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No pain, no gain? Contrary to what you might believe, there is such a thing as working out too much. It even has a name: overtraining syndrome.

While a big part of working out involves challenging your body and pushing your limits, reaching the point of overtraining can actually have the opposite effect than you intended. It can make you drained, put you in a world of pain, and can even cancel out all of that hard work by slowing down your progress

Here are 7 signs of overtraining you should look out for, and what you can do to heal if you’ve pushed yourself way too hard. 

7 Signs of Overtraining 

1. Your energy is always flagging. 

Woman on her bed tired after yoga.

“Training maladaptation” refers to a point where you’ve pushed your body to the limit and overtrained yourself enough that your workouts are causing more harm than benefit. If you reach this point, your body can go through several negative changes, rather than the positive ones you might come to expect from working out. 

One of the most common self-reported symptoms of training maladaptation is general fatigue. There are several theories as to why this might happen. For example, some researchers believe that overtrained athletes might be experiencing depleted glycogen stores that affect their energy levels, while others believe that overtraining leads to excessive oxidative stress that causes fatigue. Other theories include changes to the autonomic nervous system, hormones, or even inflammation. 

No matter where the fatigue comes from, it can have a disastrous effect on your training, not to mention your health and lifestyle as a whole. This general tiredness can drain you of your motivation to work out, take care of your responsibilities, and even your personal interests and hobbies that you would otherwise enjoy. 

2. You’re not seeing performance improvements (if anything, your performance is getting worse). 

Man sitting on the road next to dumbbells.

There’s an obvious benefit that comes with working out a lot: when done correctly, you can often see improvements in your lifts, speed, or general performance. This adaptation is called “functional overreaching,” and it can look like an initial short-term decrease in your performance for up to two weeks followed by long-term improvements. 

However, if you aren’t seeing any improvement over the course of more than three to four weeks, this is a good sign that you may actually be experiencing overtraining syndrome. When you’re overtrained, your body can’t make the positive adjustments that you would want to get out of your workouts, leaving your workout progress stagnant (or in the worst cases, reversing it)

3. You’re always sick.

Sick woman sitting on floor.

Exercise is hard on the body, and all of the energy and resources that your body dedicates to repairing itself after those big workouts can take its toll on your immune system. Researchers have found that your immune system’s natural healing and protective functions tend to slow down slightly and temporarily after an intense workout — and when you’re overtraining for longer periods of time, it’s also hypothesized that this effect can make you more prone to common minor illnesses like colds

4. Your muscles are constantly sore

Man stretching on stairs.

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is often thought of as the sign of a good workout, but if you’re feeling stiff and sore for longer periods of time, it might be a sign that you’re not giving your body enough time to recover. 

DOMS is thought to come from microscopic damage on your muscle tissues after you put them through a tough workout. Your immune system triggers a healing process to help those muscles recover, but it can lead to tender, sore, and stiff muscles in the days to follow. 

DOMS typically peaks at around 24-72 hours after your exercise but then goes away on its own. If you’re constantly sore and stiff, it might be a sign that you’re pushing your muscles too hard without giving them adequate time to repair. 

5. You keep getting injured.  

Person holding knee.

If you’re going too hard and not giving your muscles, tendons, and joints adequate time to recover afterward, all of that excessive use might be making your body more vulnerable to injuries. 

This is especially true if you’re specifically training in a sport. Athletes are particularly susceptible to “overuse injuries” from excessive loading (for example: lifting a weight that’s too heavy), not giving themselves enough time to recover, and being underprepared. For example, adolescent athletes commonly experience issues with tendons, stress fractures, and issues with bone health. 

6. You’re feeling depressed, anxious, and/or irritable. 

Man sitting on red bench.

Exercise is supposed to be good for your mood and your overall well-being. Unfortunately, if you’re overdoing it, it can have a serious negative impact and leave you with unpredictable mood swings, depression, and generally poor mental health

The effects of overtraining on your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems have been linked to mood changes including depression, irritability, agitation, and anxiety. Not only can this make maintaining your regular training schedule difficult, but it can also bleed into your day-to-day life and affect your other responsibilities and relationships at worst. 

7. You’re completely burnt out from training or athletics. 

Trainer motivating client at the gym.

Finally, if you find that you suddenly have zero interest in working out, it might be a sign that you need a recovery break. It’s estimated that about 20-60% of elite athletes experience overtraining, and up to 10% of elite athletes report experiencing burnout.  

Your workouts might not always be fun, but you shouldn’t feel so exhausted and tired that you lose your motivation completely. If this is the case for you, it’s a good sign that you should take a little break to give your body and your mind adequate time and space to recover. 

How to heal from overtraining 

Schedule rest days in your training regimen. 

Adequate rest is crucial for letting your stressed and damaged muscles recover. Unfortunately, rest days are sometimes overlooked by people who are trying to get the most out of their workouts. 

Take at least one day off a week, especially in the days following your most intense workouts. If the thought of taking a break scares you, remember that you don’t necessarily need to stay completely still during a recovery day. Instead, try doing more gentle activities like long walks, stretching, or yoga to keep moving while still allowing your muscles and mind a much-needed break from the usual high-intensity grind. 

Prioritize nutrition for muscle recovery.

Working out is just one half of the puzzle — your diet is the other. 

Nutrition is the other key to good training: not just for fuel, but for recovery as well. Make sure to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet to give your body the tools it needs to properly repair itself from all of that work you’ve done in the gym. As you’re planning your diet, focus on:

  • Protein, which is necessary for muscle recovery and growth, 
  • Healthy carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables, and legumes to to replenish your glycogen stores and keep your energy levels up 
  • Plant-based foods for antioxidants to protect your body from damage 

Get a good night’s sleep. 

Finally, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting your beauty sleep to get the most out of your workouts! 

Good, high-quality sleep is essential — not just for your mind and mood, but for your physical body as well. Not only is sleep necessary for your body’s recovery processes, but it’s also thought that it can reduce injuries and even improve your performance. Try following a regular bedtime routine, keeping your screen time to a minimum and engaging in relaxing activities like meditation or reading if you have trouble drifting off. 

Conclusion 

Working out is one of our biggest tools for improving our body composition and our health as a whole, and you never want to be too comfortable if you want to make progress. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing here. To prevent overtraining, it’s important to factor in adequate time to rest, know your physical limits, and recognize signs of fatigue when they start. Remember, fitness is a lifelong journey, and pushing yourself too far is only going to backfire in the long run.

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