Overtraining: Know When to Say “When”

Most SAC members new to exercise may think that their biggest issue to becoming more fit will be getting the motivation to work out more and become more active in general; but in reality a more common problem is the exact opposite… overtraining. Overtraining is when the volume, load, or repetition causes the negative effects (chronic soreness, joint ailments, etc) of exercise to outweigh the positives. This occurs whenever quality of motion is not the priority.

For some reason most gym goers have a set weight, mileage, rep number, or time that they MUST get to achieve their fitness goals. Focusing on such things and disregarding your quality of motion will eventually catch up to you. No matter if it is weight lifting, running, or yoga, too many movements without competent form will have a negative effect on your musculoskeletal system. Executing any movement without biomechanical efficiency will cause one muscle group, or more, to do way more work that it was designed to. If your back is rounded under a barbell back squat your low back will take the brunt of the movement. If you are not landing softly when you run, the bones and muscles in the feet and ankle will pay the price. This will initially cause some soreness from the overworked muscle. Sore muscles are muscles that are dehydrated and unable to lengthen and contract in a flowing manner. Continuing to stress these sore muscles not only promotes improper mechanics but also invites injury. Whatever calorie burn or muscle pump you achieve in that particular workout will be overshadowed by the damage you do to your body.

The brutal irony is that an over trained individual is bound and determined to improve their overall health and they are in fact speeding up the aging process. One of the first images that come to mind when the word “old” is mentioned is a hunched over, stiff and shuffling figure. Unfortunately age isn’t the only contributing factor to this type of appearance. Faulty movements such as poor running and lifting mechanics can “age” the human body past its years. So all the hours spent in the gym in hopes to slow down the hands of time can actually be speeding them up.

The most disconcerting thing about overtraining is an over trained individual is hardly aware of their condition. Here are some clear cut signs that someone is over trained…

1) Chronic Soreness
This is a huge red flag that your posture and movements leave a lot to be desired. “No pain, no gain” holds absolutely no water. Soreness means you lacked the skill and strength to perform your movements competently. Soreness is expected when you switch activities, increase load, or mileage. This shouldn’t be a constant condition.

2) Decrease in Performance
Are your mile times getting slower? Is your bench press going down in weight? The point of training is to increase performance. If you are not progressing in your activity you are just abusing your body. If your performance is lacking continuing to train in the same manner will only worsen the matter.

3) Lack of Energy
Are you plodding through your runs? Do your arms feel like lead when you try and lift your weights? Do you feel wiped out after each workout? If you answered “yes” to any of the above consider yourself over trained.

So before you throw in the towel and quit the gym, take a deep breath and relax. There is hope. Avoiding overtraining is a rather straight forward process. Just follow these three simple rules to recover from and avoid overtraining.

1) GET COACHED
Every mode of exercise deserves respect. There is a reason there are Yoga and Pilates instructors and weight lifting and running coaches. These professionals don’t get credentials for merely participating in their craft for “x” amount of time. They know each movement they teach inside and out. In addition they are capable of transferring that knowledge to a wide variety of clientele. If you aren’t getting the desired effect from your current activities get professional help. A trainer or instructor can make adjustments to technique and programming that can often dig you out of your current training rut.

2) EARN YOUR INTENSITY
Do not just add more weight to your squat just to lift more weight. Add weight only when the current weight you are lifting can be performed with meticulous form. Don’t just add miles to your running route. Only add mileage when you can finish your current distance with some speed and grace. Exercise isn’t about loading up the weight or running farther; it is about mastering your movements and becoming a more efficient moving human being. If the load your lifting compromises your form or if your feel like you are plodding through you current mileage STOP!!! Only advance when you have earned it with skill, poise and power.

3) REST AND RECOVER
The body needs time to recuperate. Though this amount of time will differ from athlete to athlete it is always a must. If you are feeling tired and lethargic take a day or two off. Take that time to foam roll, stretch, get some down time and relax. A fully recovered body can perform at peak levels. Coming back strong in the gym far outweighs plodding through seven days a week of mediocre workouts.

When it comes to our health, most of us would do anything to keep it. Sometimes this creates a drive to do as much as possible all the time, creating an over-trained body feeling chronic soreness, with decreased performance and energy levels. Take a step back and look at your current exercise regime, if you see any or all of these happening try getting a coached, master your form before increasing the load and make sure you give your body ample time to rest and repair itself. If you have any questions please feel free to contact any of the Seattle Athletic Club’s Fitness staff or contact the Fitness Director Jacob Galloway.

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