Overtraining – is your “Hard Fitness” too hard for you? by Kaisa Piippo
Have you ever gone to the gym thinking, “I wish I didn't have to…”? Or have you experienced, despite you train even twice a day, that you just don't feel like eating? Are your muscles sore, even if you stretch and rest enough? Have you had difficulties sleeping? Have you felt like your heart is racing, even if there's nothing exciting going on on Desperate Housewives when you relax on the couch? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions and hesitated on the others, maybe it’s time to slow down and make a little check on your training regime.
Fitness is a very demanding sport: there are so many elements that must be taken into account when preparing for a competition, whether you're a newbie or more experienced athlete. Once you get your sight on the goal, most of us are ready to do almost anything to reach it. Sometimes we forget the limits our bodies set us and refuse to listen to the little signs our bodies might tell us. Many would just keep on training, hoping the symptoms will go away. A newbie won’t most likely even realize she or he can’t keep up with the pace a more experienced athlete is used to. And of course, even professional athlete might think that “this one time, I can still do it… I can do one more season, I HAVE to” even if she knows what she would need the most is rest. She might think she can do it because the girl who took the first place did three seasons in a row competing in seven shows. So she thinks she has to be able to do the same… But it’s not like that – we can’t compare ourselves to anyone else. Why is it so hard for us to acknowledge that we are not the same – we are unique, and such should be our training and nutrition programs.
Over training is a condition where the athlete gets over tired or run down because of lack of rest or too much stress. It happens when the body can’t recover fast enough from the physical trauma that exercising causes. It doesn't happen in a blink of an eye or after two or three hard workouts. Over training symptoms develop when the athlete continuously fails to give the body enough time to rest and recover. One thing that's easy to forget is that also your mind needs its time for rest. Even mental stress can be one of the causes of Over training Since Over training doesn't develop in just a couple of days, a few days off of the gym will not heal you. What's needed is a real break, from two weeks to several months. Light cardio workouts shouldn't be totally eliminated, but heavy workouts must be postponed until you have wholly recovered. Over training won’t go away by just hoping. In worst cases it can lead to over six months of total rest, so when you're wondering “do I wanna go to the gym today” and know you've been training hard for a long period of time, think wisely! You won’t reach your goal any faster by training too much.
I have experienced Over training myself but rather than blaming myself, I have tried to learn something. I had been training for about 1.5 years with a coach who planned my workouts and nutrition. When I moved to the USA, I started tweaking my workouts myself, adding some cardio and plyometrics here and there and still kept my energy intake the same it used to be. I worked out one to three times a day. I stretched and went to get a massage every week. Unfortunately I didn't listen to myself soon enough: when going to the gym wasn't fun anymore, nor when I couldn't sleep at night. I had to keep going until one day my leg workout finished early. I was totally exhausted and even though I tried to do my best, all I could do was cry. It was embarrassing and frightening, because I had no idea what was wrong with me. It was the Olympia weekend and I was feeling like a crippled old lady, except I was 23 years old.
The symptoms I experienced and were easily noticeable were insomnia, elevated resting heart rate (it was over 100 beats per minute even when I was sitting on the couch), decreased appetite, exhaustion and feeling of weakness, muscle soreness and loss of motivation. I went to see a doctor for ten times during the next two months after the Olympia weekend. My EKG was checked, I was put on a treadmill test, I had to wear a mobile heart monitor and so on. It was extremely frustrating… but the worst part was not to be able to train, at all. I had to take a break from the gym for a total of four weeks and even after that, I only did light workouts for several weeks. I did very light cardio a couple of times per week and that was actually pretty much all I had energy for. I couldn't understand why it had to happen right then since my first competition diet was about to begin. It felt like everything I had been planning on for over 1.5 years was just a big question mark, I wasn't sure if I would be able to prepare for the competition I had been training for so hard.
After all everything turned out to be fine: my heart was okay, my appetite increased quite quickly and I could sleep again. The break was a point where I had to look back and analyze my whole lifestyle. Some things would have to be changed and especially one thing would have to be eliminated totally: hurrying. Actually this whole Over training issue taught me that I'm in no hurry for anything in this life. I'm young, healthy and I have so many years to fulfill these dreams I have for fitness. I believe I had to go through it to understand the sport more thoroughly. Now I'm wiser when it comes to planning my workouts for the week, preparing foods and making sure I get enough rest. All these three elements must be well balanced in order to be able to develop your physique and condition.
So if you feel like you might have been training a little too hard, you have hard time trying to relax and you've been pushing yourself over the limit, here are some things you could check to make sure What's going on:
- Check your resting heart rate first. Lie quietly for 10 minutes and then check your heart rate either with a heart monitor or manually (count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by four). The heart rate should be something from 55 to 85. Another test you can do is called “orthostatic test”. It’s vastly used with elite Finnish cross country skiers for preventing Over training This test should be performed the same day you checked your resting heart rate. First lie down relaxed for some time, then stand up quickly and wait for 60 seconds. Check your heart rate and compare it to your resting heart rate. If the difference is more than 20 beats, there is a risk you might be stressed out or overtrained.
- If you do plyometrics workouts, compare your speed-strength to what it was a month or two ago. It is the ability to exert maximal forces during high speed movements. Can you jump as far or as high as you used to? Do you get tired more easily?
- Take a break from the gym for 3-5 days to check if
you feel any better. During this time try to do other things you enjoy,
eat plenty of nutritious food and put aside all the errands that make
you stress easily. If this doesn't make you feel freshened up and renew
your motivation, you might want to consider a longer break. Remember
to talk to your coach about your thoughts so you two can together plan
the best way for you to recover.