Exercise is good for you. It helps your body to burn off the energy from the food you eat, increases metabolism, boosts immunity and strengthens a variety of systems. Exercises benefit your hormone levels, sleep/wake cycle, mental agility, and blood circulation. As with anything else, though, too much of a good thing can quickly turn into a bad thing. When you exercise more than what your body can handle, you stimulate your body more than what it can recover from and it will start to break down. Your energy levels will dwindle, your hormones will fail to regulate themselves properly and your sleep will be severely disrupted.
Over-training is quite common
Since it requires energy and motivation to exercise regularly, many people think that it is almost impossible to exercise more than what they should. This is not only possible but extremely common for many people who exercise regularly. Endorphins are released during exercise.
These feel-good hormones make you feel good and give you a sense of accomplishment that can uplift your mood for hours after physical activity. They do this by stimulating the release of dopamine (the reward hormone) and acting as a natural pain killer. Similar to the way that dopamine release can lead to sugar or drug addiction, the feel-good sensation after exercise can become addictive. Some people feel depressed whenever they skip their workout.
Additionally, self-worth may be tied to body image or performance and this may increase your desire to exercise. Exercise gives most people a mental escape from their day-to-day life and gives them a sense of accomplishment. It gives them an area of their lives where they feel like they are in control. This makes exercise addiction not only plausible but likely for many. Similar to the way that reducing daily caloric intake is a good thing but eating disorders are taking it too far, overtraining takes exercise too far.
Many people struggle with something called body dysmorphia. This is a mental condition where they feel like they aren’t as good as they really are and need to push even more to see better results.
5 Signs that you might be overtrained
When the body is pushed further than what it can recover from, it will start to break down. This will lead to negative effects that will negatively impact almost every part of your physiology. This includes your hormones, sleep cycle, mood, ability to concentrate and more. By looking out for the 5 most common signs of overtraining, you can make sure that you aren’t pushing yourself too far.
Decreased physical output
Training puts positive stress, or stimulus, on your body. Your body will then respond to this stimulus by increasing its fitness levels and its ability to perform a certain physical task. The body’s response to exercise is what makes exercise so beneficial. It takes time for the body to respond to exercise and make these changes. If you are exercising more than what your body can recover from and respond to, the stimulus will be greater than the response and your body will start to decrease in physical ability.
The lowered physical output is the most common symptom associated with overtraining. If you aren’t progressing and getting better, you might have pushed your body too far and need a break.
Sleep is the stage where your body does most of its physical recovery. This happens during deep sleep. If there is a greater need to recover than what your body can handle, it will struggle to rest properly. This is similar to the way that too much stress at work can negatively affect mental performance. Your body can only recover from so much on a given day and when it needs to recover from more than what is possible, it starts to prioritize some forms of recovery over others in order to ensure its own survival.
This can negatively affect sleep in one of two ways: Some people experience an overwhelming desire to sleep all the time, while others are too burnt out to settle into restorative rest and recovery. If your sleeping patterns have changed in a negative way, overtraining or too much exercise might be the cause.
Exercise places stress on more than your bones, joints, and muscles. It also affects your brain, your energy levels, and your hormone levels. Negatively affected energy levels can lead to depression, frustration or moodiness. This is why being sick with the flu or the cold is often accompanied by a negative emotional state: Depression is one of the body’s ways of getting us to expend less energy so that it can spend more energy on recovery.
Exercise boosts mood and overall morale by releasing endorphins, but only so many endorphins can be released on a daily basis. When more exercise is being done, compared to the number of endorphins that are released, our mood declines. Depression increases the need to recover and will compete for recovery time during sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is needed for mental recovery, while deep sleep is needed for physical recovery.
Muscle aches and twitches
When your muscles start taking longer and longer to recover between exercise sessions, they are being stimulated too often or too much per exercise session. Exercise causes inflammation. This rise in inflammation teaches the body to reduce inflammation on a regular basis.
That is why people who exercise regularly have lower inflammation in general: The body has learned to deal with inflammation better than those who don’t exercise. Endorphin release, for example, is one of the ways that the body responds to inflammation and begins to reduce it straight after exercise.
When more inflammation is caused, compared to what the body can deal with, we will become more sensitive to pain in general.
This is why overtraining can lead to aches and cramps. Twitches occur, in this case, because of an overloaded central nervous system. The CNS (central nervous system) sends out electrical impulses that tell muscles to move by contracting or relaxing them. When this system is overloaded, you may experience muscle tremors and muscle twitches. It is similar to burnt-out circuitry in a building.
Negatively affected appetite
Your body uses calories from food for energy. When we don’t exercise enough, fat mass increases and energy systems begin to slow down. Exercise increases energy levels by enhancing the body’s ability to burn calories from food into energy in the form of movement. Your metabolism refers to how well your body can do this. This improved ability to create energy requires rest because the adaption happens during the body’s response to exercise.
When your body does not have enough time or resources to increase its metabolism in response to exercise, the opposite may happen: Metabolism begins to slow down. Think about how your performance decreases overtime during the exercise. Rest is needed for energy levels to be restored. Lack of rest will lead to a lack of energy.
A faulty metabolism, along with too much stress, will negatively affect the way that your body uses food for energy. In some cases, the body will use its own tissues to create energy in an effort to survive the physical trauma (leading to muscle breakdown and reduced appetite), while in other cases the body will induce insatiable cravings for calories and store most of it as fat in an effort to restore balance (leading to greatly increased appetite and uncontrollable fat gain).
An abnormal or unhealthy appetite can be a result of either too little or too much physical activity.
If you experience one or more of these symptoms and suspect that you have been exercising for more than what your body can handle, try taking a rest from your regular exercise routine for a few days. If you feel better, you might be overtrained. Speak to a professional about the severity of your overtraining symptoms.
You can reduce the chance of overtraining in the future. Give yourself at least one rest day every week and a full rest week every two months. Also, make sure that you get enough sleep and proper nutrients. This helps body get everything that it needs to recover optimally.
Saguren Redyrs is a personal trainer from South Africa. He writes about how people can use exercise to improve their quality of life. You can read more of his writings on his blog SA Spotters.