As with so many things, when it comes to the wonderful world of exercise, more is not more. It can be tempting to go all out in the gym (even the home gym) and leave little room for recovery; you want results, and you probably want them fast! But pushing harder is not always the way to go.
In fact, overtraining and little to no recovery can leave you significantly more prone to injury. It can also lead to a serious problem called overtraining syndrome (or exercise fatigue).
Here are five signs you may be suffering from OTS and need to take a rest day (or two).
One of the most coveted benefits of exercising is mood improvement. In the words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” The girl’s not wrong. When you exercise, your body not only produces endorphins, but also a whole host of other mood-balancing neurotransmitters, like norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Regular physical activity also helps your body consistently balance stress hormones, like epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. Overtraining, however, can exhaust these systems, creating an imbalance in stress hormones and producing an effect opposite to the one our friend, Ms. Woods, explained.
Restlessness and Insomnia
The chemical reactions that are triggered while you’re physically active aren’t contained to an exercise bout. Regular exercise actually improves your body’s ability to regulate critical neurotransmitters at rest as well. Because of the aforementioned effect overtraining can have on stress hormone balance, it’s not uncommon for exercisers who are pushing too hard to experience restlessness and/or have trouble getting to sleep at night.
Elevated Resting Heart Rate
Your resting heart rate (RHR) is measured by the number of times your heart beats in one minute while you’re at rest. With regular exercise, the heart becomes stronger and more flexible, which means fewer heartbeats are needed to perform various activities, leading to a decrease in RHR. A spike in resting heart rate may mean that the body is being overtaxed and the heart is having to work harder to keep all biological systems firing.
Extended Recovery Time and Delayed Results
It’s commonly believed that fitness gains happen during exercise, but that’s simply not true. What many overlook is that exercise is actually a form of stress, which inflicts microtears and other small traumas to muscles. Sounds kind of scary, right? Not if you recover correctly!
Exercise is a form of eustress, which literally translates to “good stress.” Recovery periods allow your muscles to repair themselves, healing up the microtears and getting rid of lactic acid build-up. It’s during this process that muscles become stronger for the next exercise bout and for life in general! If you don’t take proper rest periods, your muscles do not have that time to repair and strengthen, which can result in soreness, lower glycogen replenishment, decreased ATP production*, and more.
Higher Perceived Rate of Exertion Than Usual
Perceived rate of exertion (PRE) is a subjective scale that describes how hard a particular activity feels to you. PRE varies greatly from one person to the next, but if you’re noticing that activities that used to be quite easy are taking more time or effort, your body may be telling you it’s time to slow down or take a break.
It’ll take you many times as long to see the results you’re after if you don’t give your body time to repair after bouts of eustress.
xx, The FabFitFun Team
*ATP stands for adenosine triphosphate, which is a chemical compound that provides energy for many bodily functions, like muscle contraction!