You've already done the hard part. You've already flipped the switch from a creature that resides on the couch to a gym rat, and you love it, as you should. You're healthier, your body looks better, and you love the endorphin high.
But can you take it too far? Can you actually work out too much? Definitely.
"Overtraining syndrome" is a legit problem
Working out too much is known in the medical and fitness world as overtraining syndrome, and it's a very real condition that affects far more people than you may imagine. Not only that, most of the people affected by it have no idea, which obviously just makes things worse.
Take some guy who's working out, and for a couple of weeks notices he's exhausted, sick, or not making progress. He tries to suck it up, push through the pain, and read lots of inspirational Instagram posts about mental toughness. Hey, he figures it's just part of the journey.
Until his body breaks down, he sleeps through his alarm, and he powers through a couple pints of ice cream. Which leads to guilt, and a desire to get right back on the horse, pushing harder and harder.
See how it can become a vicious cycle?
But it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, if you learn to recognize the signs of overtraining, it'll never be that way. Here's how to recognize them, and how to fix the problem.
Insomnia or severe fatigue
This is one of the most confusing symptoms when you start running into it. You work out like crazy in the gym, and ride the wave of exhaustion and euphoria afterwards, but come nighttime? You can't fall asleep to save your life.
Or maybe you're just so damn tired all the time that you can barely pick up the remote, let alone a dumbbell.
This is one of the problems with overtraining syndrome -- it can present totally differently in different athletes. One theory on the variations in sleep and energy levels is that they're caused by hormonal changes in the brain, which may be compounded by too little rest and too few calories to support the work being done.
When you're working out often and watching what you eat, you typically don't get sick very often. Common colds become a thing of the past, and most of the time you feel on top of the world.
But if you start noticing that you're getting sick more frequently, even if it's something like the common cold, this is a sign you need to pay attention to. It's typically your immune system telling you that it can't keep up, and as a result it's been compromised.
Lack of motivation
Once fitness has become a part of your life, the first time you have absolutely no motivation for an extended period of time can be a bit jarring. This is one of the most telltale signs of overtraining for most people, but also one of the easier ones to remedy: sometimes there really is nothing better than taking a step back and staying at home instead of hitting the gym.
Lack of progress
Everyone gets used to making progress in the gym and seeing results because of it. Lift heavier weights, get bigger muscles; run longer, get faster. But at some point, that progress slows down -- every person hits a fitness plateau at some point in their life. If you're hitting a brick wall or find yourself underperforming, even if you've tried different programs, you're likely overtraining. Your body is typically telling you that it can't keep up with the work you're putting it through, and as a result cannot recover properly.
So you think you're overtraining. What should you do?
Overtraining is tough to diagnose in most people, but if these signs above are all too familiar then there's a good chance you may have been hitting it just a bit too hard. Before you do anything, you should get checked out by a doctor, because there's always a chance that an underlying medical condition is to blame.
If you've ruled that out, here's how to fix it:
Drastically reduce gym time, or stop going altogether, for a week. This way you can allow the body to recover properly, and in turn get ready for more work.
Quit tracking your diet and allow yourself to eat more. One cause of overtraining that actually has nothing to do with the fitness workload is diet: sometimes people don't eat enough to support their workload. By eating more and training less, your nervous system, hormones, and immune system will have the necessary fuel to recover properly.
Sleep more. By cutting down on gym time, you give yourself a chance to get more sleep each night, and this is paramount to recovery. By getting more sleep, you'll recover more quickly, and be able to hit the gym again.
Overtraining truly is no joke, because if it were it would be pretty lame and not funny at all. The gym is there to make you look and feel better, not rule your life completely.
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