For many triathletes and exercise enthusiasts alike, exercise can become a serious addiction. The ‘high’ we feel from the rush of endorphins is a sensation not easily replicable. For many, so much enjoyment is gained from cycling, running, swimming or cross-training that is becomes an obsession. But at times, this obsession comes with some serious negative consequences. 

Over-training goes beyond not getting enough rest days. It’s about working out even when you’re sick, tired, emotionally unavailable and at times, not properly hydrated and/or fueled. Most athletes are not only aware, but hyper-aware of what their bodies are feeling and how they are performing. But often times, symptoms and red flags go ignored when seeking that exercise ‘high’ or aiming to make certain goals, mileage, etc. And yet, ultimately you want to be taking care of your body; not destroying it! 

The basic definition of over-training is when a person ceases making progress with their exercise routine, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. Over-training is a common problem in weight training, running, as well as cycling and swimming.

Essentially, to see improvements in strength and fitness there needs to be a rest period following any type of hard training. This process can take days to complete, depending on the intensity and duration of exercise leading to the over-trained state. If sufficient rest isn’t taken, complete muscle regeneration cannot occur. If this imbalance between excessive training and lacking rest periods persists, then an individual’s performance will eventually plateau and/or decline.

However, there are other means of getting to this state. Exercising with excessive jet-lag, on-going illness, preoccupation with one’s career (i.e. too much ‘work’), and poor nutrition are other factors that can lead to over-training. At the end of the day, if you are not taking the time to allow yourself to get better, heal, and/or emotionally/mentally decompress, you are not going to perform as well as you would like during your workouts.

Some symptoms of over-training include:
– Persistent muscle soreness
– Persistent fatigue
– Elevated resting heart rate
– Reduced heart rate variability
– Increased susceptibility to infections
– Increased incidence of injuries
– Irritability
– Depression
– Mental breakdown

Preventing over-training is possible by becoming more attune to your body and not ignoring the aforementioned red-flags. Above all, take a break! Allow yourself more rest days if you know that you need them. One can also train for shorter periods of time or decrease the intensity of one’s planned workout. As always, adequate sleep is needed or just periods of rest (just being ‘recumbent’ and giving your body some down time should do the trick). Booking massages to help alleviate pain and aid in muscle recovery is another way to keep you feeling good. Lastly, another area you might want to explore is your diet: does you caloric intake match your expenditure? Are you fueling your body with nutrient-dense food? At the end of the day, you can’t just train hard; you HAVE to train SMART.