There is no such thing as overtraining, just under recovering. This is one of my favourite quotes.
My take on this is that you can condition your body to withstand considerable feats when it comes to fitness, strength or endurance. Doesn’t mean its easy, but it can be done with the right programming. Where it all falls apart is when there is a lack of adequate recovery.
Your body and your mind need down time, which can come from time away from training or rest days but also from lifestyle factors such as sleep, good nutrition, hydration, massage and even movement itself.
The majority of us lead busy lives outside our training schedules which means the recovery side of things gets far too often neglected. I see this almost daily in my physio practice, with clients finding ample time in the gym to lift weights but struggling to incorporate 5-10 minutes of targeted mobility or trigger ball work. We then expect to walk back into the gym the following day and do it all over again.
I am an advocate of a preventative approach over a reactive approach. If you look after your body and give back to it instead of just push push push then you may actually be able to prevent injuries or body burnout from occurring in the first place.
There are a few simple, often subtle, signs your body (and your brain) will give you when it’s approaching breaking point.
1. You lack motivation to workout. I’ve definitely been here. I normally love working out, I look forward to the gym, to that feeling of sweating and being exhausted. So for me to be dragging my feet and dreading the thought of exercise is a pretty obvious sign that my body isn’t coping. The human body is exceptionally intuitive so if your not feeling up to the usual maybe opt for an alternative that’s not as physically intense. It’s not being lazy it’s being smart.
2. Lots of little niggles start appearing. Your backs tighter than normal, your feeling a bit of a pinch in your shoulder that's not usually there and yesterday your Achilles ached after your regular run. When your body is stressed beyond its capacity to recover it will eventually break down. The little niggles that you continue to train through are the cracks starting to form and it’s a pretty good indication that it’s time to modify your load.
3. Decreased energy outside of training. We place physical and mental demands on our body in many ways; training is only one part of the picture but often can be one of the most stressful demands. Outside of the gym you may start seeing your focus is disrupted, you can’t be bothered to run around with your kids, your short tempered, easily irritated or you have a reduced sex drive. These can all be signs that you are truly in need of a little down time.
What can be done? The good news is that you don’t need to stop training all together you just need to find a better balance. Have a down week, a rest day, go for a walk or swim; these are. Both great forms of active recovery. Use it as an opportunity to stay well hydrated, get adequate sleep, eat well, or treat yourself to a massage. Give your body time to recharge.
In the long term you can prevent suffering the affects of over-training by ensuring that you dedicate time to a proper recovery.