Overtraining is a term often used, but just how concerned should you be about this condition? How much training is too much?
In the context of exercise and training, doing “too much” can relate to volume, both in terms of time or total distance, and intensity. But suffering from overtraining syndrome can also relate to an imbalance between training and recovery, which can result from insufficient or under-recovery.
To understand this distinction it is important to acknowledge that everyone is different. We all have different physiologies and different genetic make ups. We also have vastly differing training histories, and are all exposed to varying types and degrees of stress.
The combination of all these factors are what determine how much training is “too much” for each individual. Recovery requirements also differ from person to person. As such there is no simple, straightforward or universal answer to the question ‘how much training is too much?‘”
To understand how a person can become overtrained it is critical to understand the physiological responses our bodies have to various stressors, be it physical stress from exercise, mental stress from work or emotional stress.
Psychological, physiological and physical factors, such as intense or high volume training, a manual job, extended periods of sitting, poor mobility, diet-induced stress, environmental pollutants and life stress all impact on our systems and can lead to a state of overtraining.
Are you under-recovered?
It’s not just the cumulative stress that matters. It’s also important how we deal with it. When we experience heightened levels of stress, be it from peak training blocks, deadlines at work, or stress at home, our recovery demands are also higher.
At the very least, this requires that we get sufficient sleep and follow a healthy nutritious and balanced diet. When stress levels are elevated, doing the bare minimum is not enough. We may need active recovery sessions, additional recovery days, an extra massage, or some psychological coping mechanisms such as meditation.
Without taking proactive recovery measures, active individuals will simply continue to break down their bodily systems, specifically their muscular, neurologic, endocrine and immune systems through the combination of excessive exercise, lifestyle-related stress and other environmental stressors.
The same results
This so-called state of “burning the candle at both ends” can result in hormonal dysfunction and imbalances, which cause chronic fatigue, exhaustion, suppressed immune function, loss of appetite, brain fog or poor cognitive function, biochemical dysfunction, reduced performance in the gym, or burnout at work and at home.
Other symptoms may include insomnia, lost libido, chronic tiredness, low motivation levels, a low resting heart rate, low blood pressure, irritability, and restlessness.
It is therefore not enough to simply periodise your training. You also need to manage stress in every other area of your life, listen to your body, and take your recovery as seriously your training if you hope to achieve your goals and continue making progress.