According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, overtraining is defined as “excessive frequency, volume, or intensity of training, resulting in fatigue, which is also caused by a lack of proper rest and recovery.” Some examples of this include frequently running long distances without proper rest periods, strength training the same body part over and over again with little to no variation, or any other activity that will continuously place stress on the body.
Everyone is different and what may lead to overtraining for one person could be a normal workout routine for another. For example, a more established runner may be able to run long distances in close proximity, where another may decide to run double digits back to back and wind up with a stress fracture.
While the factors that lead to overtraining are different from person to person and fitness level to fitness level, the symptoms are generally the same:
- decreased performance
- altered hormonal states
- poor sleeping patterns
- decreased immunity
- loss of appetite
- mood disturbances
- stress fractures
- muscle strains
- joint pain
Ways to avoid overtraining
In both cardio and resistance types of training, doing too much too fast can lead to problems down the road. Both types of exercise require building upon a base level in order to achieve success as you progress.
In terms of cardio training, staging is key. There are three different heart rate stages (I, II, and III) that increase in demand and perceived exertion. Progressing from one stage to the next allows for continual adaptation and lessens the chances of overtraining. A person must be able to perform successfully in stage one before moving to stage two and so on. Sample activities for each of the three stages are walking/jogging, group exercise and sprinting, respectively.
Periodization refers to the “division of a training program into smaller, progressive stages.” Similar to stage training for cardio, periodization breaks resistance training into stages that allow the body to acclimate and then adapt to the stresses being placed on it. It allows for a more balanced approach to training where the focus is not on one specific body part for a prolonged period of time.
Listen to (and respect!) your body
Your body is the most important indicator that you may be overtraining. Pay special attention to any aches, pains, or issues that may come up during your training. Investigate the source of any ailments and respect what your body is trying to tell you. Remember to take appropriate rest days and get enough sleep so that your body can rest and repair.