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Prevent Overtraining with Recovery

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Man stretching using a foam roller.

Achieving your fitness goals takes hard work and dedication but overtraining can set you back. Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Stephanie Hill explains the symptoms of overtraining and good habits to practice to ensure your body is recovering properly.

What is overtraining?
Overtraining is pushing the body to fatigue and not allowing the proper time to recover. While overtraining can present itself as an injury, there is more to consider. Additional signs of fatigue and overtraining include: 

  • A lack of desire to continue working out, especially a preferred workout
  • Constant soreness
  • Elevated heart rate and blood lactate levels
  • Lack of sleep 
  • Feeling depleted or malnourished
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain with everyday movements
  • Shortness of breath
  • Agitation and moodiness
  • Increased number of infections

If not addressed, the stress from overtraining can negatively affect your health and wellness, setting you back on your fitness goals. By identifying overtraining symptoms, you can learn how your body is responding to previously completed workouts to help determine your ideal fitness plan. 

Practice good habits
Practicing good habits before, during and after your workout help prevent overtraining and injury from occurring. A proper warm-up before your workout gradually revs up your cardiovascular system and gets your blood pumping which ensures your body is prepared for the work you are about to put it through. Taking time after your workout to cool down and stretch allows for a gradual recovery so you don’t “shock” your muscles. Shocking your muscles without a cool down or stretching routine can cause lightheadedness, a sudden drop in blood pressure and inhibit blood flow which can all be dangerous.

“You should be spending approximately five to 15 minutes warming up before a workout,” says Hill. Include dynamic movements—those that raise the body’s temperature, increase range of motion and get blood flowing—such as leg swings, jumping jacks and walking lunges. “What you do on the other side of a workout is just as important as a proper warm-up. Implementing a stretching routine in your post-workout recovery is critical in injury prevention,” says Hill. Stretching lengthens muscles, improves flexibility and balance and improves overall fitness. Deep breathing is another technique that can help your muscles relax and promote sleep.

For a video demonstration of a post-workout recovery routine, watch this Exercise Move.

Overtraining encompasses more than overworking your body in the gym. Some areas to keep in mind include: 

  • Proper hydration: Inadequate water consumption can drastically affect the body’s ability to perform. Adults should consume at least ½ to 1 ounces of water per lb. a day.
     
  • Adequate sleep: Sleep recharges the body and mind. The average adult needs six to eight hours of sleep a night to feel fully recharged.
     
  • Nutrition: Food is the fuel for your body. Without proper nutrition, your body struggles to function and perform at its peak. By following the 80/20 rule, you can eat nutritious foods most of the time while still enjoying your favorite treats and sweets on occasion.
     
  • Managing your stress: Overwhelming amounts of stress can affect your mental and physical health. Finding ways to de-stress daily before it gets out of hand is key to living a healthy life.

Listen to your body
“Many believe taking a few days off will make them lose all their progress but most of the time, your body will actually benefit from taking that time off to rest,” says Hill. “In most cases, you will come back from a rest day stronger than when you went into it.” Listening to your body and taking the time to rest when you are experiencing symptoms of overtraining will prevent it from getting worse. Rest days should be regularly scheduled into your workout routine but that doesn’t mean you have to sit around and do nothing. 

“A rest day looks different for everyone,” says Hill. Any movement is good during a rest day. Going on a slower-paced walk, spending some extra time stretching and switching up your normal strength-training routine to try something like yoga can all be considered active rest activities. “On the flip side, some individuals may need a day to just sit on the couch, relax and not do anything at all,” says Hill. Your brain needs rest the same way your body does so building in rest and relaxation is essential. 

In addition to taking rest days and practicing good habits, cross-training can prevent overtraining. “You can certainly overtrain with aerobic exercise the same way you can with lifting weights. Sprinkling in a little bit of both to your routine on top of rest days will ensure you are working all of your muscle groups but still giving yourself enough time to rest,” says Hill. 

Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, Founder and Chairman of Cooper Aerobics, recommends getting at least 30 minutes of collective or sustained aerobic activity most days per week in addition to at least two days of strength training per week. As we age the aerobic-strength training ratios change too: 

  • Ages 40 and younger: 80% aerobic exercise; 20% strength training
  • Ages 41-50: 70% aerobic exercise; 30% strength training
  • Ages 51-60: 60% aerobic exercise; 40% strength training 
  • Ages 61+: 55% aerobic exercise; 45% strength training

These ratios change as we age due to bone density naturally declining which increases the risk for osteoporosis. Strength training also helps you maintain your ability to function well and perform daily movements as well as improves balance. As you age, you should perform more strength training work and less aerobic work, however, by the time you turn 60, aerobic exercise should still take up at least half of your routine.

Listen to your body. When you are feeling fatigued, take a step back and evaluate your routine. A professional fitness trainer can help you adjust your routine to avoid overtraining and prevent injury.

For more information about professional fitness training at Cooper Fitness Center, visit cooperfitnesscenter.com or call 972.233.4832.