Preventing Overtraining | How Much Exercise is Too Much

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Overtraining is just as harmful to our bodies as working out too little. While it’s good to push ourselves, it is possible to push too much. Overtraining results when we take too little time to recover between workouts. It can result in exhaustion, fatigue and injury.

How To Tell If You Are Overtraining

Overtraining is just as common among ordinary people as it is among athletes. The biggest sign you are overtraining is fatigue. Your workouts should leave you feeling charged and energized for the day. If you feel exhausted after working out, chances are you are overtraining. Frequent injuries are another sign you may be overtraining. Some people even become more susceptible to illness when overtraining.

Here are some warning signs that you may be overtraining:
  • Achiness in the joints and limbs.
  • Pain when walking or moving.
  • Soreness that persists beyond a day or so.
  • Decreased athletic ability or performance.
  • Fatigue or exhaustion.
  • Inability to sleep.
  • Frequent colds, sore throats or other illnesses.
Overtraining is so common it actually has a name, “overtraining syndrome.” This syndrome is characterized by marked changes in performance as well as psychological and physiological changes in the body. Apart from the changes described above, overtraining may also result in a lower resting heart rate, increased VO2 and VE during less intensive workouts, increased basal metabolic rate, headaches and even chronic fatigue. It isn’t uncommon for athletes who are overstrained to feel depressed or experience an inability to concentrate. Some may lose their interest in their sport while others start feeling a lower self-esteem.

Good Vs. Bad Soreness

Soreness isn’t always an indicator that something is wrong. If you decide to try a new exercise or lift a little heavier weights, you will probably feel a bit sore the next morning. Soreness that is so severe you feel it in your joints and aren’t able to move the next day however, is not good.

To realize significant gains in the gym and increase strength, you have to push your body. Your body will only build muscle if your make it work harder than it normally does. Usually when we work out harder than normal, microscopic tears occur in the muscle fibers. This is perfectly normal, but does cause muscle soreness that usually surfaces the day after your work out.

How To Treat Overtraining

If you are overtraining, the only way to repair the damage done to your body is to take some time off. You’ll need to take a week or more to rest. The length of your recovery depends on the time you consistently overstrained. During this time it is important you drink lots of fluid and rest as much as possible. A therapeutic massage may help flush your system.

If you are a competitive athlete, you may need to rest for several weeks. Some studies suggest that longer intervals of recovery are necessary to recover. During this time you may be able to engage in some light exercise, but not nearly the intensity you may be used to.

Of course the best treatment is prevention. Exercising long and hard isn’t always the best prescription for health. You can improve your performance working out three times a week for a reasonable amount of time. The key is making your workouts as efficient as possible. When it comes to training, efficiency is just as important as intensity.

Maximize Your Workout

You can maximize the health benefits associated with your workout by working out efficiently. If you aren’t realizing significant gains in your current fitness program, you may not be training enough. Alternatively, your body may simply have become used to the exercise you are doing. To help re-stimulate your body’s response, try varying your routine periodically. Our bodies have a remarkable capacity to adapt to exercise. If you walk, run, bike, swim and strength rain, you provide your body with ample opportunities to work different muscle groups. You are much more likely to realize significant long-term benefits from varying your routine.

Here are some extra steps you can take to maximize your workouts:
  • Avoid exercising at high intensities consecutive days.
  • Allow a minimum of one recovery day between intense sessions or strength training sessions.
  • Vary your routine weekly or daily if possible.
  • Avoid lifting weight that are too heavy for you.
  • Avoid incorrect postures.
  • Always warm up and cool down prior to exercising.
  • Monitor your heart rate during physical activity to ensure you are working out in your ideal range.
Overtraining is a serious problem that can affect anyone. Fortunately you can prevent overtraining by working out sensibly and allowing your body enough rest between workouts. Remember, the more efficiently you work out, the more likely you are to realize health benefits for extended intervals.