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5 unexpected signs you’re overtraining and what to do about it

When it comes to exercising, more frequency or greater intensity isn’t always better.
Are you finding you are not seeing the results you want from your fitness routine? It's possible you are overtraining. Here's how to identify what's happening and how to get back on track in a healthy way.

If you’ve ever found yourself gung-ho to start a new exercise program and you’re planning to work out every day, you might want to think again.

When it comes to exercising, more frequency or greater intensity isn’t always better.

Overtraining is defined as exercising beyond the point your body can handle, negatively impacting your well-being.

The symptoms of overtraining are not always overt. Here are five surprising red flags of overtraining to watch out for:

1. Weight Gain

Generally speaking, when you engage in intense exercise you expect to lose weight, not gain it. But exercising too much and not resting enough can produce elevated levels of the body’s main stress hormone cortisol, and decrease testosterone levels. These stress-related hormonal fluctuations combined with an increased appetite (particularly for carbohydrate-rich foods), is pro-inflammatory and can trigger overeating adding inches to your waistline.

2. Mood Changes

Discipline is what most fitness enthusiasts aspire to have to stay committed to their exercise plan. However, becoming overly disciplined can become a detriment to your mental health when exercise becomes conditional or guilt and shame are associated with missing a workout. This can escalate feelings of irritability and resentment lowering your overall enthusiasm for exercising.

3. Physical exhaustion and prolonged muscle soreness

While experiencing Delayed On-set Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is natural after exercising, especially for beginners, it should alleviate within 24-48 hours after your workout. Strained muscles, tendons and ligaments can create pro-longed inflammation resulting in persistent muscle pain stalling your training progress. Every workout, especially those with high-impact exercises like running and plyometrics, should be initiated with a proper warm-up and followed by an adequate cool-down.

4. Difficulty sleeping

If you’re restless between the sheets, it could be due to overtraining. Insomnia, defined as either difficulty falling asleep or frequent waking throughout the night, can reduce the vital recovery time your body needs to repair itself after your sweat session. In the short term, this can lead to tiredness, anxiety, depression, brain fog and difficulty concentrating, negatively impacting your quality of life. In the long term, poor sleep may give rise to more serious health implications such as heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

5. Metabolic damage

Chronic low energy availability and inflammation can reduce the overall functionality of your organs affecting the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine, nervous and reproductive systems. It can also deregulate your immune system making you more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections with difficulty recovering from them.

So, you’ve identified that you may be experiencing some symptoms of overtraining.

What should you do about it?

Practice tuning into your body

The warning signs of overtraining are not always immediately obvious. They often begin as a quiet whisper, and will eventually become a roar if they’re ignored for too long.

Disregarding the early warning signs of overtraining will only keep you out of training for longer when they become an issue you can no longer ignore. The most important way to prevent overtraining is to recognize when you are overdoing it and scale back.

Anticipate taking regular rest days

You don’t have to feel guilty about taking a break from working out. Plan to include gentler forms of movement such as yoga and stretching into your training schedule along with full rest days.

Fuel your body

Proper nutrition and hydration are the foundations for maintaining a healthy exercise program. A balanced diet that is rich in complex carbohydrates, unsaturated fats and quality protein sources will re-feed your body post-workout while drinking enough water will replace fluids lost through sweat.

You don’t have to quit your high-intensity workouts, just make sure you adjust your fitness routine to reflect adequate rest to allow for optimal recovery. This simple step can help you prevent overtraining injuries and move you closer toward your goals. The most sustainable approach to fitness is sticking to a routine you enjoy and can do safely and consistently!

Kelsey Ellis is a Certified Personal Trainer, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, and Certified Professional Life Coach in Vancouver. Her focus is body positivity and helping people move with joy, build self-acceptance and take the shame out of their fitness game. Find Kelsey on Instagram at @healthy_with_kelsey.