No pain, no gain—people see this often enough that some actually end up overtraining themselves to their own demise1. You should always remember that recovery and rest are also part of the equation.
Exercise is a must for a healthy lifestyle, but more is not necessarily better, and instead, can lead to diminishing returns.
Exercise leads to fatigue and central nervous system (CNS) stress, which can easily mess up delicate biological mechanisms if you’re not careful. Get some much needed sleep before you collapse out there!
If you’re constantly sick, feeling burnt out, or experience frequent joint and muscle pain, this is your body’s way of telling you that you’re probably overtraining.
You shouldn’t brush off these symptoms as mere episodes that will pass in time. Learn to listen to your body, just as much as you listen to your coach or trainer’s advice.
In fact, studies show that overtraining can lead to many health issues such as metabolic collapse, and neurochemical imbalances that could pave the way for depression. Even the most seasoned athletes could end up the victim of overtraining syndrome if they’re not careful.
Though a singular symptom is unlikely to indicate anything specific, if you notice any of the following occurring in clusters, it is a safe bet that you are in overtraining territory:
- Changes in heart rate
- Getting sick frequently
- Mood swings and irritability
- Decreased libido or sex drive2
- Feeling fatigued or constantly stressed
- Weight loss and suppressed appetite
- Poor performance3 despite frequent training sessions
- Prolonged DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and poor recuperative ability
- Sleeping disorders (interrupted sleep or insomnia)
The Testosterone Threat
If those didn’t get you worried, then this might. Ever heard of people saying their testosterone being a bit out of whack? You may be surprised to know that there’s a correlation between training and testosterone.4
Testosterone is the sex hormone most often associated with sex drive and sperm production. Well, it’s essential not only in ensuring fertility, but also in maintaining healthy red blood cell production, bone and muscle mass, and fat distribution.
In men, testosterone production peaks in puberty and begins to decrease by 1-2% annually starting around the age of 30. An average adult male has a T Level of 270-1070 ng/dL in his 30s. Though T levels usually drop with age, but factors such as stress5 further reduce testosterone—yes, even the kind of stress you get from exercise6.
So, you must be careful not to overtrain yourself, especially with regards to workout frequency.
As discovered in a study, elite athletes that undergo intense training actually end up reducing their sperm count by half.7 Excessive amounts of exercise causes hormonal imbalance, resulting in reproductive disorders8 (in some cases, infertility).
Low T levels could also cause weight gain, low self-esteem, fragile bones, and muscle atrophy, among other things. With all these in mind, if you’re worried that you might have low T, go to a doctor and ask for some tests.
Maintaining the Right Balance
At this point, one thing should be clear—you should take your testosterone levels into account as you plan your workout routine. If you have high testosterone, then it’s likely that you can get away with more exercise than people with lower testosterone levels.
But regardless-there should be balance between work and rest. Pushing your body beyond your limits may be admirable, but it won’t necessarily give you the results you deserve. Give your body and mind the time to rebuild and recover itself. This will benefit you more in the long run.
Training is a much simpler science than our overstimulated minds have been led to believe. Some train diligently only to find out that they have been abusing their bodies for so long and have little to nothing to show for all this work. Sounds familiar? Maybe it's time to take another look at your routine.
Don’t add more sets. You do not need to leave the gym feeling totally obliterated every single time.
The following factors lend themselves most favorably to combatting overtraining, and can help your body achieve an environment conducive to making gains once more. Here are six tips you might want to keep in mind to prevent overtraining.
- Get enough sleep (at least seven hours daily)9. Less than that and your body lacks the time necessary for sufficient cellular recovery, in addition to making adaptations necessary for your next workout.
- Rest a day or two between workouts if need be10. If you think you went a little too hard, and don’t think your next scheduled workout is a good idea, push it back by a day. Well timed periodization plans could offer you as much rest as a week.
- Adjust exercise frequency, duration, and intensity to better suit your current body condition and needs. Always update your routine!
- Have a pre- and post-workout diet plan and take supplements if necessary. Be sure that you’re getting the right nutrition to help support muscle synthesis. Take care of your body by eating healthy.
- Record your progress to rate your performance and identify problem areas or if you notice a decline in performance. This helps make sure that you’re making consistent gains and achieving milestones throughout your training.
- Be mindful of your well-being and look out for the signs and symptoms of overtraining. Don’t ignore warnings from your body. Be self-aware at all times.
Finding What’s Best for You
Wait, my neighbor and I are doing the same exercises. How come I’m the one overtraining? Is it just me being lazy?
Not at all. No two bodies are the same, so realistically you should not expect identical linear progress. Unless you’re just using overtraining as an excuse for why you’re “going easy”, then don’t take it personally. You just need to make modifications as necessary.
If you’re taking measures to ensure you don’t overtrain and still feel unmotivated, then either that specific workout is not for you or there’s a problem with your mindset.
Set up objectives and have the determination to push through. Watch workout videos to find that perfect set. Continuously learn from others and read other people’s workout tips to motivate and educate yourself.
No workout routine is universal.
And as always, contact a fitness professional if you need extra guidance to help determine the best way forward.
- Overtraining Syndrome
- Endurance Exercise Training and Male Sexual Libido.
- Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the overtraining syndrome: joint consensus statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine.
- Hormonal aspects of overtraining syndrome: a systematic review
- Diagnosis of overtraining: what tools do we have?
- Overtraining affects male reproductive status.
- Physical activity and its effects on reproduction
- Exercise and male factor infertility.
- Overtraining Syndrome
- Periodisation and the prevention of overtraining.