Training for your first tri? Stuck on slashing serious time off a CrossFit WOD? Both are great goals to have, and certainly things you should drive to accomplish, but going overboard could leave you tired, weak, and spiraling downward. We spoke with David Larson, C.S.C.S., to discuss what constitutes as overtraining, how to avoid it, and how to come back.
Q1: I weight train five days per week. If I train Monday thru Friday, is that considered overtraining?
"Training five days in a row is perfectly fine. However, it's best to use certain strategies to avoid overtraining. The schedule you choose should be dependent upon the type of training you perform and how quickly you can recover. Some people need more rest than others. Needless to say, a very intense workout will require more recovery than an easy one. Try switching intensities from day to day to avoid overtraining."
Q2: What are some signs that I might be overtraining? How can I relieve these without taking a break from lifting?
"Typically, performance decreases, more fatigue than normal, and restlessness and/or altered sleep patterns are signs of overtraining. To combat this, taking time off isn’t a bad idea, but also make sure your nutrition is in check. Nutritional interventions such as supplementing with amino acids and creatine may help to speed recovery."
Q3: How can I avoid overtraining altogether in the first place?
"When designing a fitness program: injury history, volume, intensity, exercise selection, exercise order, nutrition, lifestyle factors, stress, etc. are all things to consider. When it comes to overtraining, listen to your body, get plenty of sleep, eat good foods, and take a break at the first sign of performance decrease or injury. Remember, there are both training and non-training factors that can affect your response and recovery from training, so taking care of oneself outside of the gym is important too."
Q4: What are the biggest risks of overtraining?
"Overreaching, or pushing beyond what you think your limits are, is an important principle in strength training, but constant overreaching with insufficient recovery can lead to overtraining quickly. The longer the overtraining lasts, the longer it will take to recover. Aside from the noticeable attributes of overtraining such as sleep disturbances and excessive fatigue, overtraining can result in major hormonal disruptions, such as decreased testosterone and altered cortisol levels. This can lead to decreased immune function, which is associated with infection, illness, and potential long-term complications."
Q5: How often would you advise taking a week off? Can I still play sports during that week or should I avoid strenuous exercise?
"For many people, taking a week off is probably not necessary. Typically, an adjustment in volume and intensity is sufficient to keep overtraining at bay. Listen to your body rather than trying to set a new personal record every day."