The Overtraining Syndrome: Are You Overtrained?

When was the last time you took a day off for rest and recovery? Can't remember? You might be on the brink of overtraining. Find out more about the symptoms and when you need to take time off...

Overtraining occurs when athletes try too hard to improve performance and train beyond the body's ability to recover. Without recovery, the body is repeatedly stressed to the point where rest is no longer adequate to allow for recovery. When this takes place for weeks or even months, this is called the "overtraining syndrome".

The overtraining syndrome is the name given to all of the symptoms that occur due to overtraining. These symptoms include:

  • Pain in muscles & joints
  • Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy, fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Inability to relax, twitchy, fidgety
  • Unquenchable thirst, dehydration
  • Lowered resistance to common illnesses; colds, sore throat, etc.
  • Moody, irritable
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Depression
  • Loss of competitive desire
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent muscle soreness
  • Increased occurrence of injuries

As you can see, overtraining is not a laughing matter. It has affected almost everyone who has stepped foot in a gym at one point or another. It should be taken into consideration when creating a workout plan of any sort.

Why Does Overtraining Occur?

Most of the time, overtraining occurs because people train or do the same activity targeting a muscle group that hasn't fully recovered. Other times, it's from the lack of nutrients and calories to rebuild what you body broke down through exercise.

Example: Lets say that you worked out your back on Monday. Your biceps had a good workout from that and are still recovering when you work out your biceps on Tuesday. Since your biceps are still recovering and you worked them out anyways, this is putting your biceps in an overtrained state. Because this only happened this one time and the degree of overtraining isn't that great, a few days of rest would easily allow your body to bounce back and get out of the overtrained state.

If you don't allow for your arms to rest and continue breaking them down further while not giving them adequate time for rest and recovery, then the overtraining syndrome will occur. Once the overtraining syndrome occurs, you will experience symptoms and recovering from the overtraining syndrome will take longer. The amount of rest required to get out of the overtraining syndrome varies from person to person.

Factors that influence this are:

  • How efficient your body is at recovering
  • The amount of food you are consuming for your body to use for repair and growth
  • How much sleep you are giving your body.

With all of these factors in place, you will recover from the overtraining syndrome more rapidly.

How Do I Recover If I Am Overtrained?

If you are in an overtrained state and have overtraining syndrome, rest is key to recovering. Depending on how long your body was in an overtrained state, you might only need 3-5 days of rest without stressful activity. If you were in an overtrained state for much longer, you will have to increase your rest days accordingly. It is impossible to tell you exactly how long you need to rest due to the fact that everyone is different.

A good diet that gives your body a surplus amount of calories and an adequate amount of sleep will increase your rate of recovery. Also, a multivitamin and lots of vitamin C will help your immune system to recover from the overtraining syndrome.

How Do I Prevent Overtraining?

Making a workout plan that will give you adequate rest to heal, repair, and grow can prevent overtraining. Take into consideration how many days a week you are working out and how many times a week you are hitting each muscle group. It is wise to rest at least one day a week, no matter how light your weight training may be. It is also recommended that you don't work each muscle group more than two days a week (unless you are doing a special program that calls for you to do so).

Another way to prevent overtraining is by making sure you are getting enough sleep. Bodybuilders everywhere swear by at least eight hours of sleep each night. For children, nine hours is recommended. Steve Reeves used to sleep 13 hours each day while he prepared for his contests! Even back then, bodybuilders knew that you grew outside of the gym while you were resting, not inside while you were breaking down your body.

The final, and probably the most important prevention method, is to make a diet that will allow your body the nutrients it needs in order to meet the demands that exercise has placed on it. Getting enough protein in your diet is the first place to start.

As Skip La Cour says, "Muscle is protein, and protein is muscle". Because of this, it is recommended that you take in 1-2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight each day. This will give your body the building blocks it needs to repair it and become bigger than it was before.

As for carbohydrates, make sure you are consuming enough so that your body is burning either fats or carbohydrates for an energy source and not protein or amino acids. With fats, at least consume enough for your body to carry on with its hormonal and bodily functions.

And remember, growth takes place outside of the gym and in the kitchen!


SportsMed Web, Overtraining Syndrome.

Sports Medicine with Elizabeth Quinn, Symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome.

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