Whether you are a beginner at exercising or just looking to get back into routine after a long break, you need to know how to avoid overtraining. Overtraining may impact your performance, motivation and perhaps delay meeting your fitness goals.

List of overtraining prevention:

  • Work with proper techniques
  • Have ample of rest (active recovery) between sessions
  • Do adequate warm ups
  • Consume good nutrients
  • Set your intention and pay attention
  • Ease into your workouts
  • Keep the workouts simple

What You Need to Do After a Long Break from Exercising

Here are some things to take note of before you start your routine to avoid training more than your body allows.

Woman Doing Sit Ups

1. Work with proper techniques

This is one the most important mental notes for yourself as you do strength and weight training. It is imperative to do any movements correctly to avoid injuring your joints or muscles. 

Some of the training injuries may include pulled muscles, muscle tear, joint dislocation, tendinitis, tennis elbow and more. 

Be extra careful when you just started a new workout move. Try learning the proper technique first before overexerting the biomechanical function of your body while still benefiting from the movement. 

Let’s have this setting whereby you are so pumped about this new workout, the medicine ball twist ab workout because you think it would help you get a sexy six pack ASAP. 

When you don’t learn the proper technique such as controlling your core muscles and breathing timing while doing the movement, it is easy to hurt yourself by accidentally over exerting the twist.  

2. Have ample of rest (active recovery) between sessions

I can’t stress this enough. Active recovery will keep you going longer and help put you on track. You wouldn’t still want sore muscles when you begin your next workout session. 

So, plan on having rest days between your sessions. By rest days, I mean having an active recovery. We have a whole article about active recovery here. It also covers active and passive active recoveries.

To briefly explain what active recovery is, it is doing low impact exercises such as walking, yoga, swimming and using a myofascial device like the massage gun to supplement the high intensity workouts you did in previous sessions. 

They benefit your body and help your muscles recover faster.

3. Do adequate warm ups

Most people know that you should do adequate warm ups before going hard on exercising but many simply don’t do enough. 

According to Mayo Clinic, warming up activity helps to gradually wake your cardiovascular system by raising body temperature and increasing blood flow to muscles. This helps to prepare your body for the upcoming exercise movements, whether it be aerobic or weight training. 

Your muscles and joints will thank you for warming up properly as they are more prone to injuries when they are tight and not ready for big and repetitive movements.

Some of the science behind warming up are having oxygen delivered to active muscles more efficiently, increased blood flow to muscles and increasing joint flexibility. 

Healthy and Nutritious Food

4. Consume good nutrients

A good personal trainer will always guide you on the nutrients you need for the type of training you do. So what sort of nutrients do you need when you are not engaging a personal trainer or nutritionist to help you?

The answer, make sure you have a balanced diet and enough calories to sustain your daily activities. If you have been working hard and up your activity level, then eat enough so you won’t go hungry. 

Remember your muscles have been working hard for you so feed them with the nutrients they need so they can perform better to help you reach your goal sooner. Even if your goal is to lose weight, you will still need sufficient nutrition and good food sources to survive. 

5. Set your intention and pay attention

One of the most common reasons why people tend to overtrain and injure themselves is because they don’t listen to their body. 

You should always set the intention to focus fully on the workout when you are doing your session. It is no use thinking about other things while exercising because then, you may not be paying attention to the correct movements your trainer is showing you. In return, you injure yourself by doing it with improper technique.

In addition, when you don’t pay attention to your own body, you may easily overtrain as well. For example, you set out to run on a treadmill for 30 minutes but at the 22 minute mark, your thighs are giving up, they are sore. 

Then, you give yourself a rest and see if you can continue the remaining 8 minutes after. Don’t push yourself too hard especially when you just return to the routine after a while. Don’t expect to perform as well as you did before.

It is better to take a step back and scan your body whether you can push it further or not. It is not worth it to risk a muscle tear or hamstring injury from overtraining.

6. Ease into your workouts

Say it out loud with me. Take it slow. Take it slow. Take it slow. 

No matter what reason why you took a break from exercising, whether it is due to injury, time management or lost motivation, always take it slow at first.

Gradually ramp up your intensity as your progress and become stronger with each session. It is no use going head on with one super intense session and needing to rest for a few weeks due to injury from overtraining.

One easy way to do this is to gradually increase the time you spend exercising. For example, start with a 20 minute session in the first couple of sessions. Then, increase it to 30 minutes, 40 minutes per session and so on. 

Another way is to increase the number of reps you do to up the intensity but do it gradually to avoid overworking your joints and muscles.

