Exercising is great and has some amazing benefits for your body. However, there are some principles to follow and monitor before exercise becomes too much and leads to overreaching or overtraining.
Post-exercise recovery is one of the fundamental principles of a successful training regime. You need it between exercise sessions to maximise progress in performance. Intense exercise leads to fatigue, body temperature changes, dehydration and muscle tear which are things that must be restored post-exercise.
In this post, we will look at the principles of exercise, overtraining and recovery tips, so make sure to stay with us until the end to get all the information you need.
Different types of training
Strength training refers to increasing strength of your muscle but not necessarily increasing the size of your muscle mass. Have you ever seen a leaner person lifting just as heavy weights as a person three times their size? It is simply a different way of training. To perform strength training correctly, you need to know what your 1REP MAX is so you can progressively overload from that. Your sets and reps should be limited to high sets and low reps so you can lift heavier weights. For instance, 4-5 sets of 2-3 reps.
Building muscle refers to increasing muscle mass but not necessarily strength, you will increase strength by default as you lift heavier weights. However, your strength won’t increase in line with your muscle mass. Normally what happens is your muscle mass will grow faster than your strength. Therefore, your strength won’t increase as well as a person who performs strength training unless you incorporate strength training into your regime. For example, You could do a couple of weeks of muscle building and then do 1 week of strength training, then you can just cycle between the two types of training. If you are looking to build muscle your sets should be moderate to high and reps should remain low to moderate. For instance, 3 sets of 12 reps or 5 sets of 8 reps.
A definition of cardiovascular endurance training remains in the capability to perform a high intensity or low intensity exercise for more than 20 minutes at a time. For example, a metafit class, running, cycling or any type of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). These kinds of exercises put your heart, breathing and ability to push yourself under test. Cardiovascular endurance is also the kind of exercise that you’d use if you are looking to lose weight and tone up your body. For instance, it is impossible to run or cycle without using your muscle, any type of movement you perform will use muscle. Therefore, if you do any kind of cardiovascular endurance, you are likely to build lean muscle and lose body fat which can tone up your body. Another example of endurance training is weight lifting but with low sets and high reps. For example, 2 sets of 20-25 reps.
Depending on the kind of goal you have in mind will determine how much you will need to exercise. There are other things to take into consideration, like your health conditions and your fitness level. It is not recommended attempting any kind of exercise that if considered to be athlete level if you are a beginner. It can be dangerous and increases the risk of injuries.
Moreover, if your goal is to build muscle or build strength, it has been said that the optimum amount of times to exercise the same muscle groups is twice a week. Just to provide a little more guidance, if you exercise legs on day 1, you should take 24-72 hours rest before training legs again in order to make the most of your exercise. This does not mean that you should exercise twice a week but rather alternate between the muscle groups you are using. For example, between your resting periods for legs, you can train your shoulders, arms or back. Most bodybuilders exercise 7 days a week to ensure they cover all muscle groups twice a week or every 4 days. However, to avoid overtraining, it may be worth starting out with 2-3 training days a week and build your resistance from there. Taking 1-2 days’ worth of rest a week is recommended.
Whereas cardiovascular endurance is quite different. Unless you lift weights like we mentioned earlier to tone up, you don’t need the same resting period as a person who lifts weights on a regular basis. Cardiovascular endurance is said to dissolve just after 2-3 days compared to muscle gains, which takes more than 3 weeks. Therefore, if you want to improve your endurance or at least maintain it, it is recommended to do cardio every second or third day.
Training frequency is easy to recommend if you know the basic guidelines, but you need to check with yourself if you are able to perform this amount of exercise. You can simply build it up slowly by doing physical activity for 30mins every couple of days and then increase the duration of exercise, the intensity and frequency. Don’t just follow these guidelines because as these may be unrealistic depending on your fitness level.
Training can turn into overtraining when the intensity or duration increases but recovery time remains inadequate.
When it comes to training, you need to listen to your body to avoid overtraining. You need to recognise days when you need a rest, if you exercise too much you may experience under-recovery and over-reaching. Both can cause build-up of stress which leads to temporary impairment of performance capacity. If you reach this stage, your body may actually force you to take 1-3 months’ worth of rest to restore performance capacity. We wrote another post that discusses exercise breaks, have a look as it goes into depth of how long is too long.
Moreover, how can overtraining happen? Many people believe that overtraining occurs if you train too much or train too hard. However, you could feel the symptoms of overtraining if you exercise regularly but don’t sleep well or eat enough calories so your energy levels dip. So, overtraining can actually occur by lack of proper nutrition too.
Overtraining vs overreaching
Overtraining is more serious than overreaching. Overtraining occurs when you exercise like a mad man and don’t consume adequate nutrition, and your body may require months to recover. Whereas overreaching is just a short-term decline in performance due to over exercising and inadequate nutrition or rest. Overreaching can be resolved after just a few days of rest, for example 3-7 days’ worth.
Overtraining vs Overlifting
We have already defined overtraining but another term that is worth mentioning is overlifting. Overlifting occurs when a person tries to lift heavier weights than their strength capacity. This increases the risk of injury like muscle tear, breaking of bones and connective tissues (ligaments and tendons). Do not confuse overtraining with overlifting because you can overtrain whilst lifting the correct amount of weights.
