Any seasoned athlete or active individual knows just how important it is to follow a training routine. However, problems can start to surface when your training begins to outweigh your recovery. It’s easy to get caught up feeling like you need to work out every day to be productive. You feel the urge to keep pushing and pushing when really, the best thing you can do for your body is rest.
Exercising or working out can be categorized by any physical activity that puts stress on your body. The thing about stress is that it affects the body the same way, regardless of the source of the stress, whether it be psychological, physical, or work-related. And how does your body interpret stress? It perceives it as a threat.
So how do you know if you’re doing too much?
A Decrease in Physical Performance
One of the first and most visible signs of overtraining is a decrease in physical performance, including strength, speed, endurance, and reaction time. If you’re experiencing a lack of improved performance despite an increase in training intensity and volume, you might want to consider taking a step back and reevaluating your training program and recovery time.
Increased Effort for Simple Workouts
Decreased performance isn’t the only way to tell if you’re overtraining. Workouts that once seemed natural may start becoming increasingly difficult due to overtraining. But why is that? When you’re working out every day and overtraining, your heart rate may increase faster than usual and may even stay elevated for a more extended period, post-workout. One study involving middle-distance runners found that the athlete’s HRV (heart rate variability) was a better tool than resting heart rate to evaluate cumulative fatigue[*].
Chronic fatigue is another tell-tale sign of working out too much. Sure, it’s normal to feel fatigued and sore after a hard workout. But if you’re not recovering from that fatigue, you might be overtraining. This constant state of chronic fatigue can lead to low energy availability, meaning the body is pulling from its energy stores. This is typically due to not eating enough, not drinking enough water, or sleeping enough.
Have you noticed a decrease in your gym performance along with an increase in your moodiness? You might be exercising too much. Working out every day and pushing yourself hard can lead to issues in and out of the gym. Overtraining plays a considerable role in the proper function of your primary stress hormone, cortisol. The imbalance of this hormone can cause irritation, agitation, mood swings, and even brain fog[*].
More and more research is surfacing to show just how vital sleep is to your overall health. However, the overproduction of cortisol may inhibit your ability to fall asleep. Cortisol usually rises and falls throughout the day. It’s highest at around 8 AM and lowest between midnight and 4 AM. If your body is under chronic stress, it may start to interrupt your cortisol levels.
Chronic Injuries or Infections
When you’re working out and training hard every day, you are putting constant stress on your body. This means your overused muscles and joints have no chance to recover, leaving it harder to ward off injury and infection. If you have injuries that won’t go away, you might want to try taking a step back from the gym and giving your body time to recover fully.
Now that you know the symptoms of overtraining from working out every day, what are some reasons you should be taking a rest day?
1. Avoid a Weight Loss Plateau
Yes, working out can lead to weight loss, but if you’re working out too much, it can also cause a stall in weight loss. When a plateau occurs, it could be due to several reasons such as the metabolism slowing down or the body trying to protect itself from further weight loss.
2. Replenish Glycogen Stores
Replenishing energy stores comes down to the use of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). During weight training, the most bioavailable source of ATP comes from muscle glycogen. Your muscles hold a limited amount of glycogen, which is why it needs to be replenished before your next workout. If your body is low on these energy stores, you’ll notice a decrease in your performance almost immediately.
3. Alleviate Muscle Soreness
All workouts put stress on the body. Every time you’re working out, you’re causing microscopic damage to the muscles, increasing enzymes and inflammation. These changes are good. However, it would be best if you allowed your body time to recover for your muscles to adapt.
4. Improve Sleep
As mentioned above, one sign of overtraining is restless sleep. Sleeping allows your body to produce the hormones needed to improve muscle building and recovery. If you’re not sleeping, you’re not producing these hormones.
5. Use Time For Other Productive Activities
Physiological concerns aside, spending all of your time in the gym, takes away from other activities such as spending quality time with friends and family or enjoying a relaxing night at home.
So, how do you find the balance between working out too much and taking enough rest?
If you’re struggling with taking time off from the gym, consider changing your perspective. Although at first, you might think you’re lazy for taking a rest day, that is not the case. It requires a disciplined mindset to do what your body needs, not what you necessarily want to do.
Remember that taking a day or two off from the gym is required to continue seeing progress in your strength, endurance, and even mental health.
Whether you’re an elite athlete or an active individual, your body requires rest and nutrition to adequately repair itself. To make the most out of your rest days, try adding yoga or light walking to help you stay active while letting your body recover.