There is a fine line between training hard and overtraining. Excessive high-training volume, intensity or frequency, although required to improve performance, can result in the effects of what is known as overtraining syndrome. Symptoms include inflammation, CNS fatigue and frequent illness. Be sure to know these 5 signs that could suggest that you’re training too much.
A feeling of persistent fatigue, particularly when you wake up in the morning, could be an indication of overtraining. Cortisol, our body’s stress hormone, is released by the adrenal glands in response to physical or mental stressors.
Cortisol is very closely related to our circadian rhythm – our internal alarm clock. Excessive cortisol, from overtraining, or other stressors can have impacts on both sleep quality and duration.
Additionally, central nervous system (CNS) fatigue is a phenomenon in which our neurons shows reduced excitability in reaction to intense exercise, resulting in symptoms such as reduced reaction time, irritability and lack of coordination. (1)
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (or DOMS) is a perfectly normal exercise-induced feeling of soreness or stiffness in muscle tissues. Although the mechanism is not entirely understood, the most common hypotheses include muscle tissue damage to contractile elements, changes in osmotic pressure of the muscular tissue, spasms or any combination of these.
DOMS usually occurs between 12-72 hours post-exercise. However, if you have a constant feeling of soreness (specifically after 72 hours) or can feel persistent inflammation in muscle or joint tissue, it may be time to take a few days off from training.
Although long-term exercise is greatly beneficial for the immune system, demanding and intense workouts may have a short-term detrimental effect on our immune response. If you are regularly catching a cold or the flu, it may be because your immune system is taking the brunt of your training regime. Intense exercise causes a shift in the balance of our immune cells (2) leaving us vulnerable to infection for a short period. Take an extra day of rest if you are feeling unwell, or are regularly catching colds.
If you do not get enough rest between training sessions, you risk the chance of causing injury. Many individuals have persistent injuries, particularly soft tissue damage, which they do not allow to heal, or keep persisting. This may be because you’re not giving it enough time to rest between training sessions or you’re pushing through the pain. Overtraining may increase the likelihood of injury, and may take them longer to heal.
Everybody is different. Our bodies are the result of an infinite number of factors: genes, diet, stress levels, profession, etc. What may be too much training for one individual may not come close to that of another.
C-Reactive Protein, more commonly known as CRP, is an inflammatory marker in the blood. CRP is a plasma protein produced by the liver, in response to cellular stress. CRP is a normal physiological response to stress which increases up to 1000-fold in response to infection, trauma, stress and general inflammation (3). One of the most accurate ways to know if you are overtraining is by measuring CRP level with a high-sensitivity CRP (hsCRP) test. This will give you a personalized, and accurate indication of inflammation and can definitively tell you it’s time to take some days off of training.
Keep inflammation as low as possible while you’re training by eating a healthy diet, getting sufficient sleep and minimizing stress.
1. Davis, J. Mark, and Stephen P. Bailey. “Possible mechanisms of central nervous system fatigue during exercise.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 29.1 (1997): 45-57.
2. Smith, Lucille Lakier. “Overtraining, excessive exercise, and altered immunity.” Sports Medicine 33.5 (2003): 347-364.
3. Machino-Ohtsuka, Tomoko, et al. “Combined assessment of carotid vulnerable plaque, renal insufficiency, eosinophilia, and hs-CRP for predicting risky aortic plaque of cholesterol crystal embolism.” Circulation journal: official journal of the Japanese Circulation Society 74.1 (2010): 51-58.
4. Ridker, Paul M., et al. “C-reactive protein, the metabolic syndrome, and risk of incident cardiovascular events an 8-year follow-up of 14 719 initially healthy American women.” Circulation 107.3 (2003): 391-397.