Less is more: how to avoid overtraining

Too much of a good thing can be not-so-great - and working out is no exception!

When applied correctly, exercise is a great tool to improve both physical and mental health, help you achieve body composition goals and become stronger!

It’s also true that unfortunately, many people do not exercise nearly enough to reap these benefits.

However, there’s also the other end of the spectrum, where we get bombarded by messages such as “no pain no gain”, “go hard or go home”, and “just do it”, no matter how tired or overwhelmed you are. In fitness circles, working out for hours on end, skipping rest days or pushing yourself to your absolute limits every single day is often validated - after all, the more you do, the better, right?..

As a result, we've been getting lots of emails and messages asking how much exercise one must add on top of their pre-planned workouts to boost progress.

While we really love seeing our clients working hard towards their goals, 3-hour long training sessions is really not what we had in mind! So today, we really wanted to have a chat about why exercising too much can be detrimental for your progress, as well as provide tips on training better, not more!

Overtraining, explained

If you’re someone exercising regularly, ask yourself:

  • Have you been incredibly sore lately, particularly experiencing one-sided soreness?
  • Do workouts take up a very large chunk of your time 5-6 times a week, despite not being a professional athlete?
  • Do you find yourself dreading workouts as opposed to looking forward to them?
  • If any of those are true, you may be overtraining - meaning your body may be under too much stress from your current exercise routine.


While any exercise is technically a stressor, when performed in appropriate amounts, this stress tends to be “good” - promoting adaptation, improved endurance and muscle growth. However, if you’re exercising too much, too intensely, or both, the body doesn’t get any chance to repair and recover, and the next time you train, you’re basically wearing yourself out even further.

Hence, other common signs of overtraining appear, such as:

  • Decreased performance - even though you keep training and applying progressive overload, your results don’t get any better. On the contrary, you find yourself not being able to lift as much, push as hard, etc.
  • Tiredness and fatigue - on top of performance decrements, you may also experience weird tiredness, despite supposedly maintaining a healthy routine
  • Irritability and mood swings - with even the littlest inconveniences suddenly becoming a huge deal.
  • Sleep problems - even if you spend 7-8 hours in bed, you may not feel rested and experience troubles falling asleep, frequent wakings or even nightmares. 
  • Reduced appetite - often manifesting as a general loss of interest in foods, even your favourite treats.
  • Frequent injuries - which often include sprains, strains and back aches, even when working with loads that you consider light to moderate. 

Effects of overtraining can also be detrimental to your body composition goals - you will find it incredibly difficult to achieve any change, being that reducing body fat % or gaining muscle. This can cause a sudden plateau that you can’t seem to overcome - and a frequent reaction to this is adding even more exercise, which only worsens the situation.

Below are some tips to help you achieve balance, if the above sounds familiar!

Don’t train more - train better

Remember - unless you’re an athlete undergoing extensive, meticulously programmed training for a specific event, you really DON’T need to exercise for hours on end to achieve your goals!

Instead of training more, we would much prefer you to train better - here are some tips for achieving that:

  • Increase your training volume gradually. For example, if you’re completely new to training, start with 3-4 sessions a week, max, before jumping into a full 5-6 day split. You can still stay active on your rest days - just opt for low impact activities, such as a long walk or social sports.
  • Adjust the number of training sessions to suit your lifestyle. If you’re someone who works a really active job or has to endure long shifts regularly, 6 sessions per week may not be a realistic expectation - and it’s completely fine.
  • Focus on the main workout that’s programmed into your training. Sis, trust us - you don’t need 5 activation circuits, a double full body session and 2 extra sets of core exercises to accompany your workouts! This just tires you up and takes way too much time without giving you an opportunity to focus on that main workout block.
  • Complete your workout at a time of the day that works best for your body. While many people prefer exercising in the morning, others find that it completely wears them down - and vice versa. Do what works best for you!
  • Address any signs indicating your body may require extra rest. From a lighter workout to a complete break, there are several options when it comes to letting your body regroup and recover.
  • And while we’re at it - rest days are NOT optional! Have at least one a week to avoid lasting negative effects.

    Conclusion

    Always remember: the aim of your health and fitness journey is looking after yourself. Overdoing it to the point of feeling physically ill for days on end certainly isn’t self-care!

    Keep pushing hard - but remember that sometimes, less is more, so long as it’s done better!