Today we're talking about exercising when you're overtrained. Are there things that you can do to keep your body moving, or should you stop exercising completely?
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Resources mentioned in this episode:
5 Tips to Reverse Overtraining Quickly: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/overtraining-recovery-new/
Video: Overtraining Recovery For Women: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Nw3kxV0xb0
FREE 5 day course on BURNOUT recovery spectrum (you need this!!) https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/burnout-recovery-spectrum-later/
Is Your Metabolism Slow? FREE guide to faster metabolism: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/slow-metabolism/
How to Eat to Get Your Period Back: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/how-to-eat-for-ha/
Your Fit Personality Quiz: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/fit-personality/
Inspiring success stories: https://urbanjane.co/testimonials/
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How Severe Is Your Overtraining?
Before you can tell if you can keep exercising when overtrained, you have to understand how severe your overtraining is. Once you've identified that, it's easier to tell what whether or not you should be exercising while overtrained.
Three Levels of Overtraining
There are three levels of overtraining: Level 1: Overreaching, Level 2: Mild/Moderate overtraining, and Level 3: Severe overtraining.
Level 1: Overreaching
Everyone who has ever worked out has experienced this. This is actually not even overtraining; the more accurate word to describe this is overreaching. This is the muscle soreness that you feel after a hard workout day. Sometimes it may last even 3-4 days if the workout has been really intense.
So, you may feel a little uncomfortable for a few days, but if not every workout makes you feel like this, you're good. Take a few days off, walk and stretch, and you should be good to go and do your next workout. You just want to make sure that you don't get overly sore every time you work out because that could take you to the next level which is mild overtraining.
Level 2: Mild/Moderate Overtraining
Mild/moderate overtraining happens when you've had too many too hard workouts, so your body's ability to recover has slowed down. You haven't had enough rest and you may not have been eating enough either.
Here's how you know that you're likely mildly/moderately overtrained:
- You're having hard time falling asleep or staying asleep
- You're sore more often, and it takes several days for the soreness to dissipate
- Your cravings increase: You have to fight off cravings more and more often. Your energy is likely out of balance because your energy expenditure may be much higher than your energy intake.
- You may experience some blood sugar issues
- You're starting to see some period problems. Most commonly, you either stop ovulating (here's how to know if you're ovulating or not), the time between your ovulation and your period gets shorter (it should be at least 11 days; 14 is ideal), or you're skipping periods.
How To Exercise If You're Mildly/Moderately Overtrained
If you're in this mild overtraining state, you can still exercise but you may have to change the way you're currently doing it. Here's what I recommend:
- Always listen to your body. Don't make yourself to work out if you're tired and if your body clearly says “no”. You may feel like you “have to” to be “good”, but you have to listen to yourself
- Stick with basic strength training 2-3 days a week until start feeling better
- 3-5 simple exercises per workout. One push, one pull, one hinge, something for stability… For example, you could do push ups, rows, deadlift, squat, and plank. Do 5-10 reps, then allow yourself complete rest before repeating.
- Breaks are for resting, not for kettlebell swings, burpees, high knees or other intense exercises!
- Increase your NEAT – Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Gardening, doing things around the house, shopping… Do plenty of these things to keep your body moving, but don't get obsessive!
- Avoid any long distance cardio and intense HIIT. These will increase your cortisol more than you need right now.
- Proper nutrition and plenty of sleep will always help you!
After 2-3 weeks of exercising this way, your symptoms should get better. If they don't, don't add more intense exercise but give yourself more rest.
Level 3: Severe Overtraining
If the previous, mild overtraining goes on for a while and we don't stop intense exercise to let the body recover, we there's a good chance that we end up severely overtraining ourselves. In this phase, exercising looks a lot different.
As a result of working out too much and ignoring the symptoms in the previous phase, we develop a set of symptoms that tell us that our metabolism is not working properly. I call these symptoms The Dreadful Dozen.
The Dreadful Dozen:
- Irregular/anovulatory/missing periods
- Feeling cold
- GI problems, most often constipation & gas
- Low libido
- Dry skin, weak nails, hair falling out
- Sleep problems, either insomnia or
- Needing a ton of sleep, yet never feeling rested when waking up
- Getting up to pee multiple times at night
- Poor workout recovery, sore longer than before
- Constant cravings for coffee, sweets, or energy drinks, having to constantly fight to not “cave in” and eat all the treats.
If you have at least 5 from this list, you're probably in the Severe Overtraining phase. When you're that overtrained, our exercise is going to look different.
The first thing to know is that you don't have to stop moving your body. I've seen this advice — you have to completely stop moving — in a lot of places, but I disagree with it. If you have the energy, you can continue moving. You don't have to lay on the couch for the next several months.
Of course, at first, you may feel extremely fatigued and this is exactly what your body needs. Then, go for it! But if you have energy, you can do something from the following list.
How To Move Your Body If You're Severely Overtrained
In this phase, the focus should be on movement and not so much on exercise. Here's what I recommend:
- Long walks. These are your best bet now, as slow walking lowers cortisol and still keeps your body moving. Note that this is not hilly 10-miler with a few sprints thrown in!
- Other leisurely movement, preferably outside. The goal is to let your body recover, so really, move slow, take in the surroundings, enjoy yourself.
- Slow yoga classes. Not the ones that make work extremely hard, get your heart racing, and make you super sweaty, but the ones that really calm your body, mind and nervous system. Yin yoga is a great option. In regular yoga classes, modify as much as you need to! Yoga isn't about pushing yourself as hard as you can, or competing with anyone.
- If you want to do some strength training, keep it light and moderate. Don't push yourself to the point where you feel super intense muscle burn or get out of breath. Don't let your heart rate go super high. Do what your body really wants, not what you think you should be doing. Resistance band training or bodyweight training would be great for that.
I hope this post helped you realize what's your current level of overtraining, and see that you likely can continue to do some exercise. However, it's likely going to look quite different from what you used to do before. Don't worry, it's just a phase, and remember that in order to start feeling better, a period of lower intensity is required.
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