What exactly are the exercise burnout symptoms? How do you know you're overtraining? And why should you deal with it at soon as possible?
In this post, I speak from my experience and share other women's experience on overtraining. I'm sure that many (not all) of the symptoms are same for men too, but obviously I don't have that experience 🙂
Exercising too much can cause various health problems. Before we get to them, here's an important thing to know: Overtraining isn’t something that happens to just those who work out 2 hours a day…
Overtraining may occur even if you workout much less than that, and even if you don’t think you're doing too much physical activity. But it’s important that you pay attention to your overtraining symptoms and deal with them, the sooner, the better.
Can You Overtrain Accidentally?
I don't think anyone messes their health up on purpose… training hard is motivated by wanting to look better, be healthier or boost our confidence. None of which is inherently a bad thing.
Most women who overtrain think they’re doing the right thing by being very active and watching their food intake to make sure they’re not over eating and that they're working out a lot. Seeing positive changes keeps them going and is addictive, and they don't even notice when they go too far and burn ourselves out, mentally (feeling bored, experiencing lack of motivation, grumpiness) and physically (missing periods, anyone? and a host of other symptoms!).
Be Honest With Yourself: Are You Exercising Too Much?
There are actually many exercise burnout symptoms that tell you of you're overdoing it. You should be able to see them if you're brave enough to open your eyes and look!
I totally understand that sometimes we don't want to look… because that would mean that we have to deal with our problems. And dealing is painful! We don’t want to stop working out. We don’t want to gain weight that may happen when we take a break and let our bodies rest and recover. That’s how many women exercise too much, out of fear. We ignore the problem and keep working out although we’re tired and deep inside know that we need a break.
I know it very well because I was one of the women who overtrained but ignored the symptoms for a long time. Had I reacted sooner, my recovery from overtraining syndrome and hypothalamic amenorrhea – loss of period and a host of other symptoms due to overtraining – would likely have taken less than 5 months. I took a complete break from working out for almost 6 months, and only then was I able to very carefully introduce exercise again.
When What You Think Is Normal Actually Isn’t: You're Overtraining
Maybe you’ve been exercising too much for your body for years, but you’ve gotten used to feeling exhausted (or, cold, or bored, or having sleep issues) so you don’t even realize that the way you feel isn’t normal.
You may think that you just have naturally bad digestion, you’re just naturally a bad sleeper, that your recovery takes longer just because you’re getting older, or you get out of breath faster than before because you’re not doing enough cardio…
The last one is especially dangerous because you may think that you have to do even more, although the solution is actually the opposite… And although you probably don't want to admit it, recovery from overtraining syndrome requires rest.
So, how do you know you're overtraining, when feeling not that awesome has became a new norm and you don't even realize that something is wrong?
The Most Common Symptoms of Overtraining in Women
Let’s take a look some of the most common overtraining symptoms that many women experience. If you’ve noticed them too, admit that you have a problem and slow down. You’re better off reacting faster so you can avoid further problems, instead of keeping doing what you’re doing but isn't working, and hoping that your overtraining symptoms will magically disappear. They won't.
Here we go…
You’re Very Exhausted after Working Out
Sure, it’s totally normal and expected that working out makes you tired. But if you are extremely tired, so that you sometimes want to cut your workout short (but you probably don’t and still keep pushing yourself because you're a perfectionist…), you can’t wait for your workout to be over, your heart rate stays up longer than it used to, then you're probably dealing with chronic overtraining.
What’s going on?
If you’ve noticed these things happening, you’re probably doing too much exercise. You probably don't take enough time to recover properly, however in order to avoid overtraining (and to get over it), recovery is as important as working out. Your results can only be as good as your rest and recovery are.
Take some time off or substitute for lighter, more restorative workouts for a while. There’s absolutely no need to workout 5 or more days a week on high intensity. Try training three days a week instead of five, or take a full week off from working out altogether. See what happens. Nothing bad can happen in a week, but a lot of good things can!
You Lose Your Sleep
Can’t sleep as well as you used to? Not unusual at all.. Overtraining and sleep issues often go hand in hand.
