Overtraining and UnderResting

Overtraining and Under Resting – Why you’re stronger after a week on vacation



Let me introduce Rich Schreckengaust, MD to you.  He and I were Dive buddies in Navy Dive School.  We both served as Diving Medical Officers with Navy EOD/Special Operations.  When I went off to residency he shifted over to become the senior medical officer at Naval Special Warfare Basic Underwater Demolition School (BUD/S).  Now we both serve together in the Emergency Department at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune.  The dude is a freak in combining strength, size, and endurance.

He has run the Boston Marathon and continues to crush it in the strength/endurance category.  His post today is on Overtraining….or UnderResting.  Enjoy!

One of the most important factors in training is also the most often overlooked.  We all know that muscles need to be stimulated and stressed in order for them to respond and grow.  But if you’re not giving your muscles the time to repair and grow you’re just going to end up frustrated at your lack of progression, and more importantly, you’ll increase your potential for injury, – whether it be an overuse injury, or making a dumb mistake because you’re tired.  So let us discuss the symptoms/signs that may indicate you need to ease up on the training, or take a break for a few days (in some cases a few weeks) off.
1. Lack of motivation and personality changes such as irritability or depressed mood
       Think about how you feel when you are on your game and ready to train.  To have a record breaking day at the gym in whatever activity, bodypart, or movement you are training.  Whether you are running, lifting, swimming, or biking you know what that feeling is.  Something inside you ready to burst out and push the envelope to that next level of performance.  You also know what the opposite feeling is.  Losing your normal drive and motivation to train, or even perform any physical activity at all? Your body may be telling you that you need to rest and recover because you are doing too much. We all have days when we don’t feel like training. Many times we just bust through that feeling because we know that it comes from an isolated factor like poor sleep the night before, missing a meal, or too much stress at work.  But if you go days, or even weeks, without wanting to do anything involving exercise, it’s time to listen to your body and take a rest.
       Overtraining can lead to altered hormone production, specifically catecholamine hormones (adrenaline and noradrenaline), which influence the sympathetic nervous system– the network of nerves responsible for triggering your ‘fight or flight’ reflex. This can also lead to increased feelings of stress and moodiness.  Athletes often talk about an elevated mood and a general feeling of well-being after a workout. If you normally experienced this and now you don’t, but rather you feel irritable and uncomfortable after exercise, you’re most likely training too hard (too intensely, too long, too frequently). Additionally it can lead to increased cortisol, decreased testosterone and growth hormone as well… And we all know those last two are very important for muscle growth.
 If you have to listen to Killswitch Engage chronically to get through your workouts…you’re probably overtraining….except for “At Tribute to the Fallen”  that’s just a great tune.
2. Your muscles are always sore, chronic soreness in your joints, or long lasting soreness
Post workout soreness is normal, but if you experience intense and prolonged soreness, you have probably overtrained – or put more accurately…under-rested. Simply put, if you feel like you got run over by a bus, you should cut back on your training.  Realize that training is the prescription for your athletic activity and that there is an appropriate does involved…and the only difference between a drug and a toxin is the dose.  Too little and you want get the stimulus required.  Too much and you set yourself back even further.  The most important ideas are not only not obvious, but many times counter-intuitive.
Strength-training causes microtrauma to your muscles, which repair between workouts and are what will lead to their growth. If you don’t allow adequate time/rest for this recovery process, you will do more harm than good. Hold off on working a muscle group further until soreness has subsided.
Chronic overtraining without working on mobility and the connective tissue can also lead to increased stiffness, chronic soreness, pain, and lack of mobility.  Remember it’s not all about exertion.  There are smart athletes and strong athletes-be a smart athlete.
3. Your weight-loss has plateaued or you stop seeing results
Working out too much can actually cause you to lose muscle and gain fat (increased cortisol and decreased insulin sensitivity).  If it was as simple as energy balance (burning more than you consume) then the more you train the better, but problem is that hormones play a large role in the equation.  Overtraining causes your body to produce inadequate amounts of testosterone (bad for women too) while producing higher levels of cortisol. The problem for both men and women is that your body increases both insulin resistance and fat deposition.  Bottom line, overtraining can wreak havoc on your hormones and actually lead to a weight-loss plateau or even weight-gain.  Rest will help regulate these hormones.  This becomes even more important as you age since both men and women begin to see a decline in the average level of their sex hormones beginning in their early 30’s.
4. You’re having trouble sleeping, you become restless and lose focus
Your sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive, causing hyperexcitability, restlessness, and inability to focus.  This restlessness makes it even harder to recover.  Remember how important sleep is for recovery and consistent gains.  Having trouble falling asleep or feeling like you can’t get enough sleep may be indications that you’re overdoing it with your regimen.  When you’re tired, you make more mistakes, lose form, and injure yourself.
5. Yet you’re tired all the time, i.e. you feel sluggish all day
This another effect of overtraining/overstimulating the sympathetic nervous system.  This often happens with endurance athletes. The resulting decreased testosterone and increased cortisol levels, in some cases, causes debilitating fatigue that feels like you’ve come down with a cold.  In more severe cases you do actually suppress your immune system enough to become susceptible to infections.
If you are exhausted throughout the day or find that your energy is dwindling when it comes to your workouts, your body is trying to tell you something: You’re overdoing it, and it’s time for a rest.  Just because you are physically able to run 10 or more miles each week (or every day) doesn’t mean that you have to.
6. You’re Sick More Often
If you find yourself getting sick more often than usual, especially repeated bouts of viral infections, it could be a sign of overtraining. Overtraining impairs the immune system and overtrained athletes often have persistent colds.  The combination of things such as lack of sleep, poor diet, and mental stress will lead to this as well.  If you think you have these three things covered and still find yourself getting ill, it may be due to overtraining.  It’s easy to ignore those sniffles or a cough, but listen to your body. Those little nuisances could be telling you that something is wrong with your immune system due to your training regimen.
7. Elevated resting heart rate
One of the only objectively measureable signs of overtraining that is readily accessible to all of us is an above normal resting heart rate.  This is best measured first thing in the morning upon waking.  It is the result of the increased metabolic rate that occurs when your body is trying to meet the demands your training has put on your body.
And for the women
8. You stop menstruating.
Excessive strenuous exercise combined with a low body-fat percentage will lead to a drop in estrogen and missed periods. This can be expected based on low body fat alone, although there is no specific cutoff based of multiple research studies, most will agree on 8-12%.  Consult your physician if you have missed multiple periods.
Hopefully this will help some of you out.  Pay attention to our body.  And remember there is a BIG difference between pushing through the end of your workout (whether it be the last mile of your run, last few reps of your set, or finishing that last round of exercises in you HIIT/Crossfit workout) and pushing though beginning every workout.  Eat, hydrate, sleep, and go crush it!
Schreck (Richard Schreckengaust, MD)



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