Overtraining & Training Smarter To Avoid It
Every athlete and fitness enthusiast has heard of the term “overtraining.”
People often confuse this term with feeling fatigued, but take note: overtraining is not as simple as that. Its consequences are quite sobering, especially for those who are serious about their progress.
Let’s take a closer look at overtraining and how you can best avoid its worst effects.
What Isn’t Overtraining?
It is not soreness. It is not being out of breath. It is not getting tired as you train.
These things are all normal and are signs of you stressing your body… which is a good thing! Stress is the only way your body can learn how to adapt and get better at whatever you’re doing. “Without struggle, there is no progress” – this rings just as true when it comes to training.
Overtraining is also not a bad session every now and then. No one is perfect and nobody has a perfect life, so bad days are bound to happen.
Finally, and this may come as a surprise to some, but overtraining is also not training “too much,” despite its name.
So What The Heck Is It?!
Let’s take a look at a graph that every person should get familiar with when it comes to a conversation about proper training vs. overtraining:
The x-axis (horizontal) is for time and the y-axis (vertical) is for performance. The dotted line is the “baseline” level of fitness.
The first dip we see is when your body is stressed at first, but then it adjusts to the activity (#1) for a bit before fatiguing (#2), resulting in decreased performance. After fatiguing, the person (presumably) rests their body, allowing themselves to recover and thus increasing their current fitness levels to perform better.
Think of running: every time you go run, you get fatigued, which is the “dip,” and when you rest and keep running, you can run a bit more each day (the increase in the chart). Each peak is a new maximum fitness/performance level.
This is a graph representing positive progress, meaning you are giving your body enough rest between each session so you can get better at whatever you’re doing. What happens when you don’t give your body enough rest? Your progression is hindered to the point where it’s regressing if you continue without enough rest.
That, in a nutshell, is overtraining.
The overtraining chart (above) starts the same way with a decrease due to fatigue. However, because the person did not rest enough, there is no new “peak” on the chart. Instead, regression happens and fitness/performance gets worse! Continuing like this, you can see how the person’s fitness levels are way worse than when they first started. As you can see, overtraining is not a matter of training too much, but of not giving your body adequate rest so it can “peak.”
Can Overtraining Have Any Benefits?
To give a bit of balance to this article, let’s also consider an alternative viewpoint: overtraining can be good for you, though not with any regularity whatsoever.
As we’ve seen above, overtraining as a habit is destructive and easily causes more harm than good. But it can, as described by the boys on MTGP, improve your life as a fighter.
It can be a way to build up mental toughness – something every fighter needs to push through moments of adversity. Perhaps more practically, it gives you a blueprint of your body. Overtraining clearly outlines your personal physical boundaries. In other words, overtraining intermittently, with a great deal of time in between, can show you where your body is at, where it can go, and where it can’t.
Signs Of Overtraining
The symptoms of overtraining are not restricted to how you perform physically in the gym – they’re mental, sexual, and physiological. It’s not something a person does, but how a person feels as a whole. A lot of its signs are quite similar to that of depression.
One of the best ways to figure out if you’re overtraining is to see how you have felt over the past several sessions.
- Is there a constant level of fatigue you just can’t seem to shake off?
- Do you feel tired no matter how much you sleep?
- Is the fatigue and exhaustion in both your body and mind?
- Do you often lie awake despite feeling extremely tired?
- Is your appetite gone?
- Is your sex drive much lower than usual?
- Are you getting sick?
- Are you not healing as fast or as properly as usual?
- Do you feel like you’re getting worse at what you do instead of getting better despite all the training you’ve been doing?
If you’ve answered yes to many of these questions, chances are that you’re overtraining.
Overtraining leads to some serious complications. Your body thinks it’s continuously stressed (which it is) and in danger, so you’re producing stress hormones and breaking your body down unnecessarily. Your adrenal glands can get burned out as well, and you won’t be able to properly respond to a real threat. Overtraining can take weeks and months to get over, not just days. Overtraining is NOT just “something in your head” and something you can just suck and get over. It’s real and it affects your progress and health tremendously.
Prevent Overtraining, Keep Progressing
Ladies and gentlemen, as much as you’d like to be superhuman, you are not. Though this four-letter word may sound like awful weakness to some, every single one of us needs it: REST.
This is probably the hardest thing to do for someone who’s motivated to get better. But don’t be stubborn – take a week off if you feel like you’re dragging your feet around everywhere for days. Go back to the gym when you are 100% back to your old self both physically and mentally.
To prevent overtraining, you also have to rest, but just enough between training sessions. Get enough sleep, eat well, make sure you’re supplementing where you need it, and work hard in the gym. Preventing overtraining can do so much for your progress in Muay Thai. It will also keep your sane and motivated to continue on your journey.
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.