SPOT THE SIGNS
If you’re going too hard, too often, your body will start giving you a heads up, usually in the form ofa bout ofsniffles or exhaustion. “Feeling lethargic throughout the day and not being able to sleep properly at night are both signs you might be overtraining,” says personal trainer and strength coach Dan Lawrence. “Other things to look out for are ifyou’re not meeting your goals at the rate you feel your training warrants, and if your muscles are not fully recovering from previous sessions – for instance, you have aches that last longer than usual.”
If you thought that exercise was meant to improve your immunity to colds and other illnesses, you were right – but it’s all about balance. “When we take part in aerobic exercise such as running, cycling or swimming, this positively affects our natural immune function and resistance “A prolonged period of exhaustive exercise can severely impair the body’s first line of defence against infection” to stress,” explains sports nutritionist Liam Mahoney. “A prolonged period of exhaustive exercise, however, can severely impair the body’s first line of defence against infection.”
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The same goes for sleep – while exercise can improve your shut-eye, thanks to the production of hormones that regulate your zzzs, smashing out more reps than you need can seriously mess with your snooze.
“The increase of certain hormones that raise heart rate and blood pressure during exercise also stimulate energy breakdown and inhibit immune function,” says Mahoney. “With enough recovery, the levels ofthese hormones will return to normal, but lack of recovery can result in chronically elevated levels ofthese hormones.” This means you’re left dealing with a heightened heart rate and blood pressure when you’re trying to wind down.
The other big sign you’re doing too much? Pushing through aches and pains.
It’s common in over-exercisers, and even though it might make you feel tough, all it does is make you susceptible to real injuries. “By over-exercising you prevent the body’s tissues from recovering, causing them to become progressively weaker and eventually resulting in so much damage that it stops you from being able to exercise at all,” says Macdonald.
Winding up with an injury is the last thing you need ifyou’re chasing a big goal. But even ifyou don’t have an injury, working out when you’re tired or pushing through a niggling ache can encourage poor technique, which leads to strain.
“Poor performance increases your chances of falling, sudden uncontrolled movement or incorrect movements, which can all cause tears to soft tissues, joint structures or even fractures and breaks in bones,” Macdonald adds.
THE PERFECT DOSE
Making sure you’re not overtraining doesn’t mean coasting at the gym. You can still hit those sessions hard – in fact, you totally should – but preparation is key. “Always factor in recovery time,” Lawrence advises.
“It’s very important as this is the time that the body adapts to the stress and demands of exercise – basically when the real training effect takes place.”
Not only will the downtime allow your muscles to repair and grow, it’ll also give your hormones a chance to do their thing. The levels ofthe stress hormone cortisol rise when you exercise, so ifyou’re doing too much it can leave you feeling on edge, and it’ll impact your fat-burning potential. “As well as a decreased level of testosterone, overtraining increases cortisol both will hamper lean muscle-building potential, which means that your resting metabolic rate will be lower. Bad news for fat burn,” Lawrence says.
So what’s the ideal amount of exercise? There’s no hard and fast rule, because everyone’s goals differ so much, but a good place to start is with four sessions a week. “This should be enough to progress towards your individual goals,” says Lawrence. “Ifyou have a job where you’re on your feet for eight hours a day, then I wouldn’t advise training more than this your results may well diminish.”
It s not just about quantity, either -you need to get smart about your training schedule and put together a considered program that allows your body to repair. “Structure your workouts properly, so you aren’t overloading the same muscles on consecutive days,” Lawrence tips. To avoid this, you could split your routines. For example, go for a lower-body workout on one day and upper-body and core on the next, allowing one to recover while the other is in the spotlight. Or try alternating cardio sessions with weight sessions.
It s also key to listen to your body and pay attention to any changes that could be warning signs for injuries or weaknesses in your body. Ifyou’re unsure, a physio can help to determine the best ways for you to exercise based on your anatomy and biomechanics. “This includes training intensity, time and frequency as well as how best to work recovery and rest into your schedule,” says Macdonald.
And don’t forget to prioritise sleep -it’s free, and the best way to boost your immunity, regulate your hormones, help your muscles repair and restore your motivation. Go on, hit that snooze button your body will thank you for it.