7. Keep the workouts simple

Your muscles have been dormant for some time and they do need to be eased into it to trigger and build muscle memory. 

So to keep yourself motivated and make it easier for your muscles, try to keep the workouts simple. This kind of relates to point number 1 – work with proper techniques. 

By keeping the workouts simple, you are less likely to do the movements with improper techniques. They will be quite easy for you to master whilst still benefiting your body in terms of heart health, building strength and endurance.

An example of a simple workout is squats. Almost anyone can do it but be sure to not overdo it with a crazy number of reps to avoid overtraining. There are so many variations you can do with squats. When you want to up the intensity, you can add a mini band around your thighs to make it a tad bit harder for your thighs.

Trainer Helps an Injured Sportsman

How Does Overtraining Lead to Injury

All physical activities carry injury risk especially to muscles, joints and bones (musculoskeletal). Overtraining injuries can happen when you make your body work harder than it is used to. 

Your muscles aren’t prepared or trained properly to work hard suddenly especially after a break from your usual workout routine. 

While it is proven that training can help protect athletes over injury, higher training load also causes higher injury rates. This is known as the “Training-Injury Prevention Paradox”. Excessive training loads that are being increased too soon was found to be responsible for soft tissue injuries in this study.

In short, when you are fit enough to do a more intense workout, the payoff will be that you will be stronger to deliver a good performance. However, if your fitness is not up to the level where your body can handle a higher training load, then you will have an increased risk of injury from overtraining.

How Do You Know When You Have Overtrained

There are many signs that indicate you have overtrained. Here are a few:

1. Feeling fatigue

While it is normal to feel tired after a workout especially when it is a high intensity one, fatigue sets in when you feel exceptionally drained. This can happen when you don’t give your body sufficient time to recover before starting a new training session.

You should also make sure you feed your body well enough with the energy it needs to perform what you need it to do. Energy needed for training will be taken from your protein, carbohydrate and fat reserves, which will make you fatigued.

2. Increased irritability

Stress hormones can be affected by overtraining. You may experience increased irritability due to the imbalance in stress hormones. This study found that chronic overtraining may increase the risk of adrenal insufficiency. In serious cases, depression may occur.

3. Declined performance

Even though you try to train harder because you want to perform better, overtraining can actually bring the opposite effect. Your body will most likely feel sluggish, weaker and not as agile when you give your body a good rest. Thereby, having a decline in performance.

4. Declined quality of sleep

This point is related to the stress hormones level. When the levels are unbalanced, the tensions you experience while training may still be high. 

It may take a little while for you to relax and sleep. Thereby reducing the sleep time you need to repair and restore your muscles and joints. When this happens regularly, you may experience chronic fatigue.

5. Motivation loss

Due to the increased mental and physical fatigue you experience, it is understandable to lose motivation when it is harder to reach your fitness goal. Try to take it easy and take small steps at a time so you will feel more motivated to continue the fitness journey. 

‘For some, not exercising becomes a routine in of itself and that can be difficult to break out of. For others, serious injury or a perceived lack of gains or success can create a difficult mental barrier to finding motivation to return to exercise.’

– Dr Lyndell Bruce (Deakin’s Centre for Sport Research)

Young Woman Doing Yoga

What to Do When You Overtrained

The first thing you need to do is to stop exercising, stop your training immediately. It may surprise you but just by resting for a few days or even a couple of weeks helps a lot.

More often than not, you will return stronger and able to perform better in your training sessions.

Then, you should adopt these into your lifestyle so you can help your body recover well and prevent risking overtraining again: 

  • Include rest days (active recovery)
  • Incorporate relaxing activities like meditation and yoga
  • Have a nutritious diet
  • Rest the muscle if it is sore

Related Questions

1. What are the tools I can use to help me recover from overtraining?

There are many tools and devices like the foam roller, massage gun and EMS machine that can help with sore muscles. If you are suffering from sore muscles from overtraining, then one of these should be able to help. However, if the pain from overtraining is unbearable, it is best to seek medical consultation before engaging any help from these devices.

2. How long does it take to get used to a new exercise routine?

While it may differ from person to person, it generally takes a person a few weeks to a few months to adapt. An exercise routine’s intensity is usually gradually increasing so a person may feel an improvement in fitness over a few weeks.

3. Why am I not seeing progress from working out?

There are many angles in terms of progress. Assuming this question was directed towards progress in muscles, expect to see small changes over time. Muscle size change is highly variable depending on the individual and program participated. Be patient, stick through the program and you will see the progress.

Emma Pyke
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