Symptoms of overtraining
Overtraining prevents muscle growth
Overtraining can prevent muscle growth because it will limit their ability to recover. When you exercise, your muscle get torn and broken down which means they will require some time to recover. However, if you continue to exercise and putting torn muscles under strain, your body won’t manage to recover these in time for the next training session. This can lead to muscle loss in certain circumstances because your body won’t manage to replenish nutrients and glycogen stores which are essential for muscle growth and recovery.
There was a study done by Xiao et al (2012) that looked into the effects of overtraining on muscle growth. The study found that overtraining caused prolonged muscle inflammation which inhibited muscle growth. In ordinary training circumstances, your muscles get inflamed for a couple of hours post-exercise, but it seems that over training extends the inflammation period which may also suggest that you may experience prolonged muscle soreness.
Another study done by Pereira et al (2016) also looked into the effects of excessive training on muscle growth. It was found that the muscle struggled to replenish its nutrient stores after 40 hours post-exercise. Overtraining is similar, it is excessive training over a prolonged period. This study suggests that over training can slow down the replenishment of nutrients to the muscle so recovery can take longer.
With that being said, overtraining does not necessarily shrink muscles but it can certainly prevent muscle growth.
Overtraining causes irritability
Another reason why overtraining is bad for you is because it can lead to irritability. There was a study done by Fry et al (1994) that looked into the effects of overtraining and psychological factors. There were 5 men who undertook two intensive training sessions twice a day for 10 days. The performance was also measured, and it was reported that all men entered the over-trained state and their performance capabilities significantly reduced. Regarding the psychological effects, the study reported that participants experienced severe fatigue, mood disturbances, sleep difficulties, reduced appetite and immune system issues. All these effects significantly contributed towards feeling of irritability.
Illness and sickness is a common occurrence amongst over-trained people
When a person exercises regularly their immune system will fluctuate because the body will be focusing on recovering and fixing muscles, this may cause a temporary neglect to protecting the body against bacteria and viruses. This is what happens when you exercise regularly, so imagine what happens when you overtrain… your immune system will become depressed and you may experience flu like symptoms. A study done by Schwellnus et al (2016) found that overtraining can increase the risk contracting a cold or illness. This study monitored symptoms of illness and immune function amongst athletes, and it was reported that overtraining significantly increased the risk of contracting a cold or flu. Some participants experienced fatigue, myalgia, headache and fever symptoms.
At this point it is also important to know that this study found that no exercise or infrequent exercise is associated with a higher risk of illness compared to moderate training, and high training or over training is associated with the highest risk of illness than moderate training. Therefore, the information suggests that if you are looking to avoid illness or flue like symptoms, you should exercise regularly but don’t push yourself too hard. However, if you are already experiencing these symptoms, take 3-5 days’ rest to help your immune system recover.
Overtraining leads to de-motivation, fatigue and depression
When you overtrain you can maintain your motivation, but if you push yourself too hard… you are likely to burn out and feel de-motivated. That is when overtraining becomes too much, and if this occurs, you are likely to devaluate your fitness goals and express cynicism. As a result, a vicious cycle begins… when you burn out your athletic performance may dramatically decline, and this may cause feelings of helplessness, bouts of depression and sleep deprivation (Lemyre et al, 2007). It will also be very difficult if not impossible, to get back into your routine unless you give yourself a few days of rest. The amount of rest required will depend on you, your body, and fitness level and how hard you’ve pushed yourself. Normally, a recovery period of 3-5 days may suffice but sometimes longer rest time is required.
Overtraining may lower testosterone
Exercising regularly will not cause testosterone levels to drop but overtraining may have some adverse effects. So, there was a study done by Cadegiani et al (2019) which looked into the effects of overtraining on biochemical factors. The study found that regular exercise increases testosterone, improves sleep quality, improves psychological performance, and even helps with fat burning. However, the moment that a person becomes overtrained, all those factors significantly dropped.
Another 2019 study done by Cadegiani looked a little further into the effects of overtraining on testosterone, and it was found that people who overtrained experienced decreased levels of testosterone. With that being said, more research may be required but at this moment all research seems to point in the same direction- overtraining reduces testosterone levels. When testosterone levels are lowered, a person may struggle to build muscle mass compared to a person with ordinary or high levels of testosterone.
Erectile dysfunction may be a symptom of overtraining
If you are unfamiliar with an erectile dysfunction, it is a recurring or persisting condition where a man is unable to achieve or maintain an erection. The causes of erectile dysfunction may underlie a little deeper but in most cases, the causes originate from nervousness, diabetes and obesity. There are no current studies that truly prove that overtraining can cause erectile dysfunction. However, we have seen people experiencing low libido and erectile dysfunction as a result of overtraining. Therefore, this effect can be pinned down to fatigue and bouts of mood swings. If you are fatigued or experiencing flu like symptoms, you are less likely to feel sexual desires. This is simply our guess, but we will update this post the moment we have some reliable information.
