By Jessica Park
Go Hard or Go Home.
You may have seen this motivational message on T-shirts, social media or the wall at your gym. Fitness culture focuses on competition and hard work. You don’t see motivational images of an athlete getting a good night’s sleep, and you don’t get a cool window decal for eating a balanced diet. But recovery is a necessary part of athletic training.
Most Americans don’t get enough exercise, but some people can get too much exercise in pursuit of their goals. Setting new personal records or winning competitions can be very motivating and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone can feel great. But too many tough workouts without rest may make you lose sight of the best reason to stay active -- to feel your best.
Overtraining, or burnout, can occur when you exercise too hard, too often, without the recovery and refueling needed to help your body adapt. While pushing yourself at every training session and taking no breaks might sound necessary to succeed, overtraining can actually be counterproductive to your goals.
When you work out, you break down muscle tissue and burn up some of your body’s energy stores. When you recover by resting, eating and sleeping, your body repairs the tissue and becomes more efficient, helping you grow stronger, run faster or improve your endurance.
But if you don’t give your muscles time to recover from your workout, then work the same muscles at the same intensity tomorrow, you risk accumulating damage to muscle tissue. And if you don’t eat an optimal diet to replace your expended energy and support tissue repair, over time, your body will break down your muscles, instead of body fat, to get that energy.
Overtraining can cost you strength, speed and endurance, and increase your risk for serious injury. Overtraining syndrome is rare, but its physiological and psychological effects can wreck your performance and make you feel tired, ill and unmotivated. Knowing what to watch for can help you train more effectively.
You may be overtraining if:
- You work hard with little or no rest. If you train every day or nearly every day of the week and work out for hours at a time, you’re not giving your body time to adapt to your workout.
- You’re not seeing any progress. You train harder and more often, but your performance hasn’t improved and may even be worse.
- Your workouts feel more difficult than usual.
- Your resting heart rate has become slower or faster than normal. Your heart rate may take longer to return to your usual resting heart rate after you work out.
- You have constant aches and pains in joints and muscles beyond the expected soreness a day or two after working out, or you feel pain while working out.
- You’re wiped out. If you feel more tired than usual after working out or feel fatigued even after a rest day, you might not be getting enough rest.
- You have trouble falling or staying asleep. Overtraining can affect your body’s production of cortisol, which can make it hard to get the sleep your body needs.
- Your appetite has decreased. Increased cortisol and too little sleep can upset your appetite, causing you to not eat enough to meet your body’s needs while in heavy training.
- You feel moody, irritable or unfocused. Physical stress and fatigue can affect your concentration, decision-making and mood. You may experience depression.
- You feel ill. The metabolic demands of overtraining can affect your immune system. You may frequently have sore throats or other infections.
- You no longer enjoy working out. Feeling unwell and not seeing desired results can bring you down and make you see exercise as a grueling punishment.
- You get injured more easily. Don’t work out if you’ve been injured! If you aggravate an injury, you could become unable to work out for a very long time. See your doctor.
If you’re feeling run down and notice your performance has been slipping even though you’re training harder, don’t assume you’re not training hard enough. Instead:
- Rest. Rest is the best way to recover from overtraining – and not just for one day. If you’ve been overtraining, you may need a week or two off. Rest doesn’t mean being idle; you can find ways to keep moving your body like going for an easy walk. Don’t compensate by training extra hard in a different kind of exercise. Your heart needs a rest, too.
- Sleep. Try to get around 8 hours a night and go to bed around the same time every night. Limit anything that might make it hard to fall asleep, like caffeinated drinks or electronic devices in bed.
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of healthy carbohydrates, proteins and fat. A registered dietitian can help you plan meals that satisfy your body’s nutritional needs and your taste buds. (See page XX for more information about what to eat while training.)
- Include rest days in your training plan.
- Add variety. Don’t do the same thing at every workout. If you’re a runner, add strength training. If you’re a weight lifter, do cardio.
- Step it back. Plan occasional periods where you stay active, but have fewer, shorter or less intense workout sessions.
- Keep a log not just of your workout days, time, miles or reps, but also how you feel during and after your workout.
- Be clear about what you want to accomplish. Set short-term and long-term goals. Recognize that you may not get to do everything you’d like to do.
- Talk to a professional. Overtraining can occur if you feel overly anxious about failure, guilty about not exercising, or depressed about changes in your performance. A mental health professional may help you identify issues that lead you to overtrain.
- Make time with a personal trainer. A certified fitness instructor can help you develop a personalized program that helps you meet your goals, get the recovery you need, and stay challenged. Boone Hospital Center WELLAWARE fitness center offers personal training sessions – to schedule an assessment, call 573.815.5050.
- See your doctor. Some symptoms of overtraining could be caused by another condition.
Whether you’re training for a competition or a new personal best, go hard, then go home -- so you can recover!