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Seeking Balance & Listening to Your Body to Avoid Overtraining

Learning how to listen to your body and find the balance between pushing hard towards your goals and getting enough rest is an invaluable skill in the life-journey of fitness.

By MMF Ambassador Sarah Kane

I have a "Type A" personality: driven to want to do more, be better, and hit goals! I feel if I put in more effort I will get the results I'm after. Unfortunately for me, that is not always the best approach, either physically or mentally.

Over my 10+ years of running, I have gone from a typical 3-5 day a week workout schedule with two solid rest days, all the way to a schedule that had me running almost daily plus doing cross training most days (yes, that's double workout days!). I had the mindset that more running and more cross training had to equal better and faster.

But more isn’t always better.

At the beginning of 2020, my physical goals included racing six different long-distance races this year. I like to spread out my races and focus on improvement and follow a training plan that works up to race day. I made a training plan that included increasing my running days while keeping my morning strength/cross training workouts.

Then, as you guessed, my spring races were cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19. But I decided to continue with my plan anyway and just log a virtual half marathon. In those weeks of uncertainty and high anxiety all around, I was thankful for the structure the plan provided. Come "race day," I thought I would do well.

My virtual race day was sunny and warm (upper 70s), and I didn’t start until 9am. I even had a family member meet me on their bike to be my mobile water stops so I could run it like a real race. I was feeling really good the first 10K, but then my legs wouldn’t turn over. I faced the decision to either push myself to heat exhaustion or slow down. I listened to my body and slowed down so I could finish, but I completed it much slower than I was expecting.

I came to the realization that I had overtrained and was not properly rested for this race. The increase in workout days had the opposite effect I'd been hoping for. So I did the, for me, unthinkable: I scaled back my workouts and runs.

Since then, my body doesn't feel as beat up, I have more energy both on running days and during cross-training, and the scale even dropped a few pounds!

Everyone is different, so it’s important to focus on what feels right FOR YOU. But overtraining is a real thing! The obvious signs are chronic injury and continuous muscle soreness, but sometimes it can be as simple as poor performance.

When you think you need to push harder to reach your goals, maybe you actually need to evaluate your rest!

Here are a few telling signs that you might be overtraining.

5 Sneaky Warning Signs of Overtraining

1. Fitness plateaus

It seems counter intuitive, but if you have plateaued in your progress (be it strength gains, faster running time, or weight loss), the answer might be to back up, not go harder. Remember, muscle growth actually happens during rest, not during training! If you never let your body recover properly, you can't make progress.

2. Changes in personality

Depression is a widely recognized sign of overtraining. You might feel irritable or depressed, or suddenly find you have difficulty focusing, you’re less productive at work, and easily agitated.

3. Extreme changes in appetite and thirst

Of course you would understand being thirsty while working out, but are you still thirsty long afterward? Your body might be in a catabolic state (aka breaking down tissue) which places more demand on your body and includes a great need for hydration. Oddly enough, overtraining can also cause a LOSS of appetite due to hormonal imbalances.

4. Insomnia or restlessness

Getting enough sleep should be an integral part of your recovery plan. But overtraining can cause overproduction of stress hormones which make it hard to get a deep, restful sleep.

5. Extreme fatigue

Sometimes you just hit it hard and are a little more tired for a few days. But if you never give your body a chance to fully recover, the fatigue accumulates and becomes chronic. Don't be afraid to throw in an unplanned rest day if you are tired! If you find you are tired a lot, take an honest look at your training plan to see whether you need to scale back, increase your nutritional intake, or build in more purposeful recovery/stress reducing time.

Motivation comes from momentum, so I know how hard it is to take a rest day, skip a workout, or reduce mileage, but sometimes that is just what your body needs. Learn to listen to your body and you'll be in it for the long haul!

Do you have experience overtraining? Comment below or send us a message!

Sarah is an avid runner and a MMF Ambassador. Follow her online and on Facebook or Instagram.

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