The point of exercise is to push our bodies slightly past their abilities – when we let our bodies rest and recover, we will build muscles to compensate. If we push our bodies far beyond their current abilities, we’re at risk of overtraining. Overtraining can lead to serious health consequences.
Overtraining happens when you push your body past its physical limits without letting it rest and recover in between workouts. This can happen by jumping into an overly intense workout or exercising without taking recovery time. Your body heals and builds muscle during rest periods, so without those breaks, your body can’t perform and achieve the results you want.
How Stuff Works uses a tree analogy to describe it: when a tree is blown by the wind, its root structure keeps it in place. After the wind has stopped, the roots will continue to grow and expand the structure, making it stronger and more stable.
If a tree is blown by sustained wind for a long period of time, it could be uprooted. In this analogy, your body is the tree and exercise is the wind.
If you do overtrain, you’re risking some pretty serious stuff:
-Injury – your muscles don’t have a chance to heal, so you’re at risk for recurring or chronic injuries. You’re more at risk for overuse injuries like tendinitis and stress fractures.
-Illness – Your immune system can’t work its best when you’re overtraining, so you may contract more illnesses, which will put even more strain on your weak body.
-Lack of Progress – You’re working out to see results, right? Overtraining can not only stop your progress, it can actually make you lose progress. Your body only builds muscle when it is at rest, so without rest, there’s no muscle building. Makes sense, right? Not only are you not building muscle, you are constantly tearing and re-tearing your muscles.
-Hormonal Changes – Overtraining can lead to some scary hormonal changes in women. Excessive exercise can decrease a woman’s estrogen levels, which can lead to decreased bone density (and eventually osteoporosis) and missed menstrual periods.
If adolescent females overtrain, they risk having decreased bone density for the rest of their lives since those teenage years are prime time for bone development. Fatigue – If you don’t rest, you’re going to be pretty tired. This tiredness will follow you into everyday life. You may also experience muscle soreness that lasts long after the workout.
-Depression – Depression, insomnia, decreased motivation, and lower self-esteem have been linked with overtraining. Some athletes who overtrain may also be irritable or may lose enthusiasm for their activities.
Overtraining offers no benefits – it can actually stop you from making progress. You can’t get a full workout in if you’re already sick or injured, and you won’t feel motivated to stick with an exercise program if you have burned out or feel fatigued.
It’s important to start slow and work your way up to more difficult exercises. If you’re at a gym that encourages you to push through until you throw up, consider switching to another gym or working with a trainer who understands the dangers of overtraining.