All pain and no gain? What it means to overtrain.
Many of us have quite the love/hate relationship with the gym and workouts. We love the way we feel after, the sense of accomplishment and empowerment through achieving a PR or mastering a skill, the community that supports us, and the never-ending set of challenges to overcome and push ourselves to achieve. We sometimes hate how hard it feels at times, the physical demand, not hitting that PR after weeks of hard work, and struggling to master a skill. However, the love tends to outweigh the hate, and we keep coming back for more and more. Sometimes we come back wholeheartedly every single day with a fully determined mindset to push ourselves to the limit because that’s the only way we could possibly improve. We need to give 100% effort every time we step into the gym…right?
So why the injuries? Why the burnout? Why aren’t I losing the weight when I workout twice a day six days a week? Where are my GAINS?
As athletes with a bit of an addiction to the gym, the whole “rest and recover” idea may seem foreign and more appropriate for the “inexperienced, untrained” folks because they aren’t tough and fit. I assure you, rest and recovery is absolutely imperative to making strides in performance. Let me also say that rest and recovery does not (always) mean sitting on your butt for 24 hours eating bon bons. Often it means just scaling back the intensity of your workout. Without some high quality R and R you are setting yourself up for overtraining, which is the last thing a person wants to interfere with those gains. In the rest of this article I’m going to dive into part I of II of this series and cover overtraining basics, how to identify if you are overtraining, and ways to rest and recover.
As a coach, I see people push themselves every day in the gym and I think it’s awesome. I admire the push from within to do one more rep, one more step, a little more weight, etc. There are some people that come in where their main goal is to get a good workout in, move around, gain strength, and head home. I want to note that these are not the people of whom I am directing this article. I am more so talking to folks that come in and train TOUGH 4-7 days a week (pushing limits with weight and strenuous heart rate), possibly twice a day. People that go 110% every day they come in, sometimes while they are battling an injury, or soreness or sickness that has lasted weeks, and/or working off very little sleep. It is my job to help my clients push themselves, but I have wondered many times if sometimes my encouragement during WODs gives everyone the impression that our expectation as coaches is that people push themselves 100% every day?
I have been on the other side, too. I have been working out and had the encouragement of Amy or Kurt in my ear to get moving, get back on the bar, etc. while in my head I am thinking about how much my back is hurting with the Px weight or my lack of sleep the past four nights, but I need to keep pushing because they are saying so… Then I remember that they aren’t me and don’t feel what I feel and I take their words with a grain of salt and apply it how I deem fit. Sometimes I need that push from them and sometimes I need to just listen to my own body and mind. This is how I hope EVERYONE can approach and utilize the coaches’ feedback. However, I believe the problem lies in that people are unsure how to really tap into their bodies and understand when they need to take a step back.
So, how do you tell if you need to take some time off or scale back? This is a tricky question, as exertion, fatigue, and training volume is a little subjective per individual. There are some symptoms and warning signs to look for, and there is also something more tangible that can be used called heart rate variability. Both of these modalities in assessing your overtraining level are not always 100% accurate and may be influenced by other factors, but it is a starting point. Here are a few of the symptoms of folks that may be overtraining:
Elevated resting heart rate
Persistent muscle soreness
Joints, bones, or limbs hurt
You fail to complete normal workouts (your usual weights, runs, hikes)
Lack of motivation
Decreased heart rate variability (we will get in to this in my following blog)
If you have had any of these symptoms, it is important to take some time and see how hard you have been training compared to your rest and recovery. Your body needs time to recover from workouts. So what can this look like for you? Good news: you can STILL go to the gym. Just remember how you need to appropriately challenge yourself when you have us coaches trying to push you through WODs. Sometimes giving us a heads up can help, too. Investing in a heart rate monitor and targeting lower zones throughout the WODs can be a more tangible way to scale back your workout. Other ways to rest and recover:
Going on a walk or light jog
Taking the time to do any of the previous five therapies can GREATLY influence your gains. I will elaborate on those as well as Heart Rate Variability in Part II. Remember, nutrition is incredibly important as well. Decreased processed food intake will decrease inflammation which will increase efficiency of repair/growth in your tissues. Please reach out if you have more questions on what that looks like. Speaking of questions, I want to mention that we will be doing some Q and A sessions through our upcoming newsletters. So get to brainstorming what questions you may have for us! Stay tuned for more on recovery modalities and heart rate variability in Part II: Overtraining Syndrome.
Therese Martinez, MS, RD, CPT