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15 May 2023
Senior man suffering with lower back pain during workout

By Susan Hickey

We often hear about recommendations for proper amounts of physical exercise touted by various healthcare organizations.  As YMCA members, we clearly understand the importance of physical fitness.  However, sometimes we are guilty of taking exercise too far, which can result in overtraining syndrome. 

Are you overtraining? Check out these signs:

  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Inability to train at the same level as before in the absence of any other changes to the training plan
  • Irritability, anxiety, depression
  • Unusual muscle soreness, even after a “light” workout
  • Difficulty finding joy in physical activity that once was a positive outlet.

Many of us are driven to accomplish goals that we set for ourselves.  We tackle our goals in various ways using different training plans and techniques.  Some of us make up our own plans.  Any of these are acceptable – but as athletes at any level, we must recognize when we might be overdoing it and take a step back. 

Consequences of overtraining may include decreased immunity, high blood pressure, overuse injuries, and, ironically, weight gain.  Taking time to focus on rest, proper nutrition, and mental health is essential to allowing our bodies to accommodate to the increased stresses of training and help them “catch up” to the training requirements. 

Nobody wants to take time off of their training plan – so how do we avoid overtraining in the first place? Try some of these tips:

  • Keep a training log.  Keep track of your workouts, including the perceived difficulty, amount of weight lifted, time required to run a certain distance, etc.  Looking back at a training log can help you identify if you might be on the verge of overdoing it – if, for instance, you see your mile split time ticking upward.  

  • Alternate hard and easy days – and allow time for recovery.  This becomes more important as we age.  Use the YMCA ActivTrax program which helps take the guesswork out of the workout planning. 

  • Pay attention to hydration and nutrition.  If you need suggestions, chat with a YMCA dietician.  Learn more about that here

  • Utilize alternate methods of stress reduction.  Many of us rely on our time in the gym as “our time” to relieve tension and focus on things other than daily life challenges.  However, when we are too fixated on our physical outlet, we could unintentionally jeopardize our health by pushing too hard and ignoring the signs of overtraining.  Find other ways to relieve stress, by socializing, reading, or doing lower impact activities like yoga.  Check out the YMCA website for alternate group classes here

  • Above all, listen to your body.  Little aches and pains can become big ones quickly if ignored. 

Striving to accomplish a goal is a worthy cause and a great reason to exercise.  We must be cautious to ensure we are exercising safely at a level our bodies can tolerate – so we can continue to enjoy the benefits for a lifetime of good health. 

Overtraining syndrome