). In fact, for some, this may be why they’re not losing weight or building muscle and in some cases why they’re actually regressing.
How do you know if you’re overtraining?
If a muscle group is sore, do you work them when they’re still sore? Do you work out more than one time a day (this includes a strength/resistance workout, running or anything else that fatigues or exhausts your muscles)? If you answered yes to either of these questions, there is a good chance you’re overtraining and slowing your progress.
Here’s the thing. You don’t build muscle while you’re working out. You build muscle when you’re resting. When you’re sore a
day or two after the workout, that’s your body telling you it’s still in repair mode from the previous workout. When your body is in repair and recovery mode, your muscles are broken down with a bunch of little micro-tears. With proper rest and nutrition, theoretically, your body will come back for the next workout refreshed and stronger than last workout. If you continue to work out and beat up muscles that are already sore, you’re just going to keep breaking them down further and further and never
really get stronger because they’re never rebuilding. Workouts you’ve performed in the past may feel harder than they have
before because your muscles feel fatigued and exhausted faster than usual. The scarier part though is that this really opens us up to serious injury. And serious injury puts us even further behind schedule to meet our goals. The key is patience and
understanding that it takes time to see visible changes in your strength and physique.
If you’re working out and eating properly, your body should recover from a workout within 24-48 hours. So what is your body telling you? Soreness isn’t the only sign to look out for. In fact, you DO NOT have to be sore to have an efficient workout. The key though, is being in tune with your body. Let’s say you worked your legs really hard yesterday. Today, they’re not sore, but did they get tired really fast when you ran up your stairs at home? Maybe you really attacked your arms the other day, but they didn’t feel sore the next day. But did they feel tired carrying something like a load of laundry to the other side of your house? Those are all examples of signs to look for that I experience personally pretty regularly. And from a personal standpoint, as your trainer, if my muscles are still in recovery mode, I will not work that muscle group until they’re 100%. If you still want to be active on a rest day where your body is sore or fatigued, that’s great! But go light. Take a walk with the family, play with the kids or dog, and do just enough to get the blood pumping to help deliver oxygen and nutrients to the muscles without actually
working them hard.
Two last items that are extremely important to your recovery are nutrition and sleep. Your body needs a variety of protein, carbs, and healthy fats to replenish itself to come back stronger every time. Make sure you’re eating before your workouts to fuel your body for its upcoming performance. Ideally, you’ll eat 1-2 hours before your workout. I personally prefer two hours before, eating a lean meat along with a fruit (usually an apple or berries) and either brown rice or whole grain bread. If it’s 60 minutes or closer to the workout, it’s a protein shake and light fruit to avoid getting sick. Just as important, make sure you’re eating immediately after your workout to start the recovery process as quickly as possible. At the very least, don’t go any longer than 30-60 minutes to get your post-workout meal. The longer you wait to eat after a workout, the harder it may be for your body to rebuild and refresh. For this, whey protein and berries make for a great combination thanks to their ability to be absorbed quickly by the body. Take a minute to review some of my past blogs for ideas on some of my favorite shakes! And remember, just because you’re losing weight doesn’t mean your nutrition and workout plan is on track. Have you ever seen somebody lose weight but still not really have any change in their body or muscle definition? A lot of times when this happens it’s because they’re going too extreme somewhere with their workout or caloric deficiency, meaning rather than burning fat, all of that weight they’re losing is valuable muscle mass.
Sleep is probably the most overlooked portion of fitness. Once a workout is complete, your body starts recovery mode to repair and rebuild the muscles. However, when you’re awake, you’re constantly moving around and burning calories, which means the food you’re consuming can’t just go towards rebuilding itself from your workout. Your body needs to use that food as fuel to give you energy throughout the day. When it’s time to sleep, your body can get a badly needed recharge after all of the stresses we face daily. A light, slow digesting snack an hour before bed time will help keep your metabolism boosted while you sleep which means burning fat and a timed release of nutrients to your muscles for recovery. Any green vegetable and small bowl of fat free cottage cheese is the perfect snack for this! Aim for 6-8 hours a night. I know it’s tough, but if I can manage 6 hours a night during the week and 8 hours on the weekends, most of us should be able to do something similar.
So to recap, here are the questions we need to be asking ourselves:
-Am I working out muscles that are still sore? The answer should be no.
-Am I working out for longer than an hour? The answer should be no. If the answer is yes, you should then ask, could I work harder and be done in an hour? Or, if it’s truly necessary to go longer than an hour, do I honestly know enough about nutrition
and how to fuel the body to perform a workout that lasts longer than an hour?
-Am I working out more than once a day? The answer should be no. If the answer is yes, then why? If it’s just because you think you need to work out that often, it’s probably not necessary. If it’s for a competition in some form or another, it may be necessary, but honestly assess your knowledge and consider professional guidance.