Fitness Articles

7 Hidden Signs of Overtraining

How to Know When to Lay Off the Exercise

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When it comes to healthy habits, you can have too much of a good thing. Fiber is good for you, but too much fiber is a major diet no-no (if you've done it, you know what I'm talking about). Even too much sleep can backfire and hurt your health. And exercise is no exception.

In fact, trading evenings on the couch for marathon calorie-burning or muscle-pumping workouts day after day--without adequate rest--is a surefire way to burn out, hurt your performance and even get yourself injured. While everyone is different and no certain amount of exercise is automatically ''too much,'' it's recommended that you take one to two rest days a week, especially if you're working out at a really high intensity or with heavy weights. In general, exercising for up to 90 minutes (at a moderate intensity), most days of the week is reasonable and healthy, but you should take into account your fitness level, health status and how your body responds.

You might already be aware of some of the common signs of overtraining, but sometimes the body sends more subtle signs that you're working out too much.  These signs can sometimes be so sneaky that you may not realize your workouts are causing them.

We've gathered seven of the unique and misdiagnosed symptoms of overtraining. While none of these is guaranteed to be caused by overtraining (always talk to your doctor), it's possible that if you've been putting in lots of hours at the gym lately, your heavier workouts could be causing these less-than-healthy results.  

Exercise leaves you exhausted instead of energized.
Exercise should make you feel good and give you an energy boost. Yes, you might feel tired or fatigued right after a tough workout, but if you leave the gym exhausted, tired or generally feeling like you could go home and take a nap, it might be a sign that you're overdoing it. If you're not getting that feel-good endorphin rush that's one of the awesome by-products of being active, it's time to take a look at your training and see what your body may be telling you!

You get sick easily (or it takes forever to get over a cold).
When you exercise regularly, your body is constantly spending energy and working to repair those muscles. This means that when you come in contact with a bacteria or a virus, your immune system isn't able to give 100 percent to fighting off that cold or flu. So you get sick and can stay sick longer if you don't give your body the time off it needs to take care of itself. Remember, your body is an amazing machine that does much more than just power your workouts!

You have the blues.
Do the workouts you used to love feel more like a chore than anything else? Or do you generally feel down and unmotivated? It may seem counterintuitive since exercise has been shown to boost feel-good endorphins, but overtraining has been linked to a decrease in energy and mood. So if you have the blues, letting your muscles recover for a few days and getting really good sleep might be just what your body really needs. Of course, if you are severely depressed, see your doctor.

You're unable to sleep or you can't seem to get enough sleep.
How are you sleeping lately? Is your mind racing when your head hits the pillow? Are you unable to fall asleep no matter how many sheep you count or how tired you feel? Are you on the other end of spectrum where no matter how many hours of sleep you clock, you still feel tired? Both of these can be caused by overtraining. When you exercise too much, your body can interpret it as a stressor, sending out stress hormones like cortisol that can make going to sleep difficult. On the flip side, overtraining can actually make some people more tired than normal. Sleep is a time when the body and brain recovers, and if you're pushing it too hard, your body might be telling you that it needs more rest that you're giving it.

You have ''heavy'' legs.
You used to go out for a walk or a jog with a spring in your step! But these days? It seems as if your legs have been traded out for heavy lead; it takes a lot more effort to get going and stay going. Sound familiar? If so, overtraining may be wreaking havoc on your body. Heavy, tired and overly fatigued legs (or arms) can be caused by muscles that just haven't had enough time to fully recharge and repair.

You have a short fuse.
If the smallest things set you off or if you're feeling more irritable than normal, it could be due to over-exercising. When we're tired and worn down, it's far easier to let the little stuff get to us than it would if we were well rested. Think of exercise like spending too many hours at work on a big project for weeks at a time. Sometimes you just need a vacation and a break for some rest and relaxation!

