How do you know that you actually are ready for your next planned workout, and are not burning yourself out instead?
Many of us don't even ask this question from ourselves, but jump right in to the next workout — even if we're tired and not ready at all.
I have a lot of experience with overtraining, as I've been overtrained myself and as I've been coaching others who have had serious overtraining symptoms.
Most of us worked out too frequently, chose working out over sleep, and didn't listen to our bodies when they told us that they're not ready to go.
Here are three ways how you can avoid workout burnout:
Don't Do Two Intense Full Body Workouts Too Close to Each Other
I've seen a lot of people do that: They finish a class at 7:30pm and next day, they're at the gym again to do a 6am bootcamp!
That way, their recovery time is really short. They get home and eat dinner (hopefully they eat!) around 8:30pm the earliest. Then they have other things to take care of, like clean up the kitchen, plan the next day, pack their kids meals, put the kids in bed, check their email, finish up some work stuff… I don't have kids but on days when I finish teaching at 8pm, there's no way that I'm actually in bed before 10pm.
If you're like that too, you get to bed at 10 or 11 and are at the gym again before 6am, then you probably don't get the minimum of 7 hours of very restful sleep that you really need, if you want to go hard again early the next morning.
If you did an intense full body workout the night before, then your muscles are not recovered for another one by 6am the next morning.
Be especially careful if you've just recently recovered from hypothalamic amenorrhea! In that case, I recommend that at least in the beginning, you have at least one full day off between your workouts. You can find more information about how to start training again after hypothalamic ameonorrhea, in my program.
So try not to do workouts back to back like that. My recommendation is that if you're doing intense full-body workouts, have at least 20-24 hours between two workouts. If you're doing split training, like upper body one day and lower the other, then less hours are fine because you're not challenging the same muscles again in your next workout.
Sleep at Least 7 Hours Per Night
You need to sleep 7 hours every night, but especially if you're planning to work out the next day. This is a must.
People try to find ways to need less sleep by tricking their bodies to think that they already had enough. That's not okay. You're not supposed to try to trick your body but instead, you need to give it the rest that it needs.
When we're asleep, our bodies and brains recover. This is where the renewal processes happen. Your workouts are far less useful if you do them sleep deprived, but if you still keep doing them, eventually your body just gives up.
So please do yourself a favor and sleep at least 7 hours every night. If you didn't, don't put yourself through a hard workout. You won't get out of it what you hoped and you end up even more tired.
In women, sleep deprivation is one key factor in developing hormonal issues like hypothalamic amenorrhea (loss of period) and others. Your body is up and forced to be in action all the time, eventually it just runs out of resources.
Assess Your Workout Readiness
There are days when you slept 7 hours and had 20-24 hours between your workouts, but despite that, you don't feel well.
If your body is tired and is just not having it, it tries to tell you something. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. If you've had hypothalamic amenorrhea or overtraining symptoms, you probably used to push yourself to work out anyway, no matter how tired you were. As a result, you now have these symptoms of overtraining, like amenorrhea, loss of sleep, no sex drive, poor hair and skin health and constant brain fog.
To avoid getting into this situation, start assessing your workout readiness before every workout. Ask yourself: Am I having a green, yellow or red workout day? What workout should I do (or should I do it at all?) based on that?
Here's how you can use the traffic light metaphor to assess your workout readiness:
Green days — you're feeling great! Your sleep was good, you have no major stressors to deal with, you've been eating well and enough, and your energy feels great. On green workout days, you can do the workout you wanted.
Note though, if you currently have hypothalamic amenorrhea, this doesn't apply to you. As long as you're not getting your periods, you should not do any hard workouts.
Yellow days — you're not feeling great, but you want to move your body! Maybe you had a busy day so you didn't have time to eat proper meals, but you were able to have at least some snacks so you don't feel completely deprived by the time you want to work out. You have some stress in your life, but nothing too terrible. Maybe your sleep wasn't exactly as good as you would have wanted, but it was still pretty good.
On a day like this, don't do your high intensity training or long training. Do something lighter. You can always go for a walk, take a yoga class, do a simple (but not intense or super fast) bodyweight workout, or cut your planned workout in half. Or just get to the gym and foam roll, if you really want to go to the gym, but also be aware that you may be really tempted to work out once you're there.
Red days — these are days when you should skip your workout. Yes, no matter how guilty it makes you and despite the fact that you had planned to work out.
Here's what probably happened: Your sleep was crap and you maybe got only around 5-6 hours. You're really stressed out. Maybe you get odd cravings (because of your sleep was a mess!). You can also be getting sick or having a hangover.
Just skip your workout — it's not going to make you feel better, and even more so, it's definitely not helping you to make any strength or health gains. Sure, you can definitely go for a walk, that's never a bad idea, but any structured workout, let alone intense workout, is not going to be useful for you.
Your goal with working out should be to get healthier and stronger. That's why you can't underestimate your recovery! It's as important as your workouts.
Don't work out back to back without long enough rest. Late evening workout followed by early morning workout, is usually not a great combination, especially if you don't get enough sleep between them. Also be sure to check in with yourself and see how you're feeling today, using the traffic light analogy. When you truly listen to your body and rest when you need it, you're making way bigger gains than when working out already exhausted.
Are you recovered from hypothalamic amenorrhea and want to start training again? Do it safely, without losing your period again. Check out my online program, Simple Strength for Women.