Man sitting on weight bench at gym looking depressed

How to know if you are overtraining

Key takeaways

  • Overtraining is when your muscles and/or central nervous system are unable to sufficiently recover between training sessions, leading to decreases in training performance, comfort, and enjoyment
  • Deload weeks and breaks from intensive training can be used to recover from the effects of overtraining
  • You can avoid overtraining by listening to your body, following a proper training plan, maximizing your recovery outside of the gym, and managing the stresses of your personal life

What is overtraining?

Overtraining is when your muscles and/or central nervous system (CNS) are unable to sufficiently recover between training sessions. This often occurs when excessively intense workouts are done repetitively without enough consideration for recovery. Depending on the severity, overtraining can result in plateaus or even regressions in training performance and muscle growth.

Signs and symptoms of overtraining

The symptoms of overtraining are generally always associated with decreases in training performance, comfort, and enjoyment. These include:

  • Feelings of weakness and tiredness
  • Chronic muscle soreness
  • Decreased motivation to work out
  • Lack of enthusiasm for activities in and outside of the gym
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of body coordination
  • Trouble sleeping or waking up
  • Elevated heart rate during exercise and at rest
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Most of these symptoms can be caused by factors unrelated to training and are consequently overlooked by many gym-goers. However, regardless of the cause of these symptoms, having a number of them at once will still likely have the same effects as overtraining and lead to a decrease in training performance, comfort, and enjoyment.

How to recover from overtraining

Recovering from overtraining is all about ensuring that your rate of recovery is greater than your rate of fatigue. This is usually accomplished by using a deload week, which is a week in which you drastically reduce your training volume and intensity. Alternatively, this could be a week during which you simply avoid training altogether.

For more information on how you should use and structure deloads, refer to Why, when, and how to deload.

Ways you can avoid overtraining in the future

For the most part, the best way to avoid overtraining is to simply listen to your body and take signs of fatigue seriously. However, you can also take proactive steps to avoid overtraining by focusing on maximizing your recovery in a number of ways.

1. Don’t overtrain individual muscle groups

Training a single muscle group too frequently and intensively can lead to excessive soreness and fatigue in that one muscle group. This can negatively impact your overall training performance.

To prevent this from happening, make use of the following basic recovery guidelines:

  • Avoid training muscle groups more than two or three times a week (unless in the case of appropriate full-body training programs)
  • Allow each muscle group at least 48 hours to recover between training sessions (again, unless you’re following a full-body program)

2. Get enough sleep each night

Sleep is when your body does most of its recovering. This includes healing from the traumas of training, as well as facilitating muscle growth and strength adaptations. In accordance with most recommendations, you should be getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each and every night. Otherwise, you’re likely leaving results on the table and increasing your risk of overtraining.

3. Fuel your body properly

In order for your body to recover, it requires the necessary nutrients and energy. Without optimal nutrition, your body is unable to repair the muscle damage caused by your workouts. This results in your muscles becoming extra sore, fatigued, and unable to grow.

To learn how to properly fuel your body to avoid overtraining and to maximize your results, see our Nutrition Guide for more information.

4. Manage your personal life stress

As was previously mentioned, many of the symptoms of overtraining can be caused by factors completely unrelated to your training. Regardless of the cause of these symptoms, they still have the same negative effects on your training. Therefore, you must consider the stresses of your personal life—breakups, issues at work, family concerns, etc.—when assessing problems with your training performance and recovery.

The importance of following a good training program

One of the most important parts of a well-designed training program is its consideration for recovery. In order for a training program to help you to see long-term progress, it must strategically plan deload weeks around periods of increased workout intensity. If you’re designing your own training program, this can take plenty of trial and error to get right.

If you wish to avoid the guessing games associated with planning your own routines, consider using one of our Weight Training Programs. Our programs are specifically designed to maximize results while minimizing the risk of overtraining.

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