There have been a large number of studies into the effects of overtraining, but the bottom line is that Overtraining is bad. How bad? Well, its affects go beyond physiological problems such as injury or fatigue, and into psychological problems including depression and addiction. What constitutes to overtraining has been the topic of much debate among scientists and experts. It depends so much on the individual’s limits, but overtraining is not all that common. If you experience fatigue or feel like you are hitting a plateau, overtraining shouldn’t be your first thought. For a start, if you spend around 5-6 hours in the gym per week then you are not really at any risk of overtraining. It is a common myth that training a body part more than once per week will result in catabolism (loss of muscle mass). Body building studies have, in fact, shown that strength and hypotrophy (muscle gain) skyrocketed in athletes who doubled their training frequency over the course of a week from 3 exercises per muscle group to 6 exercises per muscle group, however these athletes used supplements and strict diets, plus this study did not take into account the psychological effects of overtraining. 5 symptoms of overtraining Continuous drop in performance I am using body building as an example here because it is the easiest way to demonstrate the effects of overtraining. The basic rule to building muscle and strength is to overwork the muscle, causing the muscle fibres to break and stimulating new muscle fibres to grow as the body adapts. The new fibres do not grow instantly, and therefore the muscle needs a period of rest for protein synthesis to take place and grow new fibres. This varies from person to person but in the average athlete this starts immediately after exercise and lasts for 16 – 72 hours (it happens faster in well-trained athletes). The theory is that if you then train that muscle again during this period, protein synthesis will stop while you are training, however you are still breaking down muscle fibres. Continue to train that muscle and protein synthesis will continue to be suppressed, while muscle fibres continue to break down. This is commonly referred to as “Going Catabolic” where muscle size and strength decrease as result of overtraining. Increased resting heart rate A decrease in your resting heart rate can be associated with a healthier lifestyle because as the cardiovascular system gets stronger and more efficient the heart does not have to work as hard. Overtraining has the opposite effect. As part of your training it is a good idea to ritualistically take your resting heart rate before you get out of bed in the morning. If you notice that your resting heart rate is increasing despite your fitness training it could be a sign you are overtraining. Becoming ill more often Overtraining causes your immune system to suffer which leaves you susceptible to illness and infections. Normal training can increase your resistance to illness, so if you find yourself becoming sick more often it could be a result of overtraining. Injuries If you are overtraining, you are essentially training the body while it is in a weak and vulnerable state. This means that your muscles, ligaments and tendons are susceptible to injury. What is more, you will find that injuries will last longer and old injuries will return. Somebody who is overtraining may be suffering from a form of addiction to training. This is certainly not uncommon and it often means that person will ignore little niggles or pain in order to train. Remember, pain (particularly in the joints) is your body trying to tell you something is wrong, and ignoring it could lead to potentially serious, long term injuries. Depression and loss of confidence As well as the physiological issues that come from overtraining, there are serious mental implications too. As mentioned before, training can become an addiction. Missing a session can lead to withdrawal and depression, particularly if the overtraining is as a result of issues with body image. The effects of overtraining can cause a loss in confidence as the hard work you put in at the gym is not fulfilling your ideas that more training equals a better body. Insomnia can also be a result of overtraining as the nervous system is on overload, which then exacerbates your lows. Exercise is often a very uplifting experience, but it is important to identify when you feel like you are training for reasons other than fun. How to combat overtraining Although overtraining is not very common, it has big implications on your health and wellbeing and it is important to identify as soon as possible. Here are some steps to help you avoid overtraining and maximise your training routine. Have a rest Pushing your body beyond its comfortable limits when training is important, but always remember to allow time for rest and recuperation afterwards. Check your diet Diet is more important to ensuring you are maximising your training routine than the actual routine itself. Overtraining, by its very nature, is overworking the body beyond its resources. Ensuring your body has all the right nutrients is the first step to overcoming many ailments associated with overtraining. Increase your intake of protein and carbohydrates, and ensure you are getting your daily allowance of vitamins and minerals. Write your training programme schedule You can do this yourself or get a personal trainer to do it for you, but having a schedule is key to maximising your workouts. Try to leave rest days between workouts of similar muscle groups. Look up Split Routines to help split your exercises into body parts over the course of a week. Limit your time in the gym There is an abundance of discussions about how long your workouts should last, but if you are finding yourself overworking, try limiting your time in the gym to 1 hour and work your routine around that time constraint.