You're regularly sore for days at a time.
We all know that muscle soreness is a good thing. It means that we've really challenged ourselves and that our bodies are working hard to make us stronger and fitter. But if you've been doing an activity or exercise for awhile but tend to get sore really easily--or stay sore for more than 48 hours--it's probably a sign that you overdid it and next extra rest. This is why it's so important to ease into exercise, adding time or intensity slowly over weeks instead of all at once. The body simply needs time to adapt and improve!

If you have any of these signs, it's probably worth cutting back on the intensity, frequency and/or duration of your workouts. Swap an hour run for 30 minutes of easy yoga or trade that high-intensity boot camp for a long walk with your dog. While it might seem like you're taking time off from your fitness and weight-loss goals, you're actually doing the opposite: You're making yourself stronger by giving your body the rest that it's (subtly) asking for!

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Member Comments

  • I experience many of these the first week or two back from a long exercise layoff.
  • I can recall YEARS ago (actually it was the early 90's) taking karate and having to train at a different dojo as mine closed for the summer and having to do pushups with our feet elevated on a bench . I can still recall how my triceps felt the day after- not sure if I tore them BUT they were really sore.
  • LACIEBYTE
    One sign not mentioned - and one I would never have thought possible - is getting bruises on the outside of your body from over-working muscles. At least that is what I believe happened after I had to miss my weekly Pilates class for nearly 3 months and then went back. My abs/obliques were so sore for the next few days... but then I noticed I had large black and blue marks in that area near the bottom of my ribs on both sides. Has anyone else ever experience this?
  • This article is just what I needed this morning as I drug myself out of bed. I felt guilty because I just couldn't summon enough energy to take my morning walk. Now I know my body is telling me I need a break so I don't have any reason to feel guilty. I can get back to it when my body feels energy again. Sometimes I have a tendency to just keep pushing my body even though it says no.
  • I've noticed when I have overtrained, I feel listless. I discovered an app for the iPhone that tracks heart rate variability and makes a recommendation on whether the user should consider reducing training load that day.

    Each morning, I use the app to take a measurement. After 4 days, a baseline is calculated. The baseline adjusts with additional measurements.

    I am just a user, not affiliated with the folks who own the app. If you're looking for help, the app is HRV4Training. I don't understand the science behind it. I can say that the days I feel weary, the app usually suggests a lighter workout or rest day.

    The app could be handy for those who are data junkies.
  • Wow...is that why my legs were super heavy on the track. They just had ENOUGH! I better take a rest. Whoaa
  • thanks for the article ill take today off. see if that will help
  • QUICKEASYFIT
    Hey Jennipher, we love this article! We just wrote a similar one on overtraining and would love if you checked it out. You can find the article here: http://www.quicke
    asyfit.com/am
    -i-overtraini
    ng-signs-of-o
    vertraining-a
    nd-how-to-recover/
  • DUSTYSPARTAN
    Yeah, I know all about this, just finished a workout that wouldn't normally be that hard and left the gym totally deflated and wanting to go to bed! Time to take a week off training I think.

    http://www.cara
    llumaactivesr
    eview.info/
  • SAELBELLE
    Great article. The last 2 months I have had trouble getting motivated to workout, but I made myself do it. About half hour after finishing, I'd feel exhausted, yet couldn't sleep.
    I also found it wasn't helping with stress and I was short fused. I thought it was just summer holiday stress & weight gain.
    A few days ago, my body just gave up and my sciatica got inflammed and now I'm probably unable to workout for the next month. I am usually good at listening to my body and what it needs, but I ignored the signs this time and am now paying for it.
  • This totally happened to me. It derailed months worth of work. My body got tired of fighting me and just shut down. Over doing it can really screw up your goals.
  • Good info. Thanks
  • I have to be careful with my body.
  • GIANT-STEPS
    I use my waking pulse rate to detect over-traiining. When my waking pulse rate is higher than normal for a few days I cut back.
    One thing I always say is that you don't get stronger from working out, you get stronger recovering from your workout. When you don't give yourself time to recover than you are shortchanging yourself.

About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

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