Have you ever felt that training might be going from a healthy passion to an over-the-top obsession? You might think that any work in the gym will aid your progress, but overtraining can be one of the most dangerous things that your body is exposed to!
It’s all about finding the balance between dedicated hard work in the gym and invaluable resting periods.
Sometimes the gym can almost feel like an addiction – and this isn’t as inconceivable as it may sound. You’ll know that regular exercise generates more natural endorphins and dopamine, right? Well guess what heroin does – increases our dopamine levels. Did you not ever wonder why they use the word ‘dope’ for drugs?
Clearly the levels of dopamine that we’re talking about here aren’t anywhere near the same – but scientifically it makes sense. There may be other aspects that aren’t quite as scientific, but what we do know is that gym addiction definitely exists.
As you’d probably expect, overtraining is far more common in weight training, but it can still occur in cardio training as well.
Why is this? Well think about it – when do you actually experience gains? It’s when your muscles are recovering. Those people who focus on weight training have greater microtrauma on their muscle fibres, explaining their usually noticeable muscular physique.
This in itself can explain why we see overtraining occur – if you train excessively it’s possible that you can damage your muscles faster than they can heal themselves.
Obviously hard work is a great thing, and I certainly wouldn’t discourage it, but as with any injury, there are specific symptoms you need to be aware of.
One obvious symptom is persistent muscle soreness – but the danger here is that you confuse this with DOMS. The key word is persistent. Obviously you should expect to suffer with muscle soreness (no pain, no gain!), but what you shouldn’t experience is a constant soreness.
Some symptoms can be mental as well. Trainers who experience overtraining often suffer with symptoms including depression, or even mental breakdown.
The danger is that you read this and I scare you into going to the gym. Trust me, that’s the last thing I’d want to do! The chances are that most of you are nowhere near overtraining, and you should know if it’s a real risk.
Other common symptoms to be aware of include:
- Increased heart rate when resting
- Absence of menstruation
If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘OK, this sounds like I might be overtraining’, then you need to know what to do about it. There are all sorts of reported effective treatments, all with differing levels of success.
Sustained overtraining can of course cause irreversible effects, but generally a course of treatment will get you back to peak physical condition.
The obvious treatment is take a break – give your body the time to recover until the symptoms disappear. But you don’t necessarily have to stop all training. One popular treatment is to adopt a split training approach.
This means that at most you train 3 muscle groups per day, and implement a cycle so that you can train all of your body over the course of a few days.
Some other treatments are commonly used by athletes after competition to prepare them for their next encounter. Andy Murray for example will have an ice bath after every match (known as cryotherapy) in order to prepare his body for his next match.
In contrast other athletes may use thermotherapy such as the use of a sauna to achieve similar results. And if all of that doesn’t take your fancy, you could always try a sports massage or a deep-tissue massage for the affected muscles.
It’s important to reiterate I’m not discouraging you from training, but just make sure you aren’t exceeding the capabilities of your own body.
Just think, if you do cause yourself serious injury, you might have to ditch the gym and take up stamp collecting! I can’t imagine that’s what you want…