Is Overtraining Overrated?

Overtraining is pervasive and misunderstood. Too much of anything can be bad for you, including exercise.
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Have you ever set a health or fitness goal for yourself? Maybe it was to lose weight, run a 5K, or you just wanted to look and feel better. Regardless of your intention, the common denominator to reaching that goal is exercise.

Exercise is said to be one of the most important things you can do for your health. It helps prevent diseases, improves sleep, boosts energy, improves mood, strengthens your bones and muscles, all while improving your cardiovascular system. So how can something so beneficial become so detrimental? The answer is simple -- overtraining.

Many of us are guilty of overtraining and don't know it. We've adopted the "work harder not smarter" mindset, believing if you train harder you'll see results faster. Others don't believe that overtraining is possible and will totally disregard everything stated from this point on.

The truth is, overtraining does exist and occurs more often than most people think. There are a lot of misconceptions and perplexities regarding overtraining, with the most common question being, "How does someone overtrain?"

When you exercise, your muscles experience microscopic tears in the tissue. Whether you are running, swimming or lifting weights, practically every system in your body (respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, etc.) is working hard to support the breakdown of your muscles.

After your workout, your body uses essential vitamins, amino acids and other nutrients to heal and rebuild your muscles. This increases the strength of your muscles which helps to prevent injury and fatigue in order to deal with similar physical activity in the future.

Sometimes the "no pain, no gain" concept of exercise training can be just as damaging as it is motivating. When you don't give your body the time it requires for rest and recovery, you are stepping into the treacherous realm of overtraining. If you've ever experienced muscle/joint pain (outside of delayed onset muscle soreness), a decrease in performance, frequent injuries, falling ill more often, or you've stopped seeing results, chances are you were overtraining.

I, too, fell victim to overtraining. I was an athlete from my childhood all through junior high school. Once in high school, I was more concerned about getting a paycheck than hitting fastballs. I had my first job at 14, so baseball games and track meets became obsolete to me. It wasn't until about five years ago that I got back into a regular exercise routine.

The first few months I started to see some pretty decent gains. I worked out three days per week for about an hour each day. I was happy with my initial results, but was like the little girl in the AT&T commercial -- I wanted more and more.

I started to think, if I increased my exercise intensity and frequency, I would increase my size and strength a lot faster. I started working out every day. I was lifting weights, doing cardio, plyometrics, you name it. But instead of seeing gains, the results I had acquired began to diminish. I started losing a significant amount of muscle mass, I was moody and began to lose interest in working out. It was becoming like a second job to me.

I didn't know what was happening, but I knew I didn't like it. Subsequently, I stopped exercising all together. I took about eight months off before returning to the gym. It wasn't until I became a personal trainer that I discovered what happened -- I was overtraining.

In recent years, research has discovered that the production of lactic acid (energy produced in the muscle tissues during strenuous activity) as well as heart rate is significantly lower in people that overtrain. Overtraining inhibits your body's physical ability to labor at consistent levels, as well as suppresses your body's sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response).

As a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor, I encourage all of my clients to take a rest day in between intense workouts. I structure all training programs to allow each muscle group at least 48 hours of rest before training that muscle group again. Rest is just as important as the exercise itself.

So, is overtraining overrated? Not at all. It's pervasive and misunderstood. Too much of anything can be bad for you, including exercise. If you are unsure about your current exercise routine, I encourage you to speak to a certified fitness professional. Your workouts should improve your health and compliment your way of life, not attenuate or reduce your activities of daily living. Now you know!

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