Have you ever felt like you’ve not only stopped seeing results but have lost progress towards your fitness goals? You might be the victim of a common condition known as overtraining.
Overtraining occurs when the frequency and intensity of training exceeds the body’s ability to rest and recover. In an overtrained state, athletes experience a slew of negative symptoms ranging from muscle atrophy and loss of motivation, to decreased immune system functioning and moodiness. When motivation is high and results are desired fast, trainees can find themselves losing muscle mass and gaining fat, despite a consistently demanding exercise routine.
To prevent this paradox, it is crucial to get plenty of rest to recover from intense workouts. It is also important to follow a diet that includes adequate amounts of macronutrients, especially carbohydrates. Providing your body with nutrients and rest will enable the muscles to repair and grow. Although it may seem counterintuitive, longer workouts aren’t always better. Eliminate marathon sessions from your regimen and you will see more results, not less. Implement these seven strategies to ensure that you avoid overtraining and continue to see progress.
Eat enough carbohydrates.
According to a study published in in the Journal of Sports Sciences, “the best treatment [for overtraining] is prevention.” The study mentions that sufficient carbohydrate intake is essential to preventing overtraining. Carbohydrates are required for muscle recovery and energy, and when absent from a diet, can cause your body to enter a state of muscle catabolism in which your body uses muscle mass for energy.
Without proper rest, people can easily enter a state of overtraining. Time out of the gym is just as important, if not more important, than time in the gym. Many people who experience overtraining make a common mistake: they train even harder, pushing themselves deeper into the overtraining trap. When results slow and performance decreases, it’s best to take some time out of the gym and reassess your program. Start by taking two days off completely.
Set your limits.
After about an hour, testosterone levels in your body begin to dip and levels of the stress hormone cortisol begin to rise. Since testosterone is responsible for muscle growth and maintenance and cortisol can cause you to put on weight, this is the complete opposite of what we want to happen. Three-hour marathon workouts are a sure way to increase your likelihood of overtraining. Keep your sessions under an hour for best results.
In addition to taking time off exercise, getting an appropriate amount of sleep each night can help you recover faster and repair muscle tissue. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine listed rest as “central to recovery” from overtraining. The amount of rest varies for each individual and depends on training loads, but to be safe, aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Massage it out.
Getting a deep tissue massage can loosen up tight muscles, increase blood flow, and rid the body of built-up lactic acid and other toxins. Regular massages will keep your body functioning optimally.
Get your priorities straight.
Altering the intensity of your workout in preplanned stages—known as periodization—can help prevent overtraining by allowing your body to recover, as your muscles heal during less intense periods.
New exercises can mean new growth. By introducing new exercises and rep ranges into your routine, you keep it fresh and force your body to adapt to new stimuli, ultimately leading to gains.
Parker Cote is a fitness model, writer, and certified personal trainer based in Boston. He has appeared in more than 100 national and international magazines, and on the cover of Men’s Fitness in Germany. To find out more about Parker, follow him on his Facebook page.