If you experience any of the above symptoms, it’s recommended to take rest and consume a high carb-diet to restore your energy levels.
Recovery tips are not limited to physical rest, you can also promote recovery through nutrition too.
Nutritional recovery tips
Exercise causes a lot of water loss and may lead to dehydration. In turn, this may lead to changes in blood volume, organ function and muscle contraction. Therefore, it is vital that water is restored post exercise to allow muscles and organs to recover and be ready for the next exercise session. To measure how much water you have lost during exercise, simply weigh yourself before and after the exercise. The weight loss is more likely to be water, and 1 litre of water weighs 1kg.
Glycogen is a form of energy storage in muscle and liver cells. Glycogen is created from glucose (sugars) when blood sugar levels are high, and serves as an energy source when blood sugars become low. Exercise tears muscle in order to strengthen and rebuild them bigger. When muscle damage occurs, your body may struggle to replenish the glycogen levels, and this is important for better muscle contraction. In order to replenish glycogen levels, it is recommended to consume 0.7g of carbohydrate per 1kg of body weight per hour for 24 hours. Consuming carbohydrate immediately after exercise is just as important as consuming protein, and the first 2 hours are vital in replenishing glycogen levels.
One TIP we have here is to consume high GI carbohydrates as these replenish muscle glycogen faster (Burke et al, 1993). These foods include potatoes, white bread and rice.
Consume more protein to drive muscle recovery
It is vital to consume a high protein meal within 45 minutes post-workout because that is within the anabolic window. To define the anabolic window, it is worth understanding that when you consume protein outside the 45 minutes post-workout, you are simply consuming calories. When proteins are ingested they will take a structure that will determine their function within the body. For instance, proteins are not just involved in muscle building, they are also vital for plenty other processes like keeping your hair and skin healthy. You can check out the protein functions here. Nevertheless, if you consume proteins within 45 minutes post-workout, your body will signal for them to take a structure of Leucine and other amino acids that will support muscle recovery. This is your anabolic window.
Physical recovery tips
Stretch to promote recovery
Stretching is often the most neglected segment of training. Flexibility is important as it allows for a whole range of motion of the muscle and joints, but also keeps muscles more pliable and prevents injury. In addition to these benefits, stretching improves circulation and encourages muscle relaxation. Incorporate a stretching routine during a warm-up or a cool down to help blood flow through the muscles to help them relax and recover.
TIPS for stretching – Hold a stretch for at least 10 seconds, then as you become more flexible increase the duration to 20-60 seconds.
Recover fast with a massage
Massage and stretching together have a great effect post-exercise. It is said that massage and stretching can do the following:
- Increases range of motion so you can perform exercise with a better form
- Regulates skin and muscle temperature
- Improves blood flow
- Relieves cramps and muscle soreness
There is a study done by Dupuy et al (2018) that found massage was the most effective method for reducing and delaying muscle soreness and fatigue post-exercise.
Wear compression garments to encourage muscle recovery
Compression garments are pieces of clothing that are skin tight, and these are becoming popular amongst certain athletes. The previous study we mentioned that was done by Dupuy et al (2018) also found that wearing compression garments can reduce muscle soreness and fatigue by improving blood circulation. The better blood circulation the better muscle recovery. Therefore, compression garments may offer some recovery support.
Sleep to recover
Sleep is vital for post-exercise recovery, and it has shown to significantly improve recovery and athletic performance. There was a study done by Bonnar et al (2018) that looked into the effects of sleep on deprived athletes. The study found that sleep quality can improve physical performance, reaction times, overall mood and fatigue. Some of the most famous bodybuilders will take regular naps pre and post exercise to help them recover before they are due to their next training session. There are plenty of other research that shows the positive effects of sleep on athletic performance and recovery and they all point the same direction- to fully recover, you need to sleep. A little tip here, make sure you have a good quality mattress to support a good night sleep as well. There is nothing better than waking up refreshed with no back aches!
Ice Baths may impair muscle recovery
Recent studies suggest that ice baths and cooling are NOT necessarily good for muscle recovery. The reason why we are including this method within this article is to raise awareness. Previously, ice baths were marketed to be amazing for post exercise because they reduce your temperature, blood flow and inflammation in tissues, and of course reducing the swelling and pain of muscle. However, a recent study done by Fuchs et al (2019) found that cooling post-exercise impaired muscle protein synthesis. Muscle protein synthesis normally occurs during the anabolic window post-exercise, and it is vital for continuous muscle growth and maintenance, and repair. It is essentially the process through which our muscle obtains its protein requirements. Therefore, if ice baths is a recovery method you currently use, it may be worth reconsidering.
From us to you!
We hope that this article was useful in helping you identify symptoms of overtraining and understand what you can do to speed up your recovery. Don’t underestimate the power of recovery, exercise breaks that are done correctly will only contribute towards your fitness goals so don’t be afraid to take a day or two per week to help you progress further. Don’t forget to comment below to let us know what method you’re going to use! Also, sign up to our newsletter to download 20 nutrition and exercise tips as well as 6 fat loss recipes. Sign up below!
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