“Am I training enough?” – I often get asked this and the simple answer is that usually those (both men and women) who take their fitness seriously, often actually over-train. This leads to reduced results which people then try to compensate for by training even more. It can turn into a vicious cycle.
If you are exercising to lose weight or improve energy, then overtraining syndrome can be a major barrier to achieving those goals.
So, how do you avoid overtraining while still gaining the benefits of high intensity exercise and making sure you have lower levels of cortisol in your body?
- Reduce the frequency. Pushing hard at the gym is not inherently problematic, but doing it too often can lead to overtraining. High intensity, high stress exercise should be limited to once or twice a week max, especially for those who are dealing with other health issues or demanding work-life conditions. Compounding those life stressors with a stressful exercise routine will not leave you healthier, and can easily cause you to become more prone to sickness and fatigue.
- Get adequate rest. Not only is taking time to let your body recover from exercise important, but getting adequate sleep is vital to avoiding and managing overtraining syndrome. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep, particularly on the days you train. Interestingly, one symptom of overtraining is disturbance of sleep, so if you’re feeling restless and having trouble sleeping through the night, you may be overtraining.
- Mix it up. While high intensity exercise is great for losing body fat and improving lean muscle mass, we know that high levels of cortisol can cause the body to hold onto fat. For this reason, try a complimentary type of exercise to help modulate your cortisol levels. Find something you enjoy and that relaxes you and do this instead of that 3rd or 4th high intensity session a week. You’ll find that you start recovering more quickly from your intense exercises.
Remember the body takes time to repair and recover – think of a bruise or cut to your hand. It’s not gone by the next day . . . so your muscles also need time to recover, otherwise you are just adding cut on top of cut.
High intensity exercise is a great way to improve body composition and enhance your general health, if done the right way and taking into account you bodies’ recovering requirements. Basic rule: Training more often doesn’t make you fitter.