Over-ambition can sometimes backfire when athletes and fitness enthusiasts who are driven to achieve amazing results lose themselves in exercise and end up in a constant state of being broken down and risking injury. I witness this condition of overtraining too often in the fitness community.
I’d like to direct this column to those who believe that if you’re not intensely training all the time you will lose the results you have and not improve at all. To make great progress, it is crucial to understand that intense activity creates a stress response in the body that requires three key elements: sufficient rest, optimal healing, and proper nutrition.
Effects of Intense Training
After lifting heavy weights or completing a hard run, muscle soreness is often the result. This is from the muscle fibers being slightly torn, which creates an initial inflammatory response, followed by the remodeling of the tissues. That process creates more muscle cells, and therefore more force, creating the ability to become stronger and more resilient.
Most high intensity or long duration activities create stress in the body that causes a breakdown of physical attributes and depletes energetic resources that require replenishing. For the healing process to be effective, both adequate recovery time and adequate nutrients are required. Otherwise, the overreaching efforts of excessive exercise become counterproductive as you eventually fall into a state of overtraining.
In advanced stages of overtraining, expect to see a dramatic decrease in performance, undesired physical changes, and loss of motivation. Overtraining leads to shifts in hormonal responses where testosterone (muscle building hormone) levels drop, cortisol (fat storing hormone) levels rise, and the immune system becomes taxed. This combination inhibits healing and regeneration, resulting in loss of muscle, slowed metabolism, increased fat storage, raised overall inflammation, and increased vulnerability to illness. Also expect to see a loss in coordination of muscles, recovery, and desire to train.
In summary, your body and mind will not be able to work for you in the way wanted or needed. To avert those undesirable effects and actually get the results that you’re working hard for, you need to take the proper steps to heal and recover.
How to Avoid Overtraining
1. Schedule your rest: This includes planned periods of recovery in an exercise program, and having a consistent sleep schedule. As a result your corstisol levels will stay down, and growth hormone levels will stay up to promote healing and the desired gains.
2. Progress Appropriately: Effects of overtraining can be also be seen if progressions are made too fast in a program. Get on a training program that gives proper progressions for your body, prior fitness level, and goals.
3. Optimize recovery: Implement daily the use of self-massage using tools like a foam roller, and stretch especially after exercise.
4. Change up your program: Every 2-6 weeks modify any of the following: equipment, training surface, environmental conditions, muscle contraction emphasis, patterns of movement, order of exercise, intensity (load), volume (sets & reps), or recovery time.
5. Stabilize Your Blood Sugar: Eat consistent small meals throughout the day (every 3-4 hours) with the proper ratios of protein, fat, and carbohydrates and the correct number of calories for your body and activity level. This will ensure that the body does not become catabolic (state of cellular breakdown), and lose valuable muscle. It will also support a strong immune system. Nutrition is often undervalued, as it is a critical factor to achieve desired physical and performance goals.
There is almost no better feeling than that post-exercise sense of accomplishment along with an endorphin high. As amazing as that can be, it can also lead to an addiction and a sense of invincibility that puts the body at risk. Along with those results can be an overestimate of what the body can handle, or a poor representation of what a workout schedule should look like based on athletes that use illegal performance enhancing drugs to promote their healing and recovery.
I realize that to achieve great results it takes great passion and pushing yourself past the limits of comfort, and I applaud those who do. However, it can be difficult to realize when we’ve crossed that line from being healthy and productive into excess and damage. Whether you are a recreational fitness enthusiast or a professional athlete, it can be easy to go down that path and become counterproductive. Climbing out of a hole that you dug yourself into is never easy.
I suggest that you follow the above steps so that you can still have the satisfaction of accomplishment and achieve your goals in a safe and effective way. Great results aren’t created by doing more work, but by a smart approach to be the best that you can be.
All the best in your health and fitness.
Adam Friedman, CSCS, CN, CMT is a kinesiologist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, nutritionist, and massage technician. He is the founder of Advanced Athletics, Inc., located next door to the world famous Gold’s Gym in Venice on the corner of Sunset Avenue and Hampton Drive, one block east of Main Street. To schedule a complimentary assessment please call 310.396.2100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more, visit advancedathletics.com.