by Alexander Castiglione
Overtraining is a curious thing: while we want to push on; we want to become stronger, faster, more agile, and a better all-around athlete, but in order to do that, you must rest and recover. And sometimes, you need to completely power down and rest. The consequence if you don’t? At the very least diminished performance, at worst – an injury that could lay you up for weeks or months.
There are a lot of signs that you are overtraining – but the best way is simply to listen to your body. If you don’t feel close to 100%, you probably aren’t. Don’t get me wrong, you should push through when you just “don’t feel like training” because you’re tired, you didn’t sleep well, your significant other is on your case, whatever. But something tells me the readership here never has that feeling.
• Aches and pains – specifically in joints: this one is important. There is a different between being sore and being danger-close to an injury. If your knees, ankles, shoulders, wrists, hips, or any other critical joint hurt – I mean really hurt, not just soreness or mild discomfort, dial it back. A little tweak can turn into a tear with a single missed muscle up or lift. The workaround is simple: if your shoulder joints are jacked, work the lower body or do midline work. If everything is on fire, take a day or two. Three if you need it. Connective tissue heals much slower – ten times slower in fact.
• Times are way off on benchmarks: We do benchmarks and baseline workouts for a reason – to track progress. Now, anybody can have an off day, but if you’re consistently missing a PR by minutes (or seconds if you’re testing sprints or something to that effect), you might want to dial it back, regroup, and take a rest day.
You need to allow your body time to recover. And it’s not just muscles; your tendons and joints need rest. Again, connective tissue heals on average ten times slower than muscle.
Remember that the next time you want to do Angie on Monday, Murph on Tuesday, 30 Muscle ups for time on Wednesday, and another hero WOD on Thursday.
Do that, and you might as well make an appointment at the orthopedist.
You can take a supplement, like melatonin, but trust your body first.
Listen to your body.
And if you’re going to take a sleep aid – take something natural like melatonin, and only take about 300 micrograms.
Otherwise you will fool your body into thinking it doesn’t need to produce this sleep inducing hormone, and your insomnia will continue.
• Immune System: Find yourself getting colds in the middle of summer, or just feeling beat down all the time? That’s another sign you are overtraining; your muscles, and your immune system, need some downtime. You can’t redline it every single day.
• Always Thirsty/Hungry: This is a tricky one, as sometimes, you are just really, really hungry the day after a brutal WOD. But if you can’t satiate your thirst or hunger, despite taking in the same amount of calories and water you usually do, you might want to take an active rest day. Ruck instead of throwing down in a WOD, jog a 5k instead of hitting it all out. Rest doesn’t always mean sit on your ass, it means don’t blow the doors off.
• Resting Heart Rate: Check your heart rate out, and every now and then check in on it. If your resting heart rate is way off your normal baseline, you might be overtraining; and if there is one organ you don’t want to tussle with – it’s your heart. For example, if your resting heart rate is normally 45bpm, and you notice you’re up to 65 (without caffeine or stimulants), you might want to consider taking an off day or two.
• Moodiness/Irratability/Personality Changes
Listen to your body, and listen to your mind. If you find yourself snapping for no reason, becoming easily annoyed at something innocuous, or just not feeling like yourself (barring something going on in your personal life), step back and assess.
• Increased Injury
If you’re tweaking something out every workout, and going through multiple bottles of Advil and Biofreeze, you might want to take stock of your training schedule.
Hopefully you keep a log; I’d go see what you’ve been doing, and assess if you are trying to cram too much into your workouts.
• Sustained Plateaus – If you just can’t seem to hit the numbers or times you want to hit, again, look at your workout log. You might not be giving yourself the rest you need. There’s no shame in taking a rest day or an active recovery day so you can get your mind and body back in the game. You shouldn’t be chasing a new one rep max or mile time for months and months.
Ways to avoid overtraining:
Sleep – if you are either under sleeping, or oversleeping – you may be over training. Almost all doctors, especially Dr. Kirk Parsley – former SEAL and MD, agree you need at least 7 ½ hours of rack time.
Think you run fine without that amount? Think again – every hormone and neurotransmitter is probably out of whack if you’ve been only getting 5 hours for the last couple weeks, months, or years.
His podcast are highly informative on sleep, and how vitally important it is to performance. Overtraining can cause insomnia, since your body needs rest to repair. Remember, you don’t get better when you train; you get better when you recover.
Nutrition – Your diet could also be the reason you don’t feel 100% and are overtraining. Make sure you give your body what it needs, especially greens and vegetables; along with the proper amount of protein (don’t overdo it, your body can’t process those 3 scoops of whey, killer. In fact, you’re just making your kidneys work double-time), make sure you are getting enough carbs or fat for your caloric demands, and most importantly water. If you can’t get the proper amount of fresh greens – there are plenty of supplements for that. Nothing beats the real thing, but these are a close approximation. I add in a green supplement like Athletic Greens to help me out.
Hydrate – hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Cells require water, especially to repair, and your body needs water to keep going, much like an engine needs oil.
My question today is about training volume. When I read about BUD/S it sounds like almost all of some days are devoted to physical evolutions and one of the most important aspects for candidates is that they can keep moving forward regardless of how tired and worn out they are. Because of this, when I train I always feel like I should push myself to do more even if I’ve already been going for several hours. I enjoy training so mentally I do not have much trouble motivating myself to do this normally. However, recently I have been noticing things in my everyday life that make me think I might be heading toward overtraining syndrome. My questions for you are what is a good training volume to aim for for someone who trains most days, what signs do you personally look for in a workout to know it’s time to stop and what are good ways to prepare oneself for programs like BUD/S that require massive endurance without overtraining? Thank you for your time and help.
Answer: Good to hear from you Lucas. It is easy to fall into that trap of training, training, training. Check out each of the tips above and use them as a guideline to help you get the most out of your workouts.
About the author:
Alexander Castiglione has always enjoyed punishing himself with crazy workouts,”death-by” WODs, and heavy rucks. His favorite Crossfit Workouts are Angie, Nicole, and Murph; his least favorite is Karen. He writes for various publications freelance, and loves teaching people to be body-weight ninjas. In his free time, when he’s not working out, he enjoys rock climbing, shooting, taking his 2 dogs on long hikes, and reading whatever he can get his hands on.
Tips to Recover from hard workouts