Overtraining Signs and Symptoms Explored
Are you feeling a bit down, unmotivated to hit the weights? Do you have problems concentrating on your lifts? Have you experienced sleep disturbances recently? If so, you may be suffering from overtraining syndrome.
Overtraining syndrome can be defined as: a sudden decline in performance and physiological function that cannot be remedied by taking a few days off from the gym, reducing the amount of weight being lifted or by adjusting diet. Overtraining syndrome (OTS) impacts the body builder physiologically and psychologically with presenting symptoms in both areas. OTS is not a result of a body builder working out sick.
Overtraining and Body Builders
At some point along the way, most body builders, weight lifters and gym enthusiasts will experience a certain degree of overtraining syndrome. This happens when a person is trying to add new muscle mass, make new muscle gains or is working through muscle plateaus.
The phenomenon of overtraining syndrome is not unique to body builders. In fact, any athlete who is involved with physical training can find themselves victim to this problem. Body builders and others involved in weight lifting however, seem to struggle a bit more with OTS. This makes sense when you consider the fact that body builders are constantly tearing muscle down and rebuilding it with the goal of creating new growth.
Overtraining Syndrome Signs and Symptoms
Pretty much all of the symptoms from overtraining (aka overtraining syndrome) are subjective in nature and must be balanced in their totality along with other OTS signs and symptoms. I will give you the 8 markers for OTS in a moment but let’s define the term sign and symptom so you know what to look out for.
Sign: An observable feature or characteristic in an individual that suggests a medical issue. Example: A person who has a cold may have a runny nose and persistent cough that others notice. Signs are observation based.
Symptom: Something a person reports to others as part of a condition. Example: A person with a cold may say they feel tired, have a headache and a scratchy throat. Symptoms are self-reported.
Knowing what signs and symptoms can help you as a body builder examine the larger picture of what may be going on with your body so that you can arrive at a more accurate self-diagnosis.
Overtraining: 8 Signs and Symptoms
Keep in mind that usually the first indication of OTS is a decline in physical performance. Commonly, the body builder will sense a loss of muscular strength, coordination and exercise capacity (symptoms). The Big 8 as I like to call them include:
1. Change in appetite;
2. Loss in body weight;
3. Sleep disturbances
4. Irritable mood, anxiety and restlessness
5. Loss of motivation to train
6. Problems focusing and concentrating
7. Feelings of depression and;
8. Anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure)
Overtraining Syndrome: The Spiral
Some bodybuilders overtrain out of a misbelief that more workouts produces more results, as in bigger muscle growth. As their results begin to diminish, a paradox takes place where the body builder will work out even harder in an effort to compensate and move past a perceived plateau. This is where the body builder OTS spiral takes place, pushing the lifter further and further into full on overtraining syndrome.
Some of the signs include people noticing that you seem irritable or “not yourself”. Others may remark that you look tired and worn out, probably as a result of you not getting enough sleep. Workout buddies may ask if you have lost weight, which usually can be attributed to a loss of appetite. See how the signs and symptoms work?
Overtraining Syndrome: Recovery
This is the part you will probably not like to read. Recovery from overtraining syndrome is only possible when you take time off from the gym all together and focus on self care. Some coaches and personal trainers will suggest a few days of light training as opposed to heavy training as a remedy. In my experience, this well intentioned advice is simply not right.
It is important to note there is a difference between muscle fatigue and overtraining syndrome. With muscle fatigue, your muscles are having problems generating force. With overtraining syndrome, your entire body is affected, meaning physiological and psychological issues are taking place across the spectrum.
How Much Time Off?
Generally speaking, a bodybuilder who is struggling with overtraining syndrome should take a minimum of 7 days off from the gym but 14 days is ideal. During this break, this means no going in to the gym for cardio, no popping in to do light reps and no “quick workouts” on a machine.
Time off from the gym means just that – time off. This is easier said than done because working out on a regular and for some, daily basis, is part of a deeply ingrained, ritualized pattern for lifters. In plain speak, working out is part of their routine and by extension, their identity.
Some body builders will find that counseling may be necessary to help them understand the root cause of why they regularly push themselves beyond their limits. Underlying issues may be part of the OTS mix, including body image issues and challenges around self-esteem. Finding a counselor who practices humanistic psychology can be helpful as part of a long term strategy for wellness and OTS prevention.
It goes without saying that any or all of the symptoms associated with overtraining syndrome can be linked to a medical problem. It is for this reason that body builders and other athletes should get examined by their doctor to rule out potential medical causes for this condition. Individuals with pre-existing health problems, such as a compromised immune system, may be more susceptible to OTS than others.
Taking a mindfulness based approach to body building can be an effective way to prevent and work through overtraining syndrome. I am including a book recommendation here to help so that you can incorporate elements of mindfulness into your approach to body building and wellness. There is also a poll below for you to register your own experiences with OTS and compare them to your fellow body builders.