5 Signs You’re Overreaching and Training Too Hard
Fitness gains come from placing more stress on your body than it’s accustomed to. In response to that stress, muscles adapt. The way they adapt depends on the type of exercise you’re doing. Muscle fibers increase in size in response to strength training. In reaction to aerobic exercise, they become more efficient energy producers. But there is a point of diminishing returns. If you stress your body repeatedly without giving it time to recover between training sessions, your body may rebel. Pushing your body too hard is sometimes referred to as overreaching. Unlike overtraining, a more serious and sustained type of excess training, overreaching can usually be corrected quickly if you know the signs and take action. Here are some signs that you’re pushing too hard and not allowing your body enough recovery time between workouts.
Your Mood and Motivation Are Down
No one feels energetic and motivated every time they work out. We all have days where a workout feels more difficult than it should, or you have a hard time getting started. But repeated days where you can’t muster up the motivation to exercise or your performance is sub-par, can be a warning sign that your ratio of exercise to recovery is too high. Overreaching can manifest as anxiety or feelings of sadness too. When you push your body too hard, the two components of the nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic, are out of balance. That can lead to mood changes. Longer term, overreaching can elevate levels of the stress hormone cortisol. That can dampen your mood and have other undesirable effects as well.
Your Heart Rate Has Changed
One of the best indicators of overreaching or over training is an elevated early morning heart rate. In fact, coaches often tell athletes to monitor their heart rate in the morning and you should too. Check your resting heart rate a few mornings in a row before getting out of bed and record the number of beats per minute.
First, establish a baseline morning heart rate. Then, monitor your heart each morning when you wake up. If you notice a rise in heart rate of more than 7 beats per minute for a few mornings, you are probably pushing too hard when you train. Early morning heart rate is a good indicator of whether your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system is balanced. Overreaching can also manifest as a rise in blood pressure due to over activity of the sympathetic nervous system.
More Soreness or Recurrent Injuries
Muscle soreness is a sign that you’ve worked your muscles harder than they’re accustomed too. That can lead to muscle adaptations and growth. But you shouldn’t feel sore every time you work out. If you’re always feeling sore or repeatedly nursing an injury, you’re not giving your body enough rest and recovery time. You may also not be doing a balanced workout. Every workout shouldn’t be a high-intensity one. It’s best to limit high-intensity exercise to a few times per week and give yourself at least 2 days to recover in between hard training sessions.
You’re Catching More Colds
Are you getting the sniffles more frequently? Overreaching and over training can suppress your immune system, thanks to the immune-suppressing effects of the stress hormone cortisol. The rate of colds and upper respiratory viruses goes up in runners after a marathon due to the stress of the race and the training beforehand. The same can happen if you train hard and don’t give your body enough rest and recovery time between sessions.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
Overreaching can also trigger sleep problems, including insomnia, early morning awakenings, and poor quality sleep. In fact, changes in sleep patterns, particularly early morning awakenings can be the first sign of overreaching. Just as you monitor your heart rate, keep a sleep journal and write down how many hours you sleep, the time you went to bed, and the time you woke up. Note any awakenings during the night. Also, document whether you feel rested. Reflecting back on this information can help you see whether you need to modify your training.
Listen to your body. If your motivation and mental outlook have changed and you’re experiencing physiological symptoms of overreaching, like a change in heart rate, poor sleep, or more colds, scale back your training. Even better, take a few days off and let your body recover. Then, alter your routine to include some low-intensity exercise to balance out the high-intensity training you do. On some days, take a break entirely and go for a walk outdoors. A dose of nature will help get your nervous system back into sync. Also, make sure you’re getting at least 7 hours of quality sleep per night and eating a balanced diet that contains sufficient protein and calories to support your training.
J Athl Train. 2015 Feb; 50(2): 217-223.
Research Methods in Physical Activity. Jerry R. Thomas, Jack K. Nelson, Stephen J. Silverman. Seventh Edition.