A little extra muscle strain has never hurt anyone, right?
Well, you may be terribly mistaken there: certain studies show that prolonged periods of intense physical activity such as excessive gym training, extreme CrossFit sessions, or heavy manual labor can in fact result in a number of physical and psychological conditions. These range from the innocuous odd headache and moodiness, to very serious cardiovascular problems. Combined, all these health-related signals are known as overtraining syndrome, a neuroendocrine disorder typically diagnosed in high-performance athletes, and over-eager workout aficionados who don’t stop until they drop – in some cases quite literally.
If you think you may be suffering from overtraining syndrome, check out the list of telltale signs and recommended prevention and treatment– after all, health should always be your top priority over muscle mass.
Overtraining Syndrome: Signs and Symptoms
- Chronic fatigue – due to brief recovery times after intense training sessions, you may wind up feeling constantly tired, drained of energy, and your strength level may drop in the face of regular workouts. This results in stagnation or decline in performance.
- Sudden weight loss – losing weight through training is okay, but should the scale figures drop unexpectedly, it may be a sign that your diet is not tailored to your heavy workout routines in terms of micro and macronutrient quantities. This means your body is not getting enough quality fuel to keep up with your increased physical activity levels.
- Drop in appetite – due to excessive training, your organisms may be reluctant to expend extra energy on digestion, which can lead to unwarranted appetite decline. Make sure you’re getting the right nutrients in decently sized portions, even if it means swapping solid food for whey protein shakes and liquefied body fuel.
- Moodiness and depression – if you’re feeling listless, sluggish, moody, and every move feels like hard work, you may not be giving your body enough time to recover from intense activity periods. Remember – the harder you work out, the longer you need to recuperate from gym effects. Lack of rest always entails negative psychological (not just physical) effects in the long run.
- Chronic muscle inflammation – myositis goes hand in hand with excessive muscle strain, especially if you up your workout intensity suddenly or unreasonably within a short period of time.
- Increased susceptibility to injuries and infections– in periods of extreme physical or mental stress, both your focus and immunity tend to drop. This can lead to accidental injuries, lower resistance to bacteria and viruses, and increased propensity to infections.
- Higher than usual heart rate – in overtraining syndrome, your heart rate may be higher than normal even when you’re resting. It’s best to monitor it regularly just to stay on the safe side.
- Biorhythm disturbances – in cases of severe overtraining, hormonal and enzyme levels may shift; as well as your sleep cycles being disrupted. Metabolic disorders are not a force to be reckoned with.
- Exertional rhabdomyolysis – every extreme athlete’s worst nightmare, Rhabdo stands for degeneration of skeletal muscle tissue due to extreme strain and stress caused by excessive training. The usual signs of rhabdomyolysis include continual and severe muscle pain, joint tenderness and swelling. This is often followed by dark urine, so consult a physician immediately if you are having any of these symptoms.
Adequate Overtraining Recovery and Prevention
Depending on your symptoms, recovery from overtraining may involve: rest, improved nutrition, more sleep, or training program adjustments. For moderate conditions, you may have to drop your workout routines (known as deload period) for a couple of weeks – or even a few months in extreme cases.
This, however, may be a tough challenge for training enthusiasts who see gym sessions as an indispensable part of their everyday life. Preventing overtraining is by far a better option than tidying up the physical and mental shambles later. To prevent overtraining, there are several strategies you can follow.
- Allow your body the necessary time to recover in between workouts – you only get one body per lifetime, so do show comparative appreciation and care for it.
- Regularly eat well – make sure that your diet provides you with the vital fuel for periods of increased activity. Also, stay hydrated 24/7, follow a balanced eating pattern, and use supplements or liquid food if necessary.
- Know your limits and respect them – pushing your physical limits will only land you in bed for longer than you’re eager to accept.
- Structure your workout carefully – to prevent overtraining, professional athletes use periodization. It boils down to breaking up your workout into several progressive cycles of a specific training program, and then followed by a recovery period.
- Get a coach or professional instructor – if you can’t make reasonable adjustments in your excessive training program on your own, consult a coach or professional instructor to help you with the training schedule.
In the world of bodybuilding and professional sports, overtraining syndrome is a debilitating condition, and a risk which can be prevented through moderation in training routines and timely reaction to early symptoms. Don’t worry: your body won’t collapse if you push yourself a bit too much now and then. But don’t make extremely intense workouts a habit: before you know it, your muscles may turn against you.
Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for better life at highstylife.com and other health blogs. Follow him on Twitter.