Once overtraining sets in it may take days, weeks, or even months, to recover completely, since your nervous system has short-circuited. If this is the case, you may have to take an unplanned break from exercising in order to fully recover. So, to avoid this scenario, make sure to train smart and allow your body adequate time to recover.
Sleep is cheap, effective, and so simple a caveman could do it. And it’s something where most people really miss the ball. If you want to double your results and decrease your risk of overtraining, you might want to hit the hay an hour or two earlier. Sleep is so important because it helps repair your body.
Your diet plays a huge role in recovery. Without the proper nutrients, you’re shooting yourself in the foot before the race even begins. You wouldn’t get in your car to drive to work without any gas, or with the wrong fuel, would you? Your body needs quality fuel and empty calories won’t cut it.
To prevent overtraining, you should have an adequate intake of protein, fats, and carbs, which is why many restrictive and fad diets don’t work. I am a firm believer that every meal is important but both your pre-workout and post-workout meals are key for recovery and preventing overtraining symptoms.
One thing rarely taken into account is your body’s stress level. You need to consider both training as well as outside stressors. If everything else is on point, and you are still not achieving results from your program, you might want to give some thought to whether stress is the culprit.
Take someone under deadlines at work, in the process of moving, who discovers they have a sick relative. These are high levels of stress building up and can hinder progress. It might be a good time to take some time off strength training and go for some yoga, meditation, and soft tissue work, all viable options for stress recovery.
Just as training too frequently causes problems, smart training volume prevents them. A good rule of thumb is to train only enough to elicit a training response. Don’t train to the point where it takes 2 weeks to recover from one session.
Rest between heavy lifting sessions as much as possible and avoid training heavy with full body lifts one or two days in a row. Also, you may consider changing up the intensity week to week: train hard and heavy one week, then, the following week, take it back a notch. To maximize results and minimize injury, be sure to progress your workouts slowly, instead of making large jumps in training volume, or intensity. This helps your body to adapt to new stresses.
Depending on your goals and training experience, I also recommend a deload week where you significantly decrease training volume every 4-12 weeks.
Just as I mentioned above, taking at least one or two days in between training sessions helps you recover much faster, but this doesn’t mean you have to stay out of the gym all together.
There are a few activities to try on rest days that will keep you active and help prevent overtraining and injuries. Spending some extra time on a foam roller and doing some proper stretching is never a bad idea. Especially if you work at a desk, you can never spend too much time with the roller.
Non-impact activities like yoga and swimming can also aid in recovery as long as you don’t overdo it. These activities can be considered “active rest” to help rejuvenate your body and flush out toxins. With yoga, focus on the breathing and restful aspects and feel like a million bucks after class.
Now that you’re equipped to spot the most common signs of overtraining, go train hard, train smart, and train with purpose!