Fitness training is good for your body. Without strength and aerobic training, your body has no stimuli to adapt and become stronger or develop more stamina. Staying strong and having endurance becomes more challenging with age as we lose muscle tissue and the number of functional mitochondria within the muscle tissue goes down. Exercise helps to counteract these negative aspects of aging, so you can stay as functional as possible.
Yet, it’s possible to overdo a good thing. You’ve probably heard about overtraining and the risks it poses, but more common is overreaching where you push your body a bit too hard to the point that you develop physical or psychological symptoms. Overreaching is a less extreme form of overtraining but both are the result of increasing the intensity, frequency, or duration of training without allowing your body enough time to recover.
Sometimes, overreaching, or training too hard, sneaks up on you or you ignore the signs and keep pushing harder. If you do this, overreaching can become the more severe problem of overtraining, which can take weeks to recover from. Therefore, it’s important to listen to your body and be aware of signs and symptoms that you’re pushing too hard and that you need to scale back or rest more. Here are some of the warning signs you should be aware of.
Training Too Hard: Chronic Soreness
It’s not uncommon to feel sore when you’ve pushed your body harder than it’s accustomed to. We call this type of soreness delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. With DOMS, the muscles you work are usually sore and stiff for up to a week. However, it’s not normal to feel chronically sore and feeling sore most of the time can be a sign that you’re placing TOO much stress on your body. Make sure you’re waiting at least 48 hours between strength training sessions when working the same muscle group and don’t try to max out or train to failure every session. Periodizing your training, so that you work strength during one cycle, hypertrophy during a second cycle, and muscle endurance during a third helps reduce the risk of overtraining as well. Don’t see chronic soreness as a badge of honor but, potentially, as a sign, you’re not giving your muscles enough recovery time.
Training Too Hard: Heart Rate Changes
An early morning heart rate that’s higher than usual is an early and subtle sign that you’re pushing your body too hard, whether with endurance or resistance training. In fact, it’s a good idea to track your morning heart rate and follow it regularly. Use it as an early warning sign that you’re putting too much stress on your body. Simply, check your heart rate first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. If you notice that it’s elevated more than 7 beats per minute above baseline, you’re probably not giving your body enough recovery time and need to take a few days off or lighten up on your training.
If you’re pushing your body too hard, you might also have a higher than usual heart rate during exercise and your heart rate may not return to baseline as quickly after a workout is over. These are all signs that your body is under stress from too much exercise and inadequate recovery.
Training Too Hard: Lack of Motivation
Overreaching and overtraining carries with it psychological symptoms as well. If you’re training too hard, you might have problems sleeping, feel down or more irritable or anxious than normal. Your enthusiasm for exercise may dwindle and you may discover that you don’t have the same motivation or “get up and go” that you once had. You might also find that it’s harder to focus on your workout and your exercise performance is sub-par due to excessive fatigue. Overreaching can trigger changes in stress hormones and brain neurotransmitters that create these feelings. Although it’s normal to sometimes not want to work out, consistently dreading the next workout could mean you need rest time and to scale back on the frequency, intensity, or duration of your workouts.
Training Too Hard: Getting More Colds?
Exercise, in moderation, is beneficial to your immune system but research shows the benefits follow a J-shaped curve. Working out can lower your risk of getting colds and viruses by ramping up your immune system, but overdoing it can actually increase your risk of illness. When you overreach, your adrenal glands pump out more cortisol and this suppresses the activity of immune cells, leaving you at greater risk of catching a respiratory infection. For example, studies show that marathoners are more prone to catching a cold within two weeks after a marathon.
Training Too Hard: Injuries
Ahh! The dreaded injury – it’s something you definitely want to avoid. Nothing can alter your training as much as getting injured. When you’re pushing your body too hard and not giving it enough time to recover, your risk of injury goes up. Fatigue increases the chances of error when you train and exhausted muscles simply don’t perform as well.
What to Do
What if have these signs? Give yourself a few days off. If you exercise at all, stick to low-intensity exercises, like yoga or stretching. Work on loosening tight muscles with a foam roller or get a massage. Then, scrutinize your training schedule. Are you giving your muscles enough recovery time between sessions? Are your training sessions too long? Consider cutting back on the duration or frequency with which you train or replace some of your more intense workouts with a yoga session. Take a closer look at nutrition as well. Are you consuming enough calories to fuel your workouts? Consistently training in a calorie-depleted state increases the stress on your body.
The Bottom Line
Yes, it’s important to train hard but to train smartly as well. Monitor your body and be aware of signs that you’re pushing too hard and then give your body more time to rest and recover.
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