If you were to google the question "Am I overtraining or under recovering?" you will get an array of answers from many ‘expert personal trainers’. They might tell you to take up to 48 hours to let the body recover before doing more training because the idea of overtraining is just training hard and creating the muscle tears that happen when growing muscles, but then return to train them again before those muscles have fully recovered.
I’m here to tell you what’s really up with this and let you know the truth. THERE IS a thing called overtraining AND there is a thing called under recovery. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING
Let’s clear one thing up first, when you exercise you work on more than just your muscles. You will make changes to your neural firing patterns, your endocrine system, your hormones AND your muscle fibres are worked also.
With that being said, what is the actual difference between overtraining and under recovery? One is a slow onset that has been ignored for a period of time and takes a long time (4 weeks to 12 months) to recover from. The other can be fixed with a couple of good nights sleep and a good feed.
Long story short, if you under recover regularly you can end up in a situation where you are experiencing overtraining. It isn’t easy to reach the overtraining position (and you don’t want to get there anyway!).
How can you tell if you are experiencing symptoms of overtraining?
You might not notice it as it begins to set in. From anything I have experienced it comes from long bouts of training multiple modalities at high intensities without any down time or deload to allow the body to recover (muscles, nerves, endocrine, everything).
How can you tell? Even when you’re motivated to give it everything in training, you will have nothing to give. You will push as hard as you can and barely hit the minimums you want. Then you will start to lose your appetite and get super moody. When you try to sort that out (and you might figure it out), you will fall into low feelings and self-doubt (essentially you will spiral into depression). When you hit the hardest point of over training and have still been working hard to meet your goals (regardless of what your body is telling you) you end up with adrenal fatigue (FYI adrenal fatigue can take 12-24 months to recover from). At this point you can say goodbye to whatever goals you were busting your guts for. This will be where you need to start to focus on you and work with some good allied health professionals.
Can it be avoided? Absolutely! Pay attention to what the body is telling you. When you have had multiple days that the body says stay in bed after you have been training hard, stay in bed. Get some rest, take a deload, eat some good fats and stay well hydrated, talk to your coach and tell them what is happening and regather next week. Keep your muscles loose; get massages, stretch, heat shock therapy… it’s all great for recovery. Eat a well rounded nutritious diet; don’t fill yourself with supplements because someone said to… that’s stupid.
Eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit with little starch and no sugar! And for the love of god drink water!
Stay tuned for part 2 on this around the active recovery coming soon!