First – what does overtraining really mean?
Without access to a gym, many of us have had to adapt our regime – perhaps you’ve swapped weekly spin classes for at-home HIIT sessions, or traded an hour at Barry’s Bootcamp for a sprint session in the park. But whether you’re working out for the mental health boost or fitness gains, the experts say it’s never been easier to work out to excess, which could be sabotaging your fitness goals. As Harry Grosvenor, PT and head coach & master trainer at Virgin Active explains, overtraining happens when your body is exposed to more training – or stress – than it can recover from. “If an individual trains consistently hard, followed by sufficient recovery, that training is likely to improve their performance, including improved fitness and strength. If, however, sufficient recovery is not attained or training is scaled inappropriately (i.e. it’s too intense), then overtraining can occur.” In a nutshell, workout to excess and you’ll stop seeing results.
Why is recovery so important?
It’s in recovery that we grow stronger and become fitter as our body repairs and rebuilds muscle. Therefore, if you break your body down and it starts to rebuild, but you train hard straight away, you’ll never get to the point where you’re recovering optimally, getting stronger and gaining fitness. Taking a rest day is also vital to re-balance hormones, notably cortisol, which can spiral out of control when you train excessively, contributing to mood swings, irritability and an inability to concentrate.
Are some workouts more likely than others to lead to overtraining?
Yes – a couple of hours of yoga every day won’t take its toll on the body in the way a HIIT session or long run does. “The rate of perceived exertion (often referred to as RPE) is a great way of measuring how hard your workout is,” says Harry. “There isn’t one workout that will lead to overtraining, but a consistently high training load with insufficient recovery will eventually take its toll. RPE is a great tool and is so easy to use – for example, when working out, ask yourself on a scale of 1-10, how hard did you find that session? If your training sessions are consistently a 9-10 effort, then you seriously need to consider better managing your activity. HIIT bodyweight workouts performed at a high intensity day in, day out, are a classic way to overtrain.”
What are the signs you’re going too hard?
“Overtraining and its symptoms vary from person to person, but the classic signs include increased fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, low appetite, low energy and mood, and changes in the menstrual cycle,” Harry explains. In short, if your workout is feeling increasingly hard and you’re experiencing persistent muscle soreness, there’s a chance you could benefit from a few days off. Also keep an eye out for an increased resting heart rate – this is a classic sign your body is struggling recover.
How can you avoid overtraining?
To avoid workout burnout, Harry advises finding a balance with the types of fitness you’re doing. “It’s all a balancing act. I wouldn’t advise doing two HIIT sessions a day, but if you are on furlough or have some more time on your hands, a yoga session in the morning followed by a HIIT session in the afternoon is fine, and a great way to keep active and stay healthy. Listening to your body is paramount – if you feel tired and sore, take a day off. Also consider alternating the body parts you train on different days, and if you want to delve into it from a coaching level, look at load management, incorporating high-load and low-load days, taking into account both intensity and the impact on joints of the activities included.”
Is there anything you can do to aid recovery?
“Don’t be afraid to take a rest day,” says Harry, “But make sure it’s active recovery. Go for a walk, an easy cycle or a swim. By moving more, you’ll feel better and get the blood flowing, aiding recovery. Foam rolling, flexibility training, like stretching, and some mobility drills can also help.” Harry also advocates eating adequate amounts of protein, which he says is crucial to support muscles as they recover.
How much of overtraining is psychological?
Loss of interest, enthusiasm and motivation for performing workouts you genuinely enjoy doing is often a sign of overtraining, especially if the feeling of dread pre-workout is happening more than usual. Overtraining, however, is not to be confused with boredom, says Harry. “Overtraining is a highly complex condition that can have detrimental physiological and mental effects, which can take months to overcome if ignored. If you’re simply bored of training, consider mixing it up. For example, if you’re bored of jogging, try some at-home strength sessions; and if you’re bored of home-HIIT workouts, try going for a scenic cycle.”
The bottom line?
Train hard, rest harder is the mantra being whispered in fitness circles. If you’re finding your workouts are draining your energy instead of boosting it, then it’s pretty likely you could benefit from scaling back. It may sound obvious, but your recovery tactics are as important as your training. If you care about your fitness, want to see results and lower your risk of injury, it pays to plan your week of workouts – and that includes a rest day or two.
*Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programmes.