Heard of the term “overtraining”? Wondered if such a thing is even possible?! Well, wonder no further! This week’s article aims to clear up and confusion…
Despite being a commonly heard term, the condition physiologists refer to as “overtraining syndrome” is, in fact, a rare phenomenon. Unlike the fatigue and muscle soreness (or the dreaded DOMS) virtually all active individuals encounter as the result of exertion and overexertion, true overtraining is typically seen only in competitive athletes.
So if you’re super-sore, fatigued and exhausted, what is going on? There are several possibilities:
1. You may have just had a tougher-than-normal series of workouts, e.g. you’ve signed up to GO! Radiance and you’re putting a little more intensity into your workouts. Provided you follow them with ample recovery time, that spike in intensity can be a very good thing and an integral part of an effective training program.
2. You may have overdone it — pushed too hard given your level of training — or you may be training too irregularly. The key to overcoming this is by pacing yourself, building up gradually week by week and being consistent.
3. You may be guilty of under-recovering — sabotaging an otherwise smart exercise regimen with less-than-optimal sleep, diet and stress-management strategies.
Whatever the case, understanding the difference between an optimal training regimen and a counterproductive one can save you a lot of wasted time and trouble. Below is a case study to illustrate the importance of smart, consistent training:
Sarah puts in long hours at work. As a result, her gym visits are erratic, some weeks she gets to the gym five times; other weeks not at all. Because he never knows when she’ll be able to squeeze in a workout, Sarah tends to lift and run as hard as she can every time she gets the chance. Recently, Sarah has been frustrated with her progress. She’s frequently very sore, has trouble falling asleep, and feels less and less motivated to train.
An over-doer like Sarah is doing one thing right: She’s working hard. Unfortunately, she’s too inconsistent in her efforts to get the results she’s working for.
Sarah’s body isn’t benefiting from the classic “work out, rest, recover” pattern because she’s either damaging too much tissue for her body to repair between sessions, or she’s waiting too long between workouts to trigger steady progress. And since there’s no rhyme or reason to her workout schedule, her joints and muscles aren’t prepared for the workouts when she does get around to them.
Eventually she recovers, only to pummel herself into a tired pulp once again. As a result, an over doer’s fitness outcomes tend to stagnate over time. They might not backslide much, but they don’t progress much, either.
Sarah would get much better results (and incur less misery) if she did less more often, and more less often — aiming for shorter workouts three to five times a week, and tougher, “overreaching” workouts less frequently (once a week at most).
Classic weekend warriors, who exercise long and hard just once a week, perhaps playing netball or football, often fall into the over doer camp. Though their workouts are much less frequent than Sarah’s, the long periods of inactivity that fall between hard workouts leave them prone to injury. Because they don’t do anything to build or maintain basic strength, endurance and resilience between workouts, their bodies aren’t ready for the stress when they hit the playing field.
The key distinction between an ineffective “overdoing” workout and a tougher-than-usual workout in an optimal exercise program is context: If you’re an all-out-all-the-time or a sporadic weekend-warrior type, pushing extra hard will only set you up for soreness and injury. But if you exercise consistently, tough workouts lead to enhanced fitness and performance.