Overtraining is a Real Thing
Alex Eriksson, Founder of Anabolic Health
There's a lot of noise from so-called fitness 'experts' claiming that there's no such thing as overtraining. And this leads to fitness programs designed to be done almost every day of the week. Some programs even incorporate exercises done with as many repetitions as possible. However, there is substantial scientific evidence that overtraining does exist. They even have a name for it: overtraining syndrome or OTS.
Effects of Overtraining
Here are some of the effects that you should be aware of due to the possible health implications:
Increased cortisol production
If you're aiming to lose weight, working out more than you're supposed to can make it harder for you to realise your goal.
This is due to longer workouts having been observed to elevate one's cortisol levels. According to a study, working out for a length of at least two hours will significantly increase your cortisol levels. This increase in cortisol can decrease fat metabolism and impair insulin sensitivity. Both of these are undesirable for someone looking to lose body fat.
Because of this, it is recommended to have shorter workouts. You can increase the intensity of your workouts through high-intensity training (HIT) or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Keep in mind that this approach can still increase your cortisol. This is due to HIIT increasing your cortisol levels on the first six weeks of doing it.
An increased cortisol production on the short term is not something you should be worried about. But, when you're chronically producing high levels of cortisol due to consistent overtraining, you could be placing your body at risk of various diseases.
Decreased testosterone levels
When you're overtraining, you are placing your body under great amounts of stress. This disrupts your central nervous system, which also negatively affects your hormonal axis. This has been observed in healthy male endurance athletes. Their testosterone levels have been observed to instantly drop by as much as thirty to fifty percent after overtraining.
Decreased fertility and sexual drive
The stress placed on the body by overtraining was also observed to significantly decrease sperm count and quality. Healthy male athletes were observed to instantly decrease their sperm count by around forty percent.
Overtraining was also observed to negatively affect sexual drive and erectile function. This has been seen on healthy male individuals who consistently underwent chronic high intensity and long duration endurance training.
Decreased insulin resistance
Cortisol blocks the effects of your testosterone hormones. This is why researchers and medical practitioners use the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio to measure risk for certain diseases. When the body has consistently higher levels of cortisol than testosterone, researchers have observed a significant level of insulin resistance. This could eventually lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Increased risk for heart disease
Heart disease is another condition associated with a poor testosterone-to-cortisol ratio. This has been observed to increase the risk for ischemic heart disease, which is the hardening of the arteries that decreases the entry of oxygen into your heart's cells. Aside from this, it is also associated with low heart rate variability, which increases one's risk for a heart attack.
Decreased overall physical performance
If you aim to increase your athletic performance, you must proactively avoid overtraining. This is due to research indicating that overtraining decreases the time before one reaches exhaustion during high intensity endurance exercise and their maximum heart rate. Also, with decreased testosterone and increased cortisol levels, your body would significantly have decreased muscle strength and endurance.
Slower muscle recovery
Muscle is built after your workout, during recovery and sleep. This is why an ample amount of time is needed if you want to realize the results of your workout or bodybuilding program.
However, if you do not give your body a chance to recover and, instead, consistently train in successive days, your body won't have the chance to build the strength and endurance it could have gained from exercise. And, you could even be burning up muscle protein due to your body having low energy stores.
Weakened immune system
Due to the trauma induced on your tissues during intense exercise, cytokines are produced that promote the development of T(H)2 lymphocyte profile. This suppresses cell-mediated immunity that increases infection risk in athletes with overtraining syndrome. The development of this lymphocyte profile is also promoted by increased cortisol levels. And, as overtraining can increase your cortisol levels, the negative effects on your immune system are compounded.
Increased risk for adrenal fatigue
When you exercise, you are placing stress on your body. There's nothing bad about this stress and, in fact, it is what causes your body to increase in strength, muscle, mass, and endurance.
However, if the body is constantly under stress, your adrenal glands can get depleted of essential stress hormones. This leads to a condition known as adrenal fatigue. This can lead to prolonged fatigue, loss of appetite, insomnia, poor motivation, anxiety, irritability, and nutritional deficiencies. There are even cases wherein an individual needs hormone replacement therapy to make sure they are getting adequate amount of sex hormones for their body.
How to Avoid Overtraining
The best way to avoid the negative effects of overtraining is by being proactive in its prevention. This means you have to tone-down your training when you know your body is currently under more than your usual stress. This could be when you're travelling to a different time-zone, eating poorly, sleeping later than normal, or having a busy day at work. Aside from this, you would also have to adjust your rest periods according to the type of exercise you're doing.
If you're doing high intensity training, you have to take into account that your body would require an adequate amount of rest in order to recover. Don't schedule a workout on the day after as you won't be giving your body a chance to recover.
Listen To Your Body
Your body gives you signs when things are starting to go wrong. You have to listen to your body and avoid the temptation of pushing your body beyond the so-called limit.
So, if you happen to notice an absent erection upon waking up or an unusual decrease in energy or strength, you might have to tone down your workout or just rest for the day.