The effects of overtraining and how to avoid it when making a return from ‘exercise hibernation’

Have you been feeling lately that you are burnt out or may be hitting the wall in your training regime? Many are not aware of the physiological happenings and physical signs of overtraining. Overtraining is seen as a detriment to your health and is often overlooked when one is consumed by the all too familiar hype of return to exercise. It is especially important to identify in the population of individuals who are following a structured exercise regime consistently over a long period of time.


Overtraining may be difficult to recognise at the first signs but progressively becomes easier to recognise as the effects become more adverse. It has been said time and time again that too much of a good thing is bad and this is no less true for exercise. However good exercise is, there comes a point when too much exercise will have negative effects on the body.


Overtraining may be seen as the imbalance between too much exercise, at too high an intensity and insufficient recovery time between training bouts in one’s training schedule. So how does one identify whether overtraining is present and what to do about it should you be experiencing such an episode, whether still exercising or making a return from hibernation?


There are the more noticeable signs that you are overtraining and that you are hitting the wall in your training. Firstly, and very obviously, you fatigue way too quickly, more than is normal. You may have felt in the past that you are able to give one hundred percent, but recently you have noticed that at a lower intensity you are feeling fatigued and working at a higher intensity has become that much more difficult. Manyexperience an increased length of exercise recovery timeneeded. The joints and muscle may remain achy for longer periods of time. Another sign is when you begin acquiring a series of overuse injuries. However mild they are, too many injuries, too frequently, is a sign that the body is taking strain.Another sign is a suppressed immune response resulting in frequent illness which is brought on by exercise stress.


The less obvious signs include an altered resting heart rate,usually higher than normal, disturbed or restless sleep,sometimes blamed on stress which essentially is still true in light of overtraining, gastrointestinal upset, lack of motivation, depression, a change in appetite often resulting in weight loss, agitation or irritability, and a sense of ‘giving up.’


If you recognise any combination of the above, you may be experiencing overtraining. It is important that you take note of what is going on with your body and mood. There are ways of combating this syndrome very efficiently if caught early enough. The longer one takes to deal with the situation, the longer recovery will take before everything is restored back to normal. These are a few tips and steps you could use if you are experiencing overtraining.


If you are making a return to exercise after a long bout of rest or holiday (exercise hibernations), please be aware that previous exercise gains will have decreased over your absence from exercise. You should not expect to return to the same level you finished off at, and you will need to step it down a few notches and climb the ladder again. Physiological effects start to dissipate mere days following a complete break from exercise. If you were used to training more than 3 days a week, begin by exercising 2-3 days a week at a lower intensity. Maintain this for at least a couple of weeks before considering increasing intensity and/or frequency. The rule here is that improving fitness takes a lot longer than ‘losing’ fitness.


If you are currently training and have become aware of some of the signs mentioned above, do not despair. If your overtraining is brought on by a lack of recovery due to too many training days per week, cut back a training day so that you have at least 2 rest days in your week. Try to keep them separate from each other and make sure you are actually ‘resting’ on these days, no exercise in other words. After a period of a few weeks if you are still suffering, cut back another day so that you are training no more than 3 days a week. This may be very frustrating for you, but could be even worse if you continue to subject your body to strain with insufficient recovery.


If it is the intensity that is an issue then you need to lower the intensity. Example: if you were training 3 days a week at very high intensity, you could lower the intensity of 2 of the days, or even decrease the time per exercise session and then add an additional day into your regime of low impact, active recoveryshould this be possible. Low impact, active recovery comes in the form of swimming, pilates, and yoga among others. One suddenly is reminded of the science behind training, and training smart is always the way to go.


Other areas to consider if you are experiencing overtraining is to always employ a good stretch regime during your off days, in addition to your training days. You need to have adequate sleep in the evenings. Athletes usually get in as much as 8 hours a night, this is extremely important to your recovery needs. Following a healthy, balanced diet is also vital and will be doubly efficient if coupled with good sleeping habits. Athletes also put into place good maintenance strategies such as sport massage, cryotherapy (ice baths), hydrotherapy, and sometimes see psycho-therapists and coaches for mental wellness and support.


Remember, exercise is an important part of physical well-being, it is seen as an integral part of health and overall longevity. Be smart about it and aim to keep the balance in order to attain the goals you seek to achieve. Take care of your body and your body will take care of the rest.

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Mint Pilates Wellness

Bianca Oppel

082 323 9269



Leanne van den Berg
074 143 3399





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