In a lot of facets of life the more time, or reps, or practice you put into a particular endeavor there is a pretty linear increase in the results you would expect to receive. This positive feedback loop is a pretty cool thing, practice equals good results equals a desire for more practice!!!
Intuitively a lot of us expect the same thing when it comes to our physical training. I’ve had the pleasure of coaching some very highly motivated individuals who put this theory to the test, and unfortunately there have been some instances where we have learned the hard way that more isn't always better. When chasing performance or health there is a fine line for each individual where more volume, intensity, reps etc. actually leads to a negative effect and a loss of your ultimate physical potential. This is a pretty vexing situation for sure, let’s spend some time going over what can possibly happen from overtraining and then some signs we can monitor to see if we are crossing that line.
Overtraining is a Stressor
Training is a very specific stressor on our system, and when done appropriately our body has the resources to run all of its normal functions as well as improve the systems that we target during training. However, when overtrained some of those normal systems are often our first victims. Some but definitely not all specific examples are listed below:
- Cortisol: When we train there is an expected bump in cortisol, that should naturally reduce as a part of our daily rhythms for waking, and sleeping. If we chronically train at high intensities or high volumes cortisol can remain elevated. This has direct implications on our ability to recover and can be a part of a downward spiral in various health systems
- Immune system: Our body has to constantly work to maintain and replace some cells in our immune system which are key to fending off general illnesses. High levels of consistent training can dampen your immune system resulting in a higher prevalence of illness and feeling under the weather.
- Sex Drive: To a point training can enhance hormones like testosterone which helps us feel great and vigorous. Yet again too much can be a detriment, if our body has to spend too many resources on intense training it doesn’t have enough energy leftover. A common victim is decreasing sex hormones which subjectively result in lower energy and sex drive.
Tools For Monitoring Your Recovery
So now that we know that there are some distinct possible physiological consequences from overtraining I’d like to discuss some tools that you can monitor to see if you’re recovering or overtraining.
These are some things that don’t have a specific measurement. I encourage day to day journaling to see if these are trending positively or negatively
- Hunger: Do you get hungry at your normal meal times? Does training make you excited to eat? Or do you find yourself having to force down normal portions, or skipping meals altogether. It’s a bit of a paradox but overtraining actually is known to reduce hunger despite the need for calories to recover.
- Sleep Quality: Is it taking you longer to fall asleep? Are you not able to sleep through the night when usually you had no issue? Relating back to our comment on Cortisol the inability to get to sleep could be a sign your body is overtrained. Again another paradox as our body requires copious amounts of sleep to support athletic performance
- Concentration: Is it taking you twice as long as usual to do that normal task at work? Cognitive clarity is a great sign of your body's ability to maintain equilibrium. The brain is expensive machinery!! So if your body is using all its resources on training there isn’t much leftover for higher level thought processes.
- Weight Fluctuation: have you lost or gained weight unexpectedly? If you see an abnormal fluctuation in weight despite no specific changes in food that can be a sign of overtraining. Our body is allocating resources incorrectly due to the strenuous levels of activity it can’t support
For those of you who are a bit more detail oriented these are some specific measurements you can track to see recovery or reaction to a training load.
- Resting Heart Rate: Take your heart rate immediately upon waking for 7 days in a row. If you have a known baseline and you see a greater than 5BPM change upon reaction to a training block that’s a sign your body is not recovering. A one day change in response to a single session is ok, but chronic elevations in Resting heart rate is not a positive sign
- Heart rate Variability: Very similar to RHR this is a daily sign we can track with certain wearables. We are again looking for chronic lowering in HRV as a sign of overtraining
- Body Temperature: Take your temperature upon waking that is your baseline. Take your temperature again after training. If you do not see a rise in body temperature that is again a sign of overtraining that your body is not shunting heat and changing blood flow in response to training. It is an interesting sign I have seen athletes actually lower body temperature in response to “hard training”
- Power Output: Often one of the first aspects of fitness we lose is the ability to produce very powerful efforts. Two examples we can check in the gym very easily:
- Vertical jump - Again we want a running average after warming up. If you notice that your weekly check in is lower than usual that's a sign of your nervous system being pretty taxed
- Assault bike watts - :10s max watts is a great check in on power output. Again we are looking at a weekly check in, how do you compare to your historical average? Power falling off and you just can’t “go there”? Again a sign your body is in need of some recovery.
More Isn't Always Better
Using a combination of subjective and objective markers can increase your ability to understand how much is too much when it comes to training. To start, we suggest you take notes on your training, your nutrition and your recovery. How did your training feel? Did you sleep well and for how long? Did you eat enough to replenish your losses? Has your bodyweight changed week over week and how? Writing down your answer these questions can increase your awareness around your body and how the things you do daily effect your body's perception of stress.
Just like many of our clients we love to work hard and chase down those gains in performance, but through a lot of experiential learning and coaching we know that there can be too much of a good thing! Work with one of our coaches to help you develop and understand just how much training fits into your overall picture. At Big Dawgs we coach the whole person not just the 90 minute gym session. We want to understand everything you do and help guide you to your best based on the entire life cycle.
Written by: Coach Will Trujillo