Are you overtrained? Doing too much? Not sure?
This is a hot topic right now in the fitness and nutrition world. A lot of big names out there are really hammering this point home especially towards CrossFit athletes. If you were like me a couple months ago, you might be a bit defensive. Either way, hear me out.
What is overtraining? It is excessive exercise that results in muscle damage, fatigue, and risk of injury.
How does one over-train themselves? There are many ways for this to happen:
1. Too many days, not enough rest
2. Too long of sessions
3. Too many sessions in a day
4. Too much intensity and/or volume
5. Too much of the same stuff
6. Your exercise routine is perfect but you don’t fuel yourself properly via nutrition
7. You have no recovery routine (either via nutrition or stress-relieving activities)
Signs You’re Overtraining Yourself:
1. You don’t sleep. You have very disjointed and interrupted sleep. You can’t get through a night without waking up once or twice.
2. You’re constantly tired throughout the day EVEN after getting 8 hours of sleep.
4. You’re perpetually sore. You should only be sore every day when you start a new program. Other than that, occasional soreness is fine but not constantly sore.
5. You can’t get through a 45 minute- to an hour-long training session. No matter what the exercise is, you should be able to complete it and not feel like death has arrived.
6. Similar to above, but you just can't push the limits or go into that second gear anymore. You have one intensity level and that's 60% nothing more.
7. You’re constantly injured. First your wrist, then your hip flexor, then your back… and so on.
8. You're constantly irritated, moody, and stressed for no apparent reason. You get frequent headaches.
These are very basic but you should get the point. Overtraining is a problem because it prevents any gains from happening in the gym. When you’re overtrained, you’re constantly inflamed because your muscles are damaged 24/7 and simply need to repair themselves rather than grow. Muscle tissue is dying faster than it can be replenished and so your body is trying to protect it by providing inflammation and sending pain signals to your brain. When your muscles are damaged and unable to repair themselves, then anything you do at the gym is pointless. You won’t PR, you won’t build muscle (you can’t even fix existing muscle…let alone form new ones), and you won’t lose weight. Our bodies won’t shed weight if it’s already feeling under attack. Remember, our bodies like to survive and losing weight is a stressor on our body so it tries to hold onto everything. Even worse than all of these, your overtrained body may reject training so much that you become mentally and physically burnt out and stop exercising at all.
I’ve been there. I was overtraining a year or so back. I pulled a muscle in the bottom of my foot. Then my hip flexor was strained. Then one day my back started locking up. That wasn’t me becoming bad at exercise… it was my body telling me to calm the f*** down and get it together.
Thankfully I did. I took a much needed hiatus from training to let myself recover. I did a lot of walking and yoga then sat down and evaluated what was the problem. I was training 6-7 days/week for a while with some two-a-days, eating 1700-1800 calories, going balls to the wall at every single workout even the ones “not for time”, not warming up, not cooling down, and on rest days (if I took one) I did nothing except sit on my butt. Basically, if you take all 7 points from above, I did all of them.
This is where some people in the fitness world hate on CrossFit. CrossFit is a “for-time” sport, where most workouts are done in a competition setting. You’re trying to beat your neighbor and you’ll stop at nothing to do it.
I get it… I really do. It is the problem for a lot of people. Most people who do CrossFit get burned out at some point or have to deal with nagging injuries. You go so intense that you sacrifice form and intention and end up doing a lot of damage. Then you’re in a gym with programming that lacks organization and reasoning, and you’re stuck doing the same pull/push/squat movements over and over again with the purpose of “let’s just make this as brutal for them as possible.” No wonder CrossFit got a bad reputation or why many people experience burnout and fatigue. Thankfully, in the past couple of years there has been a shift in the mindset of most gyms to encourage smart, strategic, safe, but also effective programming.
So what do you do?
1. Evaluate your training program and decide on a regimen that you love and that loves you.
From a physiological standpoint, you are 100% better off doing steady state cardio and bodybuilding type exercises. This approach reduces a lot of inflammation and allows you to target specific muscle groups and perform them well and with intention.
However, there are some people (myself included) that don’t find that enjoyable. They find themselves with trainers and coaches that force one way on them without considering what they love. Exercise should be fun not a “job”.
Here is where I stand (and don’t worry most of the fitness experts I follow and respect will say the same thing). Your training regimen needs to be one you adhere to. If you love a good bro-sesh at the gym and some steady state cardio thrown in the mix, do it. If you love CrossFit, do it. If you love both, do it. If you love powerlifting, do it. If you love Olympic lifting like me, do it. If you love running or biking, do it. Whatever you do, do it smart and intently. Try new things, definitely, but pick the regimen you love and what you will adhere to THEN make it sustainable.
Balance your training days between push/pull and glutes. Don’t do them all in one day. Organize your splits (how many days) and plan ahead of time. Fuel yourself. Eat beforehand and eat afterwards. If something hurts, DON’T PUSH THROUGH IT (the all-caps was to me since I am terrible at this).
Listen to your body. Train 4-5 days, 3 days if you’re feeling off, and 6 days if you’re on top of the world. Take rest days where you truly do nothing! Take active recovery rest days. Mobilize, stretch, do yoga, walk. You have to sleep 8 hours/night. Yoga, Epsom salt baths, massages, ice baths, etc. are all great but won’t do anything if you don’t sleep. Program a deload week in your training every 4-6 weeks where you drop weights and intensity to allow your body the chance to recover.
3. Eat food
CrossFitters and high intensity sport peeps (HIIT, kickboxing, OrangeTheory), you need more fuel to prevent yourself from overtraining. Non-negotiable. I get a lot of arguments on this one. “I can’t eat that much food” “I’ll get fat” “That’s impossible” “It’s unhealthy for me to eat that much food” “Carbs will make me fat”. The list is exhaustive. My answer? Choose your poison. I allow my clients to do CrossFit and high-intensity sports. Not all trainers and nutrition coaches do. I know some that will belittle you if you choose to do them. If I’m going to allow you to create THAT much stress on your body, then I expect my clients to meet me halfway and eat the food I advise them to eat. You can either do your low-carb diet OR you can do high-intensity sport. You can’t have both. Don’t believe me? I chose to keep doing CrossFit and Oly lifting… but I also increased my intake by 1000 calories and guess what? I’ve been injury free for almost a year.
Overtraining is a problem. You are at risk for injury and physical and psychological fatigue and burnout. The great thing about it, though, is that it truly is an easy fix. It also gives you autonomy within your training program and within your life to actually learn to listen to your body and do more of what you love.
Not sure how, let me help! This is my job and I like to think I’m pretty good at it! So sign up here!