We all know that exercise is beneficial for our overall health and well-being. However, there is a thin line between pushing your limits and overtraining, which can have detrimental effects on your body.
In this article, we explore the physiological effects of overtraining and discuss the warning signs to look out for.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the age-old fitness adage, “No pain, no gain,” encouraging active individuals to physically push themselves to the breaking point — even when their bodies are telling them otherwise.
While this mindset is admirable, does it do more harm than good? And how do you know if you’re working out too hard (or too much)?
Pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion and ignoring your body’s warning signs may put your long-term health at risk.
A study from 2019 that was published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, found that excessive exercise without sufficient recovery time can cause overtraining syndrome, which is marked by burnout, accidents, exhaustion and poor physical performance.
While another study published in 2023 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, revealed that overtraining syndrome can even put your life at risk due to extreme fatigue.
Overtraining occurs when an athlete or gym enthusiast ignores the signs of overreaching and continues to train. The majority of these people believe that weakness or poor performance signals the need for even more training, so they continue to push themselves harder and harder.
This only breaks down the body further.
Full recovery from overtraining can be draining and can require weeks or months of time off from working out — something that can be especially challenging for someone whose life revolves around their sport
Research has found a link between moderate exercise and a strong immune system. However, studies have also found an increased risk of illness in those who participate in intensive exercise, according to a medically reviewed post by Tyra Tennyson Francis, MD on Verywell.
Also noting that scientists do not fully understand the relationship between exercise and immunity. Much of the research investigating the connection is relatively new and is still quite controversial.
Understanding what overtraining is
Overtraining occurs when the body is subjected to excessive physical stress without enough time for recovery. This can happen due to intense workouts, insufficient rest, or a combination of both.
What happens to your body when you overtrain?
Overtraining can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones in your body, leading to decreased levels of testosterone and increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This hormonal imbalance can negatively impact muscle growth, recovery and overall mood.
Weakened immune system
Research indicates that overtraining can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses and infections. Frequent colds, prolonged recovery from minor illnesses, or a general feeling of fatigue may indicate that you’re overdoing it.
Contrary to what you might expect, overtraining can lead to decreased athletic performance. Your body needs enough time to repair and rebuild muscles after intense workouts.
Ignoring this crucial recovery phase can result in decreased strength, endurance, and overall athletic ability.
Signs you may be overtraining
Constantly feeling tired
Feeling excessively tired even after a good night’s sleep or experiencing a constant lack of energy throughout the day can be a sign of overtraining.
Lack of motivation
If you find yourself lacking enthusiasm or struggling to find the motivation to exercise, it could be your body’s way of telling you that it needs a break.
Overtraining puts immense stress on your muscles, joints, and connective tissues, making you more susceptible to injuries. If you find yourself prone to injuries like sprains, strains, or any other injuries, it might be time to reassess your training routine.
Mood swings and irritability
According to the National Institute of Health study on the Physiological and Psychological Effects of Treadmill Overtraining Implementation, overtraining can also have negative effects on athletes’ mental health, such as increased depression, low motivation, anger, and eating disorders.
It causes burnout in up to 10% of athletes, manifesting as impaired mood, low self-esteem, loss of confidence and depression.