Are you Overtraining?
We live in a society where training is deemed as safe, healthy, and overtraining is overlooked and brushed off.
“I exercise to relax”; “exercising is my therapy”; “I go to the gym five days at 5 am to get a couple of hours of workout before starting work”.
I have heard them all, and I’m wondering when exercising became almost a duty, and when gentle walking, leisurely swims, and dancing have been replaced by cross-fit classes and long-running sessions.
Back in the past, where women aspired to looked toned, but feminine and fertile, exercising was seen more like a social event. But today, the ideal body is made of ripped muscles, nonexistent fat percentage, and very visible veins, which can only be obtained with perseverance, restriction, commitment, and loads of hard work.
This new obsession towards a “fit” body, can lead to a myriads of issues, and overtraining is one of them.
How much do you need to exercise to suffer from overtraining?
That’s the beauty of it. It depends, and you are the only one who knows.
I didn’t think that I was exerting my body as I run only four days a week, and I did enjoy the random cardio or barre class here and there.
Depending on your experience, genetics, how sensitive your body is to stress, you may need only two cardio classes a week to suffer from the effect of overtraining.
How can you tell if you are overtrained?
Keep on reading, and be honest with yourself:
The idea of going to the gym makes you throw up
Been there, done that. I moved from waking up every morning at the crack of dawn to squeeze in a HIIT session, or a swim squad before my baby woke up, to being unable to leave the bed until I had to make breakfast for the little one.
All of a sudden, my body started telling me that it needed to rest.
Not feeling motivated to exercise, or getting to an exercise class and being unable to give your 100% is a sign of overtraining. Your body is gently reminding you that there is a time and space for movement, and that time is not now.
Have you ever participated in a CrossFit or pilates class and felt that you wanted to leave half way through the warm-up? That’s a big sign that you need a physical and mental break from your fitness regime.
You are suffering from sleep issues
Two things may happen.
You keep on exercising, and you come to realise that you are exhausted but wired at night, and you can’t fall asleep. This happens because when you do exercise, you increase the level of adrenaline and cortisol in your body, and it can take up to 6 hours to lower it back down. The problem is that if the stress hormones are elevated, the pineal gland won’t be able to produce enough melatonin to help you fall asleep.
On the other end of the spectrum, you may be so exhausted that as soon as you go to bed, you fall asleep even for 9–10 hours in a row, but you wake up feeling tired and brain fogged as if you didn’t go to sleep at all.
These two scenarios can be caused by stress and overtraining.
You are constantly injured
I have met so many people that keep on exercising even when injured.
We are collectively suffering from the inability to rest and allowing space for our body to resume its functions, such as healing and regenerating. If you are exercising more than you should, and not sleeping enough, it is quite easy (if not guaranteed) that you will get injured.
Also, working out on already injured body parts can lead to future consequences such as arthritic pain.
Overtraining is perceived as a stressor by the body. The menstrual cycle typically ceases if the body is under threat, and there is not enough energy going around to support the optimal functioning of other more essential systems such as the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
Unfortunately, many women are taking the pill, and they don’t realise they have been suffering from a condition called hypothalamic amenorrhea (lack of menstrual cycle) until they get off the pill and try for a baby. It can be a disheartening and challenging time not only for the woman but for the couple as well. It is also frustrating when doctors that aren’t trained on HA refuses to see overtraining as an issue for the restoration of the menstrual cycle, and this can lead to delayed recovery or a wrong diagnosis; or both.
Overtraining also does affect men’s reproductive system, and it may cause decreased libido, poor sperm quality, constant tiredness, and lowered immune functions.
Overtraining is taxing on the body, and it can lead to anemia in the long run. How can you spot iron deficiency?
According to the Mayo Clinic, anemia causes extreme fatigue, weakness, pale skin, chest pain, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, cold hands and feet, and inflammation or soreness of the tongue. It can also cause brittle nails and hair loss.
Do you find that your nails aren’t as healthy as they used to? Do you wake up in the morning to find an excessive amount of hair in your pillow? Are you tired and dizzy most of the time?
Iron deficiency can be picked up by a simple blood test, and I highly invite you to get on top of it as soon as possible, especially if a future pregnancy is on the radar.
Weight Management Issues
Overtraining can lead to the two following scenarios:
1- Doesn’t matter how much you eat and manage life stressors, you don’t seem to be able to put on weight and restore your menstrual cycle. If that’s you, let go of exercising for at least three months (stretching and gentle yoga, and slow walk in nature are allowed), and see how your body responds to it.
2- On the other hand, you may be exercising a ton, eating and sleeping little, but you can’t shed the weight, especially those pronouncing stomach rolls. If that’s you, you may be exerting your body, and it’s protecting you from a perceived threat by holding onto fat (also remember that exercise increases cortisol, which plays a major role in insulin resistance, which leads to weight gain and fatigue).
We are going to talk more about overtraining and how to recover from it in the next article, but you need to start by being honest with yourself, and ponder if what you are doing is serving your body, and ultimately your life.