How much exercise is too much?
Anyone actively training to increase their performance can be at risk of overtraining – especially when using high training loads to achieve your fitness goals and improve performance. As studies have shown these can only be tolerated by your body through periods of rest and recovery.1
When considering how much exercise is too much, it’s advisable to match your individual fitness level with your fitness goals. Form realistic plans to reach those goals one-by-one, instead of trying to achieve everything at once and risking potential damage.
What is overtraining syndrome (OTS)?
Too much training can be classified into two types: overreaching and overtraining.2 Unusual muscle soreness can be indicative of overreaching. This occurs when an athlete does not allow enough recovery time between hard workouts – it often presents after several consecutive days of excessive exercise. Overtraining goes a step beyond this and is the result of extreme overreaching.1
The body cannot handle an imbalance between stress and recovery. This is true for – not only professional athletes but athletes of all fitness levels. In fact, some of the worst offenders are those who are new to any form of exercise!
There are various triggers/stressors of overtraining syndrome1 :
• Increased training load without adequate recovery
• Monotony of training – not varying between muscle groups
• Participating in an excessive number of competitions (depending on the sport)
• Having trouble sleeping
• Stressors including personal life
Am I working out too much? Six signs of overtraining
Wondering if you are training too hard? The following are training-related and lifestyle-related signs of overtraining that, if observed, should be taken seriously:
Physical pain in muscles and joints
Heavy, sore, and stiff muscles are all signs of excessive exercise. But there is a difference between normal soreness from exercise and being overly sore from too much exercise.3 Soreness after exercise usually lasts up to 24-48 hours. So, if you are feeling discomfort that lasts for more than 72 hours it’s a sign that you have done too much. Soreness causing pain which prevents you from carrying out daily activities, associated with living or working, is also not normal.
There are certain injuries, known as overuse injuries, which are also clear indicators that you have done too much. Strained joints that come from training injuries4 are a type of muscle or joint injury caused by repetitive trauma and are often a result of overexercising.
Decline in performance
Overexercising can actually have the reverse effect of the one you had been hoping for, where your performance slowly becomes worse the longer you train. This is a direct effect of your body reaching its limits.1
Decline in concentration
Athletes can experience symptoms of overtraining in areas of life other than just the physical. Studies have shown that a lack of mental concentration and restlessness are some of the possible symptoms of overexercising.1
Persistent fatigue and feeling washed-out are warning signs that you may be overexercising. Being tired or even exhausted after an intense workout is normal. But you need to give your body enough rest afterwards to avoid a fatigue that continues long after you have recovered.
Sleep disturbances can occur as a result of exercising too much. A study by BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation found that poor sleep quality was evident in 100% of those analyzed who had overtrained.6
Loss of appetite and weight loss
Are you usually hungry after working out? You will have used your stored calories – so you should be! This is why losing appetite and weight are further possible symptoms of exercising too much, as demonstrated in a study by Sports Health into Overtraining Syndrome.1
Listen to your body – how to prevent overtraining syndrome
There are a number of preventative measures you can take to limit your risk of overtraining syndrome:1
• Take time to rest in between any exercises you perform in a day – whether you work out at the gym, outside or at home
• Schedule full rest days and give your body the time it needs to recover
• Adjust your training volume and intensity based on your individual performance and mood
• Ensure that your food contains enough calories for your individual training load
• Drink enough and stay hydrated
• Try to get enough sleep
• Vary between workouts and muscle groups
Nutrition can help you recover from training
Ensuring you have a healthy diet is as much an act of self-care as allowing your body to rest is. Reaching your fitness goals in a healthy way can be supported by the appropriate sports nutrition and by following the key principles of staying hydrated, focusing on a diet with a balanced ratio of complex carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, vitamins and essential nutrients after training – and refilling your energy balance with carbohydrates. Studies have shown that amino acids7 and proteins are also needed for muscle recovery, with protein contributing to the growth and maintenance of muscle mass. The amount of protein required varies and depends very much on the individual athlete and also the amount of exercise performed.