A long time client of mine texted me last week. She said she feels like she has put on weight, despite going to the gym every single day. She’s also training for a half-marathon in April and hasn’t particularly changed her diet from what I’ve advised her. And yet she feels heavier.
The first thing in my mind was that it could be a sign of overtraining, so I told her to get her body fat percentage checked. She came back to me the next day with a scanned copy of her results, markedly showing that she has gained 10% body fat in six months.
Oh the horror.
For most of us who are training, and training hard every single day, the last thing we ever want to see is us putting on weight, or worse, body fat. Not seeing results is one thing, but seeing negative results is probably the worse feeling ever.
The good thing is, it can be avoided, if you know what the signs of overtraining are.
If you’ve been exercising for a while, read on to see if you’re experiencing any of these indicators. It could very well be the reason why you’re gaining weight even if you’re training every day.
LET’S GET IT STRAIGHT
For majority of people in this world, starting to workout or even having enough motivation to strap our shoes and hit the concrete for a run is a far thought. But there are a small percentage of us who trains and trains regularly to an extent that… we simply exercise too much.
If you’re in the former group, don’t worry, I have another massive post for you on Thursday that can help you get started for real. Or perhaps you can check this post out that I wrote about getting started a few months back. But for the rest of us, I feel you.
In fact, I struggled with this myself after I lost a lot of weight some time ago. I didn’t know the difference between being cool with the gym or being too obsessive with it. I felt bad if I didn’t work out and I work out hard every day. Worse, I even felt like an overweight blob if I skipped a workout. To compensate on that, I worked out harder and longer the next day, or else I’ll be a crazy lochness monster who hasn’t eaten for days.
Don’t laugh. It was that bad.
It wasn’t until I started listening to my body did my perception on this started to change. Over time, I started planning my workout routine based on how I felt, instead of just following a training schedule blindly because that is how it’s suppose to be. Along the way, I figured out what my strengths and weaknesses are and the result? I started loving my body better, instead of bashing it up because I failed a workout.
If that sounds like you then, firstly let me tell you this… You will not be an overweight blob if you’ve been training hard and then you take a few days, or even a few weeks off. Trust me. In fact, you will do your body good.
Secondly, I don’t want you to deny the fact that you are spending way too much time in the gym. Identifying the problems is one of the crucial things in life to fix it. Accept the fact that you’re probably working out too much, and cut down the number of minutes you’re training slowly.
Our body is designed to move and rest, and when it comes to exercise, resting at least 1-2 or even three times a week is important.
What follows are some of the signs that you’re working out too much. Some are pretty objective, while others derive from my own personal experiences of overtraining. I’m sure it will be valuable to the Pretty Awesome who trains every day.
Exercise is meant to make you feel good. You know that high, on top of the world feeling you get as soon as you finish your last rep? Feels good isn’t it? But what if that feeling NEVER comes? Or what if you feel like death after a workout?
There’s a difference between feeling happier or normal after a workout, compared to being irritated. There are some people I personally know who just feels ‘normal’ after a big workout, not happier or high on endorphins — and that’s alright. But if you feel moody and annoyed at the littlest thing around you, then chances are you’ve overtrained.
CAN’T FALL ASLEEP
Or worse, you keep waking up every single hour at night. This happened to me when I was training for my marathon in 2011 and boy it wasn’t a nice thing. Difficulty falling asleep is one thing, but waking up every hour annoys the sh*t out of me.
I seriously thought I was going through a phase but it happened at least a few nights in a week. It wasn’t until about 9 months ago that I realised the reason why I had problems sleeping back then was because of the program I put on for myself. I was doing split workouts — runs in the morning and hitting the gym in the evening for some heavy legs, and that took a toll on me.
See, when you’re training too much, your sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for increasing your heart rate and including pumping out the hormone adrenaline is constantly working. The thing is, SNS is great when you’re working out, and probably for a few hours after that. But when it’s time for the nightly snooze, you really don’t want your heart rate to be high, right?
Overtraining causes that, for one simple reason — it’s always preparing itself for activity because you’ve been training yourself too hard for too long, allowing it to be conditioned to your life. If you’re having troubles with sleep, take a look at your exercise routine and perhaps it’s wise to take a step back from training for a while.
WHY IS THIS SHIRT TOO TIGHT?
This leads us to the third point, and the exact problem my client is facing. Exercising is great. It has a whole lot of benefits and you don’t even need much of it to see awesome changes to your body and fitness levels. One awesome benefit of exercise? You have better management of your body composition.
But what if you’re putting on weight despite exercising every day and not eating more than you normally do?
If your body is showing signs of increased body fat percentage despite the long hours in the gym, it could mean that you’re losing muscle mass. Yes you are technically burning calories but the calories you burn derives from glycogen and glucose stores in your body, which has the ability to tap into your hard earned muscles. Lower muscle mass = increased body fat stores.
