As tough of a Mudder as you might be, your body still needs some R&R if you want to get tougher, stronger, and faster. Neglect recovery for too long and you’ll sink into a pit of overtraining that’s harder to get out of than a 5ft deep mud pit at mile 8. That’s why it’s incredibly important to get familiar with the signs of overtraining.
The truth is, you don’t have to be a jogging 100 miles or spending 10+ hours in the gym a week to get slapped in the face with overtraining. When you are training you are essentially causing trauma to your body; every time you exercise you are creating micro-tears in your muscles, which grow back stronger when they repair. Without proper rest, there is not enough time for the muscles to grow back stronger. Without allowing our bodies to rest and heal we’re in danger of damaging our muscles. This can cause inflammation, soreness and fatigue – the three worst words anyone training ever hears.
Whether you’re gearing up for your first ever Tough Mudder, training for the endurance series, or preparing for the World’s Toughest Mudder. It’s easy to get caught up on focusing where, when and what your next workout is going to be. But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Studies show that in order to prevent overtraining you must remember that rest is just as important as reps.
8 Signs of Overtraining
Here are 8 common signs of overtraining and some of the symptoms you should be on the look-out for.
1. Your resting heart rate is elevated.
Take your pulse (in Beats Per Minute-BPM) at the start of the day (about 5 to 10 minutes after waking) to find out what’s normal for you. An elevated resting heart rate is a sign of stress, related to the imposed demand of training. If your heart rate it higher than normal, it could be because your body is pumping more oxygen to the recovering tissue in effort to heal the micro-torn muscles. As a guide, an elevated heart rate typically sits above 10 beats per minute.
As well as knowing your BPM you should keep track of your heart rate variability (HRV), which is the space and time between heartbeats. Even if the BPM is the same as usual, the space between the BPM, the HRV, can be different. A low HRV is an indication that you should take a rest day. While a high HRV is a sign that your body is ready to go out and get it. While BPM can be measured with simple counting, measuring your HRV needs to be done with a heart rate monitor, Garmin, or even a phone app like Elite HRV.
2. You’re tired.
New onset insomnia or common sleep disturbances are also signs of overtraining. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep it could be because your central nervous system is overstimulated from trying to heal your muscles. If you don’t sleep well or long enough consistently for a few days, your reaction time, immunity, cognitive functions, and endurance will decrease- not what you want. Two rest days in a row should be enough to reset the body back into a normal sleep schedule and cycle.
3. You’re moody.
Whether you’re hitting the gym, walking outside on a scorching day, or working out at home, you may notice that your mood improves as soon as you get moving. But overtraining has the opposite effect. You’ll begin to feel mentally fatigued, as if you have a mild hangover or head cold. If overtraining happens for a prolonged period of time, it could even lead to depression due to prolonged stress on the central nervous and hormone system. However, overtraining is a gradual thing. If you’re in-tune with your body, you should realise that there are changes coming about (for example, a bad night of sleep or uncharacteristic moodiness), and you can add in an extra rest day.
4. You’re sick.
Regular exercise can help boost your immune system. But too much of it can compromise your health and lead to illness. The process of overtraining means your body is in a “continual catabolic state,” which lowers immunity and increases chances of coming down with a cold.
5. You’re always sore.
Athletes and Mudders tend to block out signs of fatigue thinking it will make them faster, stronger and tougher. And while a bit of muscle soreness is totally normal at the start of a new exercise routine, you shouldn’t be feeling constantly sore. Studies show that muscles need anywhere from 24-72 hours to recover.
Soreness is your body’s way of telling you to that it needs more energy to repair and recover. DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) typically lasts one to three days. This could be from overtraining, or just a generally poorly programmed workout regime. The solution for consistent soreness is to take rest days and find the recovery protocols that work for you.
6. You’ve had a few “bad” workouts in a row.
A “bad” workout is subjective. But if you’ve been doing the same or similar workout to what you always do, and you felt slow or weak, it’s a sign you’ve been over training. For example, if you regularly crank out a 9-minute mile, or 12 reps of a 10 kg bicep curl, but for some reason you’re puffing at your usual pace, or weight, it’s a sign you’re in need of some rest.
7. You’re not getting any stronger.
Has your body stopped changing in spite of your best efforts? If so, you may be overtraining. If you’ve hit a plateau and haven’t made improvements in your fitness in terms of endurance, strength, or flexibility, then your body needs rest. When you’re overtraining, your body is going in the opposite direction of growth. Your muscles are torn and all you’re doing is re-tearing them again, which doesn’t give them proper time to heal and get stronger.
8. You feel that you need a rest day.
As a general rule, you should take 1-2 off days a week to recover. Sadly there is no magic formula for rest days per person, per week. The best way to tell you need a rest day is to listen to your body and keep an eye out for signs of overtraining. If you find you’re dreading your workout, feel worn down, or have an inclination that you might be overdoing it, take a rest day.
Asking yourself these three questions is a good way to tell: ‘Did you sleep for 7 hours without waking up in the middle of the night?’ ‘Do you want to train today?’ ‘Are you in a good mood?’ If you answer “Yes” for 2 out of 3 questions, you are ready to sweat.
Even for the toughest Mudder, the key is to train smarter NOT harder. If you have a hard time taking time off, reframe “rest day” as “recovery day”. Your recovery day doesn’t need to be filled with pizza, Netflix, and a tracksuit; instead fill your recovery day with yoga, Pilates, a light jog, a short swim, or even meditation.