You may have hard time falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping enough hours to feel fresh and energized the next day. Your sleep may be restless and you may wake up several times a night. You may be physically tired but your mind is “wired” so you simply don’t fall asleep. If you've been training a lot or even overtraining and lost your sleep, taking a break can help (and it has tremendously helped me!).
What's going on?
Losing your sleep is one of the symptoms of working out too hard, and it has to do with stress hormone coritsol.
Cortisol is a stress hormone whose levels should fluctuate in our bodies at certain times throughout the day. Working out a lot elevates cortisol levels, which is how it should work; however, if we work out too much and that way put our bodies through too much stress, the normal rhythm may get interrupted.
Normally, our cortisol levels should gradually raise towards morning and wake us up, but overtraining may throw this rhythm off. As a result, your cortisol levels may rise at night or very early morning, waking you up when it's too early for you, and not letting you fall back asleep.
Chronic overtraining is the reason I was up at night when I was supposed to be resting, so overtraining and sleep issues are very closely related for me. I lost my sleep for years and couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t understand that I was overtraining. At my very worst times, I used to sleep as little as 3-4 hours a night, which happened when I ran the minimum of 10 kilometers a day, often more.
Things started to normalize a few months after I took a break from working out and I found my sleep again. I now sleep the minimum of seven hours most nights, and sometimes even more. In fact, I actually just got back form a 3-week vacation and I slept 8-9 hours per night almost every night!
Your Cravings are Out of Whack
Constantly craving foods is a common sign of overtraining and seems to be especially usual in women who do lot of cardio training. It may seem that your hunger and cravings never stop!
You probably try to resist the urge to eat the things you're craving or don’t let yourself to eat as much as would actually satisfy you, and for some time, you may be able to use your willpower and do it. But sooner or later, your hunger (and physiology!) will win and you eat huge amounts of food, maybe even binge eat.
What's going on?
You're likely burning much more energy during the day (during regular activities and working out) than you're consuming and therefore, you're in a constant calorie deficit. You likely want to lose weight, which is why you're doing it… No wonder that many women end up not only overtraining but also under eating. Losing control over your cravings is one of the symptoms of working out too hard, and not fueling appropriately.
If you’re constantly severely under eating in hopes to lose weight, know that you can't win in this situation. Your body is smarter than you. As long as you keep constantly under eating and training often, you keep getting these intense cravings and hunger attacks.
In addition, under eating cannot make you stronger or better as an athlete. Your workout quality will suffer, you won't make progress (more on that in a second), so lack of calories definitely contributes to overtraining.
Here's what… eating bigger portions and more calories, plus including treats that you really like is a huge part in reducing cravings! It has absolutely worked for me. I eat some type of treat nearly every day, and I rarely experience intense cravings anymore. I personally also noted less cravings when I started running less.
Your Body Temperature is Low and You're Often Cold
Other people may wear short skirts and shorts, but you’re the only one wearing jeans. You're always cold, no matter what you have on. Especially your hands and feet are cold… It’s not rare to see women struggling with this chronic overtraining symptom.
What's going on?
Cold hands and feet and low body temperature in general can be results of overtraining. If you diet and eat 1200-1500 calories a day to lose weight, and at the same time train hard, your body doesn’t have enough resources to keep you warm. It just isn’t your body’s top priority, because if there’s lack of resources, it has to be careful with how it uses them. And it doesn’t care all that much how warm you are, when it tries to focus on more important things (like respiration, for example).
Eating much more food and woking out less has changed everything for me. My body temperature is normal and I no longer need five blankets when I sleep. And yes, I am heavier and I do have more body fat that I used to have before, but I’m finally not that cold anymore!
You Can’t Find Workout Motivation
You used to look forward to your workouts so much, but now you can't find workout motivation. You want to feel excited again, so you try something different, maybe workout with friends or find another way to change things up. For a short while it works.
However, lack of workout motivation which is another symptom of working out too hard, sets in again soon even if you tried to switch things up, and you don’t know what to do. You don't want to take a break, because you still believe in the no pain, no gain mentality and you think all you have to do is just push harder.
