You may be wondering if the major fatigue you experience after working out is normal. Read on to find out the causes of overtraining, the symptoms to watch for and how to remedy them.
Major or minor fatigue?
Geneviève Asselin-Demers, a 28-year-old marathon runner who has practised many sports since childhood, has already suffered from overtraining. “I was doing my bachelor’s degree. I did not yet know myself and began to relieve my exam-related stress through exercise. At one point, it became a vicious circle. I could no longer sleep because I was stressed out by exams, so I went to the gym more often, which meant that I spent less time at home, and so … I slept less! […] I was no longer able to recover.”
According to Myriam Paquette, an exercise physiologist for top athletes at the Institut national du sport du Québec, it is not easy to identify the exact moment when overtraining occurs, because it is a condition that evolves over time.
“I would say it is symptoms of acute fatigue that become chronic and gradually lead us to overtrain. [In this sense], we can define it as a buildup of fatigue cycles without enough recovery.”
For example, if you train very hard, your body responds by improving its physical abilities faced with the stress of training. You then feel an acute but beneficial fatigue, and you recover in two or three days.
In the case of overtraining, you tire yourself out too much. The recovery time is very long and you achieve no positive effect.
Overtraining can result from several factors. Here are the most common:
- Training load is too high
“We must understand that in a week of training, only one or two sessions should be difficult, while the others should be recovery sessions, therefore easier,” says Myriam Paquette.
A rapid increase in training frequency and the failure to allow yourself at least one full day of rest per week may also contribute to overtraining.
- External stress
“Sometimes, the training load has not changed, but you still overtrain. It could be because of an external factor, family- or work-related stress. We must understand that fatigue does not only result from training,” the expert points out.
That is what happened to Geneviève Asselin-Demers. “For me, it was not so much my training load as it was my workload and external stress load,” she explains.
Early warning signs
According to Myriam Paquette, the signs of overtraining can vary greatly. However, they can be divided into two main categories:
- The first presents itself as an activation of the system. You feel anxious, you have trouble sleeping and your heart rate is high, even at rest.
- The second is characterized by a slowing of the metabolism. You have little energy, you are unmotivated and your heart rate is lower.
As a result, you should get to know yourself and identify what your warning symptoms are.
However, the physiologist reminds us that these two signs do not lie:
- A decline in performance
- A change in mood
“They do not automatically indicate you are overtraining, but that you need to change something, that maybe you are moving in that direction.”
This is also one of the symptoms that alerted the 28-year-old athlete. “I am not a ‘cry-baby’ by nature. At one point, I realized I was crying for absolutely no reason. Someone could tell me rain was forecast for the next day and I would get emotional. I did not understand. I told myself something was wrong.”
What’s the remedy?
“If you are not quite at the point of overtraining and it is mainly a buildup of fatigue, you should reduce the number or duration of your weekly sessions by half,” Myriam Paquette suggests. So for one to two weeks, experts recommend that you significantly reduce your training load, and then resume gradually.
In the case of a diagnosis of overtraining, the physiologist suggests that you stop training completely for a few weeks, and then resume gradually. You should also follow the advice of your physician or specialist.
Finally, if overtraining is due to external factors, you should try to act on them as much as possible. “I make no secret of it. I had to see a psychologist. Once I put the finger on the problem, it was difficult, because it is a vicious circle that I had fallen into. I had to give up a drug (endorphin, which is actually a hormone) that is good for my health and I needed!” Geneviève admits.
The marathoner made sure to return to a healthy lifestyle, get enough sleep and eat a balanced diet. Above all, she transformed her relationship with training: “I changed my pace of life. My reasons for going to the gym changed. Before, I went there more to get away than to do myself good […] Now, I look at the positive side of working out, the benefits it brings to my body, rather than use it as an escape.”