As a Men’s Fitness reader, you take your workouts seriously. But have you ever found yourself placing unreasonable demands on your body to the point of overtraining?
Rest assured: If you're logging five hours of hardcore gym time every week, you probably aren’t at risk of overtraining. But if you're going longer than that, and training is becoming a borderline addiction even to the point of possible harm—it’s probably time to reassess your goals.
Sound familiar? It's probably not a bad idea to double-check with a knowledgeable and experienced personal trainer who can quickly help you get your training back on track. Regardless, it’s crucial that you listen to your body and know the signs of overtraining. Here's a list of 12 common symptoms you should constantly look out for.
12. Altered resting heart rate
Have you noticed those heart rate monitors some guys wear at the gym? Believe it or not, they can help determine if you’re overtraining. “Altered resting heart rate is the result of an increased metabolic rate to meet the imposed demand of training," explains strength coach Dan Trink, C.S.C.S. But even if you don't have one of those gadgets, you can simply monitor your morning heart rate the old-fashioned way by measuring before you stand up to get out of bed and begin your day, Trink says. If your resting heart rate is unusually high or low, you should probably talk to a doctor.
11. Insatiable thirst
Often have an unquenchable thirst? Are you starting to believe no matter what you drink, you’ll still crave more? If this happens to be coinciding with a period of increased gym time, there’s an excellent chance you’re overtraining. Here's why: Your body might be in a catabolic state, meaning it's starting to consume its own muscle for protein. “Being in a catabolic state naturally causes dehydration,” says personal trainer and nutrition expert Jay Cardiello, C.S.C.S. The solution is simple: Drink plenty of water and get lots of sleep.
10. Extended muscle soreness
It’s normal to have sore muscles for a day or two after a workout. But if you’re still sore past the 72-hour mark, be sure to schedule a break and rest. This type of extended soreness is a sign your muscles aren’t recovering, which negatively impacts on your muscle-building efforts. “You should be able to get in a gym session—in and out—in 45 to 75 minutes max," says Muscle Model champion and transformation trainer Micah LaCerte.
Can't sleep even though you're wiping yourself out at the gym? "It's most likely a result of a combination of nervous system and or hormonal system overload," says Mike Duffy, a personal trainer and holistic nutrition consultant. He suggests “to focus more on getting your 10p.m. to 2a.m. sleep” because “this is the part of your sleeping pattern where physical restoration occurs.” He stresses, “your body grows while resting, not training,” and advises people who might be overtraining to “eat a lot of clean food and take a week off training all together.”
Exercise is typically good for your mental health—but if you’re overtraining, it could have the opposite effect. "People who overtrain tend to view exercise as something it’s not—namely, a challenge, a conquest, or a space-filler," says Lee Boyce, personal trainer and strength coach. That's not all; you might also suffer from “body image issues” and believe “the more you train, the better you'll look.” To avoid overtraining, he says, “it’s important to know the real motives behind training.” Set realistic short and long-term goals, create a plan, and stick to it.
7. Personality changes
Has your gym partner been noticeably absent lately? While Trink says overtraining is actually a “pretty rare” occurrence for most guys who train three to five hours per week, he says it’s possible for there to be an “intensification of personality traits” for guys prone to being “aggressive, irritable, or depressed.” However, he cautions that these changes aren’t always the result of overtraining, as there are “other factors that can overly stress the nervous system.” Listen to your body and react accordingly.
6. Frequent sickness
Feeling ill isn’t part of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, sometimes it’s your body’s way of telling you your immune system is suffering from overtraining. The process of overtraining means your body is in a “continual catabolic state,” which lowers immunity and increases “chances of becoming ill," Cardiello explains. If you’re overtraining, Cardiello advises you get rest, and reduce training. He also suggests “adjusting diet, nutritional and supplement intake, and possibly implementing vitamins A and E, as well as glutamine.” And, if you’re an athlete, Cardiello indicates “55-60% of the athletic diet” should come in the form of carbohydrates.
5. Loss of concentration
Focus is critical. (“When you go into the gym you have a job to do," LaCerte says.) Unfortunately, he says sometimes people “bring other stressors into the gym, or it [becomes] social hour” and your gym time expands considerably because “you’re doing a set over here, [then] you’re talking for 12 minutes, then you’re going back and doing another set.” LaCerte indicates that’s counterproductive because “it’s not how the body works when we’re trying to build muscle and lose fat,” and it “can definitely lead to overtraining or ineffective training altogether.”
4. Increased injury
Getting injured more often? In particular, are you re-aggravating old injuries? If so, you may be overtraining. Why? Duffy, explains, when you overtrain, your body doesn’t get enough time to recuperate between workouts meaning that at some point you begin “training in a weakened state.” He adds if you do this too often, you likely increase your chance of injuries. To prevent yourself from overtraining, he suggests introducing “forced rest periods into your routine,” as well as “changing training intensities or enjoying active recuperation” sports—something low-intensity and completely different from weights and cardio.
3. Decreased motivation
It’s not unusual to occasionally want to skip a workout. But, if you generally live, breathe, and sleep the gym life, then suddenly become disinterested, you’re probably overexerting yourself. Instead of going to the gym and possibly risking injury by going through the motions and improperly performing an exercise, Trink recommends “taking a full week off, then reducing training volume when you do return.” He also recommends getting “quality sleep (7-9 hours per night as a generalization), proper nutrition—particularly in the pre- to post-workout window—smart supplementation, and planned deloads.”
2. Lowered self-esteem
For many guys, it’s natural to experience a sense of accomplishment following an intense workout. But when you get obsessed with training Cardiello explains, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that "more is better." That has two dangerous effects: Overtraining and lowered self-esteem. Cardiello explains this feeling is related to the body's nervous system, since overtraining “affects an athlete’s level of ‘happiness’ to train, depression, insomnia, and irritability.” He also cautions overtraining can be heightened by such things as “lack of proper nutrition (hydration), proper sleep, and personal/work stressors.”
1. Halted progress
Has your body stopped changing in spite of your best efforts? If so, you may be overtraining. “When you’re overtraining, your body is going in the opposite direction of growth, because your muscles are torn and all you’re doing is re-tearing them again," LaCerte points out. Don’t risk possibly entering into a muscle-burning phase. Remember: Muscles need a chance to repair, and that’s only possible when your body is given the proper time to rest and recover before being forced into more exercise.