Another reason why you might be gaining body fat? Your body has a cortisol imbalance. Cortisol is a hormone made in our kidneys and is released in times of stress such as fasting, excess food intake, psychosocial events and exercise. Too much cortisol can lead to insulin resistance and ultimately fat storage and disposition, especially in your midsection.
If you’re seeing an increase in body fat percentage, and you’ve been working out too much coupled with a lack of sleep, there is a high chance you’re overtraining. Let’s slow down shall we?
STOP WITH THE TIM TAMS!
Oh Tim Tams. I’ve had a Tim Tam addiction once many many years ago. They’re yummy isn’t it? Not too yummy if you’re trying to drop some real mean body fat though.
Remember cortisol? Yes him. Let’s thank him because an increase amount of cortisol in the body leads to an increase in appetite, craving for sugar and ultimately? Weight gain. Damn.
Apart from the fact that cortisol has all the power in the world to increase fat storage, it also has the power over our brains to increase our appetite for high fat and high sugar foods. In fact, a study in the Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology (try saying that in one breath!) studied fifty-nine women to both a stress session and a control session on different days. The results shows that these women consumed more calories on the day of the stress session compared to the control one.
Instead of trying to stop yourself from having those Tim Tams, stop working out too much so that you don’t crave for this too often.
That said, if you’re NOT exercising and you’re craving Tim Tams, then step into my office. I have just the solution for you.
If you’re otherwise always beaming with health and always the last person in your entire office to take any medical or sick leaves and then bam! You’re suddenly falling sick all too frequently, you’re probably training too much.
But wait a minute. Even if you’re not taking days off from work, but you’re experiencing an increase in the sneezing and coughs, it may also mean that your body is suffering due to overtraining. As Mark from Mark’s Daily Apple puts it — “If you’ve recently increased your exercise output, keep track of those early morning sore throats and sneezes. Any increases may indicate a poor immune system brought on by overtraining.”
Listen to your body. And pay attention to it.
UNDERPERFORMING AND REGRESSING
Progressing in our workouts is great. You know, when you add more weight to that last set and you complete as many reps as possible to failure. Or you’re sprinting faster, but at a shorter time and progressively working up to improve the time.
But what if you’re lifting the same amount of weight you’ve been lifting for the past three weeks but you can only complete 12 instead of your usual 15 reps in the first set? Or, what if you’re running at the same speed but you had to take unplanned breaks in between?
While underperforming while progressing is a good thing, underperforming without progressing or underperforming and regressing (e.g. you had to lessen the weight you lift) is a good sign that your body had enough and screaming “PLEASE TAKE A BREAK!”
CREAK CREAK, SAYS THE KNEES
Now listen, Pretty Awesomes. If you’re working out and your knee, hips, shoulders or any other joints and limbs hurt, it is a very very very good sign you’re not doing something properly. Isn’t that obvious?
If your limbs hurt after a workout, there is one of two possibilities. The first could be a phenomenon called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) which is normal and should go away within 2-3 days. The second may indicate poor technique and form which can be due to overuse and overtraining.
If your knee hurts after a long run when it normally doesn’t, or if you feel pain in your lower back when you’re squatting or deadlifting, it could possibly mean you’ve overused it. Listen to these cues as it’s telling you something and I know you’re smart enough not to injure yourself.
BALANCE IT ALL
Finding the midpoint between training too little, too much and having just the right amount is tricky and like everything else, finding the right balance will initially take some trial and error. But here’s what I suggest…
If you’ve read this and it doesn’t at all sound like you, then keep going! You’re doing a wonderful job. Stick with your goals and routine and you will get to where you are.
If you’ve read this and feel like the signs seems all too familiar, I would really advise you to take a break, even if it’s just for a couple of days. You might not feel like you’re gaining weight, or your limbs might still be functioning perfectly despite overtraining but it’s always better to avoid instead of pushing it.
If you’re already gaining weight, having troubles sleeping or experiencing one or more of the signs above, don’t deny the signs because it won’t do you any good. Take a week off, or even more and then slowly ease into a new workout regime with more rest days.
And remember this, the success in any fitness goals lies in the food you put into your mouth, not the amount of exercise you do. While exercise is great in improving health and body composition, too much of anything is never good for you. Listen to your body because no one else in this world knows it better than you do.
After all, life’s too short to spend it feeling tired and miserable, and definitely not awesome to spend hours in the gym.
HERE’S TO YOU…
What about you, Pretty Awesomes? What are some of the indicators you’ve personally experienced due to overtraining? Or are you experiencing any one of these signs? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll personally respond to help you deal with it.
I’m here for you. Now go be awesome.
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