Identifying and preventing overtraining syndrome in 2021

As fitness professionals, we spend the majority of our careers encouraging the world to exercise. So, it may seem unlikely that we need to manage a client who is experiencing symptoms of overtraining, but it happens more than you think, particularly upon entering a new year.

Overtraining is a significant issue within our industry but it is avoidable. With the correct knowledge and guidance, our clients can avoid this disruptive and destructive practice. Understanding what leads to overtraining and the signs of overtraining, may enable you to steer clear of this pitfall throughout your life.

Following are five major signs of overtraining to help you examine your fitness program, your results, including the physiological and psychological aspects of your program. If you identify with any of the overtraining signs described, it is time to take a closer look at the direction you are headed and make the appropriate modifications.

As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.

Unrelenting fatigue — You begin to experience excessive, chronic fatigue prior to, during and especially following your exercise program. There may be many reasons for this fatigue, not the least of which is an underlying illness.

However, if you determine after consulting your physician that this is not the case, carefully review your program with your fitness professional and note the current frequency, intensity, type, and time of exercise to see if you might identify the root cause of the overtraining symptoms. Then make the necessary modifications.

Lack of strength — This may seem like it would relate to unrelenting fatigue and that is certainly possible; however, one of the first signs of overtraining is a loss of strength. If the body is not given enough time to adequately recover from the stress of training (yes, exercise is placing stress on the body which, for the most part, when prescribed correctly is exactly what needs to occur), then the muscle tissue may begin to weaken leading to a reduction in strength. Therefore, it is time to revisit specific program recovery protocols.

Disinterested in your exercise program — This may just be due to boredom and lack of periodization. However, overtraining may cause you to experience the “burnout” feeling compared to your long-term workout history and this is a red flag.

Sleeplessness or sleeping all of the time — If there is not another obvious reason for your inability to sleep effectively or feeling like you could sleep beyond your regular needs, it could be that you are overtraining. Again, the body needs time to rest, recover, refuel and repair, both physically and mentally.

Body fat begins to increase — If you are exercising regularly and following a comprehensive, well designed nutritional regimen and you begin to gain body fat, you may be overtraining.

When the body is continually stressed, hormones such as cortisol begin creating havoc physiologically and may actually cause you to gain or retain body fat. Again, check the frequency, intensity, type, and time of your exercise program and rethink the direction you are headed with the guidance of your health/fitness/wellness team of professionals.

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