As a member of 4 Performance, you are already interested in the active lifestyle. Even if you just joined our family, you’ve already made a step toward improving your overall well-being. We have all had that day in the gym, or in life in general, where we overdid things, and end up sore for days. Overextending ourselves on a given day generally has few long-term consequences beyond the risk of acute muscle or tendon injury. In an extreme sense, overextending yourself daily, or regularly, for enough time (it varies for everyone) can lead to a syndrome called Overtraining.
Overtraining as a gym member who trains even one to two hours per day is actually difficult to have happen, because it is often something that requires you to push your limits day in and day out without recovering adequately. For most of us, pushing hard enough is the issue. But, for most of us, going to the gym is part of a busy busy day during which the various stressors of work, family life, and working out can add up over time. That’s especially so if we aren’t paying attention to recovering from all our stressors. In that sense, gym-goers typically will be risking overtraining more because they under-recovery than that they push themselves too far over their physical limit too often.
It’s easy to imagine that, if you are training for a running race, say a marathon, you will eventually break down if you run the full length of the race every day you train. So, naturally, you tend to break up the training into manageable pieces. Over time, these pieces add up, and your fitness develops, while also providing you with enough time to recover from the most strenuous workouts of the week.
What’s harder to imagine is the idea of “only” going to the gym for an hour or so, 3 or 4 days per week, and having it affect you adversely because you aren’t giving enough time or attention to the things you do when you’re not being active. This falls into the under-recovery realm. The two main points of recovering properly from our lifestyles, including our workout regimens, are nutrition and sleep. They are also typically the first two things to get left behind, while we busily schedule a massage or other mode of obvious recovery (and expensive recovery!)
Nutrition needs to support what we do in our whole day. It’s our fuel. You couldn’t drive your car 300 miles with only 200 miles of gas inside it without refueling. Similarly, nor can you keep pushing your body – through work, life, and workouts – without properly fueling it.
Similarly, you cannot stay awake for days on end without sleeping, nor can you perform at your best unless your sleep habits support your body’s need to recover itself from the day’s rigors, whether they are physical, mental, emotional or some combination of those.
When you think about it, most people in the USA sleep 6-7 hours per night, or less, yet studies show clearly that academic, work and sport performance, as well as health and well-being, all are compromised at less than 8 hours for most people. This is especially so in the active population. You can only burn the candle at both ends for so long! Similarly, many active people, because they are health and weight-conscious, tend to actually eat less food than they need to support their activity. If this is a small deficit, it’s ok, because it tends to promote weight loss in general. But, it can become a problem when the deficit is too great. For most of us, eating more than 500 calories below what we need, on a daily basis, will result in loss of more muscle, and “gain” of more fatigue, lethargy and injury risk over time. Sure, a day or two, or even a few weeks of extreme calorie cutting, can result in rapid weight loss. Many times, this is primarily water loss, and/or muscle loss, rather than fat loss. And, ultimately, it isn’t sustainable as a weight control method.
Getting back to overtraining, someone who chronically pushes too hard, or recovers too little, will ultimately hit either a plateau that won’t stop, or takes many steps backward, or risks injury. Like any machine, our bodies need regular maintenance, and need to operate within their limits. Unlike most machines, our bodies can adapt to stresses over time, so that the more we exercise in a smart, progressive way, the more we are able to do and to endure over time. But, it’s the progressive part that is important!
So, what’s the key? Try to avoid adding more than 10% of the volume of what you do onto any given week. If you ran 5 miles per day last week, for a total of 20 miles, avoid adding anything more than a half mile per day, or 2 miles for the week. Plan to have hard, medium and easy days in your training. If 5 miles is a long run for you, it’s impossible to do one every day without paying a price. Mix things up a bit! Make sure you get your rest and sleep. It 8 hours isn’t possible, find time to nap for a few minutes here and there, and/or find ways to rest and relax. Pushing “petal to the metal” day in and day out in all aspects of life is a sure fire way to overtrain at some point. Finally, use us as a resource. We are always here to help and answer questions, and can help you find interesting and fun ways to enjoy your overall training experience without risking overdoing things along the way!