That’s not true. Fitness doesn't have to be achieved through pain at all, and it should be fun and enjoyable. If you are no longer looking forward to working out, it’s quite clear that you’ve overdone it.
What's going on?
Chances are that your body is just exhausted! It's interesting how physical overtraining also manifests in how you feel mentally.
At the end of the last year, right before I started my hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery, it was getting harder and harder every day to find motivation to work out. I was tired to put together my workouts, so I joined a gym and started taking bootcamp classes, but even though it was fun, I still got tired of them soon.
And I took a break… In the beginning, it wasn't very hard, because honestly, my body and mind were really tired. I still kept doing yoga and walking, both of which I loved, but it wasn't until about 3 months into recovery when I started to seriously miss lifting weights. That was a sign from my body that it's healing and is ready to move again.
You Don't Make Any Progress
You seem to be doing everything right, yet no matter how you change your training, you don't get stronger or faster. Say that you’re working on squatting heavier weight, getting your third pull up or beating the 45 minute mark in 10K, but you’ve been hitting a plateau for many months…
You may think that you aren't doing enough, so you may want to try what’s actually worst thing in this situation: push yourself even harder. This is what many perfectionist type A women do, but they end up adding more stress to already overtrained body.
If you keep doing it, you may soon be going even backwards, your running times slow down and you’re taking more and more plates off your barbell…
What's going on?
If you haven't been able to make any progress for a while and you also have one or more other overtraining symptoms, it's obvious that you’re training too much. Also elite athletes take deload weeks. Overtraining ruins their progress, and it's no different for you either.
Just give it a try – take a week off, or try some other way of movement. Forget about the barbell for a while and do some bodyweight work. Or ride a bike instead of running. Resting and/or mixing things up can make miracles and you likely come back stronger.
You Don’t Recover as Quickly As You Used To
Are you still sore days after working out, although you used to recover quickly? Muscle soreness slows your workouts down, but you don't want to skip them either… So you do them anyway, despite being sore and not feeling well. However, nothing seems to get any better, you just add soreness to already sore body. If you think about it, you realize that there's no way it could do any good for you…
What's going on?
You're not giving your body enough time to recover, so it stays in the state of chronic overtraining. Rest is the time when muscles actually grow and heal, but if you never take a break, when is it supposed to happen? Just like you don't recover from your day without sleep during the night, your body can't recover without rest either. You can improve your recovery by slowing down and taking more days off.
You Lose Your Period
No period? If you have lost your period, you should be worried. It’s a surefire sign that something is not right in your body, and you shouldn’t ignore this important message. Loss of menstrual cycle isn’t that uncommon overtraining symptom in women at all.
What’s going on?
If your period stopped when you started training more often or more intensely, then the reason is that you created more stress than your body can handle. If this situation lasts for three months or longer, it’s called hypothalamic amenorrhea.
Our bodies are very different, so don’t be surprised if another woman can work out the same amount as you but she won’t get this overtraining symptom, while you do.
You may say that it's unfair. The truth is, our bodies are just different and can handle different amounts of stress. That's not the only way our bodies are different!
Working out takes a lot of energy. If you ask too much from your body, by putting it through a lot of physical activity (again, a lot for YOUR body – it may be different for someone else), it stops producing hormones that are needed for reproductive health. There are many reasons why you should want your period back, even if you don’t want to get pregnant in the near future or at all (and you can read more about it in my ebook, you can sign up for it on the upper right corner!).
Do you have any of these overtraining symptoms that often occur in women?
Take a break, slow down the intensity, focus on other things for a while – reading, journaling, baking, hanging out with friends… and if you need more help, check out my coaching program.
I used to run obsessively and under eat a lot. I kept going because I was afraid to take a break. I lost my period, sleep and sex drive… all typical overtraining symptoms. Eventually, I had to take 5 full months off from working out, but it would have possibly taken me less had I paid attention to my symptoms before.
The longer you wait and put the rest and recovery off, the more your symptoms get and the more health problems you create. The sooner you realize that you might be overtraining and take a break, the shorter the time off will be and the faster you will get back to your normal routine again.