How to know you’re pushing it too hard? When to back off a little?
The first one appears rather early as a warning sign – trouble sleeping. If you’re tired, but just can’t close your eyes, you’re under the control of high cortisol levels. cortisol is a stress hormone, reacts primarily to increased activity, no matter what the activity is. Training, work, anything else. So, when deprived of good night sleep, go for a few days rest when thinking about training. Do a de-load, go for some mild cardio sessions, just to calm down a little.
General tiredness and constant muscle soreness would be another sign something is wrong. Now, when in the gym, muscle soreness is a normal thing, but not always and not after every training you do. If you feel it on a regular basis, start to do some programming between the rest and training days, lower the plates on those bars, lower the intensity of the workout by taking longer break between sets, and go for smaller volume – meaning do fewer sets of exercises. Programming of your training should be incorporated in your routine, especially if you’re more advanced lifter or striving to go for some demanding sport disciplines.
Depression and anxiety can be an obvious sign of physical stress caused by excessive training. Now, this is a tricky one, because it involves more than pure physical knowledge and its related to complex factors of human personality. In general, excessive training deprives you first physically and then mentally. When the brain gets confused by rigorous regime it will start to adapt to the caused damage, but sometimes can get confused. In that point, adrenal glands can alter the chemistry of our brain even more, and anxiety and depression can easily arise. So, be aware of your body and try to recognize your feelings and thoughts when they start to wander around, especially those negative ones. Other known symptoms can include aggressiveness, lethargy, mood swings… Notice that one can’t really separate all those states, they are all connected together and tend to replace one another. After the depression, your mood can go sky high, then quickly fall down again.
Injuries are common in the fitness world, right? Well, yes and no. Here we also can differentiate injuries caused by an improper technique in performing any exercise from injuries that arise from to much stress and effort. The only way to prevent it is to be smart about the training you do. Allow more time for the muscles, joints, and tendons to recover. Do some stretching, proper warm-up, but know that it alone won’t help much if you’re too tired to go through the routine.
These were only the obvious ones, but the signs of excessive training can be hard to notice and to diagnose. A lot of athletes today undertook all possible medical tests and were physically in great shape, but totally mentally depleted. And medicine could not determine the cause, because all of the relevant health tests were pointing to a great physical condition and strength when compared to a general population. In reality, those athletes were in the state of constant overdrive, which resulted in the fall of motivation, followed by depression, anxiety, headaches, gut problems, and so on. The term that describes this state is well known – overtraining.
Now, overtraining can be easily taken care of with nutrition tweaks and programming rest cycles better in a matter of weeks. But, when overtraining becomes chronic, it can do tremendous damage to the person, can last for months, and can endanger any sports career. Same goes to amateur activities, where overtraining take less time to arise because of less planning and poor nutrition choices.
So, how to help yourself when you experience these symptoms? First, and this one is the most common mistake people do, don’t go for carbs thinking you’re only tired and you need more energy. You’ll be fighting fire with gasoline, making your brain even more active with the enormous amount of sugars to its disposal. You need to calm down your brain and your body, not to give it more energy when in the state of adrenal imbalance caused by overtraining. Keep away from any refined foods, stick to plain food choices – meats, eggs, veggies, potatoes, brown rice, fruit. Try to avoid dairy products, milk especially, because they tend to increase inflammation in the body. Plain yogurt will suffice. Spicy foods can also do more damage, coffee, and other stimulants too.
No need to mention you’ll need to carefully plan your activity, allowing yourself more time to sleep and rest. Light walks, deep breathing, Yoga, light Pilates, can help you on your way. You need to restore your balance before going back to your usual routine.
Allow yourself time, and then start to build up your training again, gradually. Same goes for food, be sure to take what you need and what suits you best, and then start to introduce the foods you used to love before the whole thing ever started. Another positive side of this approach is that you’ll be able to recognize if some of the foods do you harm in any way or you have a problem with.
Take care and don’t neglect the signs your body sends you.