Too much of a good thing is still a bad thing. How many times have you heard that in your life? Well, darn if it isn’t true every single time. So, first and foremost let us define overtraining;
“Overtraining is the result of giving your body more work or stress than it can handle. Overtraining occurs when a person experiences stress and physical trauma from exercising faster than their body can repair the damage.”
Two topics here I want to cover, identifying symptoms of overtraining and identifying ways to “repair” the damage you inflict so religiously upon yourself.
Overtraining is not something you wake up one morning with, like a cold or the flu, which makes it exceedingly difficult to identify and even harder to admit to yourself. In my personal experience my knees feel it first. I get an ache in them but cannot pinpoint a specific spot that hurts. Then after that I get a runny nose that has no other symptoms. And final stroke is usually a pretty easy workout that takes everything else out of me. There have been times where I still didn’t recognize my symptoms for what they were and continued along anyway. This is when the mental fatigue starts to sink in and I get demotivated to do anything. This, above all else, will take the biggest toll on you because once you go down that hole it’s hard to see a way out of it even if you do take the appropriate rest after that to recover.
What is “Proper” recovery? This is one of those really annoying topics that gets more difficult as you learn more about it rather than getting easier. To keep it as simple as possible while still being helpful there are two main pillars of recovery; nutrition and sleep. If you miss a night of 6-8 hours of sleep it is not the end of the world, but if for 3 nights in a row you get less than 5 hours of sleep and do 3 high intensity workouts now we are hitting a danger zone.
Food is fuel. You know when your gas light goes on in your car and you think to yourself, “How long has that been on? How much longer can I go before I run out?” Here’s the difference between your body and your car, when your car runs out of gas it just stops moving. Your body has fail saves in place to prevent it from getting empty. So instead of just running out it will start breaking down other things to provide itself with fuel. One of the things it likes to breakdown is protein, aka muscle. So if you are running close to empty you are catabolizing (eating) muscle for fuel. The whole point of working out is to build muscle, not eat it!
I want to be very clear, recovery does not mean stop working out. Intensity determines amount of damage, quantity of damage determines recovery time. You might be at a point of such drastic overtraining that you need to completely stop, however, more often than not, just scale the workout back a touch and keep moving forward. Sleep and nutrition will make the difference here.
For more reading on the topic here’s a link