For the most part, Americans could all stand to exercise a little more; many people are not getting the recommended baseline amount of exercise each week. On the other side of this pendulum, however, we’ve got fitness fanatics — and if you fall in this camp (or feel yourself edging closer and closer to it), listen in as overtraining syndrome is nothing to mess around with.
Yes, You CAN Exercise Too Much
As you’ll hear — over and over! — healthy living is about balance. There is too much of a good thing. Drink too much water? Hyponatremia. Obsess over clean eating? Dangerous territory. And if you’re exercising too much, this leads to what is called “overtraining syndrome.”
What Is Overtraining Syndrome?
Let’s say you go a little too hard at the gym. Or you’re pulling three-a-day workouts, really holding to that “never miss a Monday” mentality — all seven days of the week. It’s amazing to have that drive (and the commitment to improving your health), but as you may have guessed, this can take you too far, and your plans to get healthier can seriously backfire.
Overtraining syndrome means you’ve gone too hard, too quickly, with not nearly enough rest and recuperation. Recharging and recovering is paramount to achieving success with your workouts, regardless of your goals. Whether you want to improve your strength, enhance stamina, move more easily, lose weight, add muscle, or manage your mental health, rest is as important to the equation as the exercise itself. Overtraining is the lack of this necessary recovery in between intense workouts.
And, as you may imagine, this backfiring of the whole “getting healthier” plan can stall your results as this syndrome wreaks havoc on multiple systems of the body.
How much is too much? This all comes down to the individual. Your threshold is different from your coworkers, your spouse’s, your best friend’s, even your sibling’s. This is why it’s so important to listen to your body and watch out for any signals that you’ve gone too far.
Symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome
You might get some “check engine lights” from your brain and body — their way of signaling you to slow it down. It’s important to listen to these cues, especially the early ones — because they may become impossible to ignore after a certain threshold.
Symptoms and warning signs can pop up in multiple areas of your body since overtraining impacts many systems. Some signs you may have overtraining syndrome:
Changes in Appetite
No longer craving breakfast when you wake up? Eating less than normal? With more time in your workouts, you may lose your appetite — and since you probably need more calories to recover from all the exercise, this can be dangerous.
Changes to Sleep Patterns
Tired but can’t sleep? Or maybe you can fall asleep, but it doesn’t feel like you’re getting quality Zzzs? Take a look at your workout program. Your circadian rhythm can be affected by overtraining syndrome.
RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Sleep
You’re Tired All The Time
Fatigue is a huge warning sign that overtraining may be on the table. When your stores are depleted from too much exercise, it impacts your energy levels well beyond the gym. You may also notice you tire more quickly in your workouts, you can’t lift as heavy of weights, and your body feels fatigued quickly.
Crankiness and Irritability
Anything from moodiness (and mood swings) to anger and irritability to anxiety and even depression — overtraining takes a serious toll on your nervous system, and it shows up in your mood. Say sayonara to happy exercise endorphins, and hello to cortisol overload.
Constipation and diarrhea are par for the course with overtraining, so watch for tummy troubles.
While a normal amount of exercise is good for your immune system, too much exercise can do the opposite and wear on your body’s ability to fight off pathogens and illness.
Loss of Menstrual Period
If you usually have a menstrual period and it suddenly disappears (and you’re not pregnant), it could be due to excessive exercise without adequate recovery. Check with your doctor to ensure you’re in good health.
One of the most common (and more severe) side effects of overexercising is injury of some kind — joint pain, sharp pain in muscles — if you start to experience this, stop immediately and schedule an appointment with your doctor.
How to Course Correct
So you’ve ticked a few boxes on here (or more) and realize that your regimen might be a little too extreme. That’s OK! It’s all a lesson, and your awareness is going to help you get back on course to a healthy body, mind, and lifestyle.
First things first, check in with a physician to make sure your vitals are okay. This article here is meant to help you learn about the concept of overtraining — it’s not medical advice! — so get in for a physical with your doc. From there, they can prescribe the right nutrition, hydration, and recovery program for your exact needs. This is especially important if you have an injury — your doctor can refer you to the right specialists or even a physical therapist.
In general, it’s probably wise to scale back on exercise and start taking at least two rest days each week. Focus on adequate nutrition and hydration, add some hours to your in-bed time to improve your sleep time, and try throwing in some recovery-style workouts to your routine as you ease out of your current regimen. Think: super gentle yoga (maybe skip power yoga for now), stretching, etc. Beyond scaling back and resting more, you may want to look into some good bodywork therapies like massage, acupuncture, and assisted stretching. Do some Epsom salt baths, work on your meditation skills to further hone your mind-body connection, start a bedtime routine to help recalibrate your nervous system.
Be Proud of Yourself
Don’t beat yourself up — not only did you fall in love with exercise, but you were mindful enough to catch yourself when you pushed beyond your limits. You’ve learned how far you can go (and how far is a little too far for your own body), and you’ve learned how to heal. Now go forth, recover, and keep up the good work!