What is it? How to avoid it? How to fix it?
Have you been hitting the gym 20 days in a row now? Have you been feeling generally tired all week? Got an irritable mood lately? Is it the lack of sleep, maybe? Have you even lost some weight? Maybe the real to question to ask is:
IS YOUR WORKOUT, WORKING OUT FOR YOU?
Chances are, if you’ve been feeling the above mentioned conditions for a while now, despite hitting the gym and sweating it out every day of the week, then you must have also come across the term ‘Overtraining’. If you haven’t yet, then it is about time you got to know about the perils of going to the gym a bit too religiously!
Since early childhood, we have all been conditioned to the idea that the harder you work, the bigger the results. When it comes to our body, however, it is possible that in the frenzy of achieving bulky results, we work way too hard on our body to the point where the body starts reversing from the desired results.
Sure, the importance of rest for the body to recover is well known to all gym goers. If not, then it is time to change your instructor or probably the gym too! However, in this age of social media, where pictures of your six-pack are considered trendier than a six-pack of beer, it is not all too uncommon that one loses sight of fitness over likes.
So, is training hard bad for you then? Absolutely not. Overtraining, on the other hand, can be very bad for your body.
As per the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM):
‘OTS (Overtraining Syndrome) appears to be a maladaptive response to excessive exercise without adequate rest, resulting in perturbations of multiple body systems (neurologic, endocrinologic, immunologic) coupled with mood changes.’
To put it simply, overtraining is the condition in which the body is put under more stress than it can recover from. The main cause of overtraining that I’ve observed is the desire and temptation to achieve extraordinary peaks with the body without first having the mental discipline and patience required to achieve such peaks. When identified and caught early, overtraining can be easily countered by the simple act of just letting the body rest and providing it with the necessary nourishment and time to recover. On the other hand, when allowed to persist despite the early signs of physical and mental fatigue, it leads to overtraining syndrome (OTS), a chronic condition which reverses the desired effects of training and even impairs performance.
Without realizing that it’s a downward spiral, people often engage in high intensity workouts or with high volumes without having any rest days in between. This could lead to a catabolic state where the muscle begins to breakdown more than it should. Or they perform monotonous physical training routines with an excessive amount of repetitive movements. The lack of stimulation caused by this affects the central nervous system resulting in a condition called the performance plateau. And as you know, a plateau is flat, not the kind of results you’d expect after training extra hard. For example, losing weight when instead you are trying to bulk up or being unable to lift weights that you usually manage to.
“But blood, sweat and tears is the cost of any great achievement, right? Not always. Go overboard with your body and blood, sweat and tears could be the price you pay!”
Sure, many bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts debunk overtraining as a myth as just another excuse given by those who lack enough the willpower and determination to great goals. Most of the time there is more to what they mean by it and there is some truth to it too. Other times it’s just unqualified instructors shooting blanks. The latter is probably why most cases of overtraining exist in the first place!
What the successful bodybuilders mean when they refute overtraining, is that in most of the cases, in their experience, it is just an excuse used to get out of training harder or to even just skip the gym! Surely, they did not get their 22-inch biceps from taking it easy. Indeed, it was at the cost of their blood sweat and tears! The only difference being that they were ‘overreaching’ and not ‘overtraining’.
WHAT IS OVERREACHING?
Overreaching is where the body is pushed to its limits and a little beyond but still within control. Overreaching too results in physical fatigue and a temporary drop in performance level, unlike overtraining which has a more prolonged and long-lasting side effect. In fact, overreaching, when done correctly under the right supervision, drastically improves performance levels. But you should be careful not to go overboard with it. Combined with other external stress factors such as work or family related problems, overreaching can easily lead to overtraining syndrome. It is indeed a fine line between Overreaching and Overtraining. Simply put…
“It is the difference between getting a ripped body and a ripped apart body.”
That is why I would advise you to always do intense training under qualified supervision and ensure you are taking adequate nourishment. But most important of all is to listen to your body. And as such, it varies from person to person. Many factors (immunity level, hormones, lifestyle etc) contribute to how well or how bad your body reacts. If you’ve had any personal experience with overtraining, please do share it in the comments. And if this has been an eye-opener to you, then do a good deed to your friends and share it with them. There’s no telling whom it helps.
So, the next time you get all worked up about hitting the gym, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your body be. It is much faster to break it though. Overtraining will only lead to the training being over! So, work hard, but be sure to let your body rest and recover.