While most people have trouble getting motivated to work out at all, there are some people—myself included—who have trouble taking even a single rest day.
And though it’s good to keep moving and working out on a near daily basis, it’s possible to overdo it sometimes.
Most people understand that rest is important—rest helps rebuild your muscles and allows them to grow back bigger and stronger—but there are times when we may try and push it too hard.
In the fitness world, this phenomenon of exercising too much is called overtraining, and most athletes of all levels have experienced it at some point in their lives (whether they know it or not).
Rather than helping you reach your goals faster, overtraining can actually send you backwards, resulting in symptoms such as unwanted weight gain/loss, lack of motivation to exercise, and fitness plateaus.
So how do you know if you’re exercising too much?
Here are 10 warning signs you might be overtraining:
1. You’re Experiencing Prolonged Muscle Soreness
If you have muscular pains or soreness that doesn’t go away after three days or more, you should probably take that as a sign that you’re exercising too much.
After heavy or intense training, your body needs time to recover—and constant, relentless soreness means it’s not getting that chance. Take it easy, and let your body recover.
2. You Keep Getting Sick.
Most healthy and fit people tend to have a fairly good immune system, rarely getting more than a mild cold every so often.
So if you’re getting sick more than normal, or just feel pretty crappy and fatigued overall, you can be pretty sure your body needs a break.
3. Your Energy is Really Low.
If you’re feeling extra fatigued and have had low energy for days on end but you know you’re not sick, you’re probably exercising too much.
Rest up, or prepare to sacrifice performance.
4. You’re Losing Weight Without Meaning To.
While most of the population would love to lose some extra weight by accident, if you have unintentional weight loss and a decreased appetite and you’re not actually trying to lose weight, it may be due to overtraining.
Remember to always make sure you’re getting proper nutrition and try your best to take a break at times.
5. You’re Feeling Extra Irritable.
Feeling extra agitated lately?
If you’re experiencing irritability as well as one or more of these other symptoms, you can make a safe bet that you’re exercising too much.
Save yourself (and the people around you) by taking a few days off here and there.
6. You’re Experiencing Early Onset of Fatigue.
Feeling an overall sense of fatigue after prolonged intense training, or getting unusually tired early on in your workouts?
You guessed it: you’re probably overtraining.
7. Your Resting Heart Rate is Higher Than Usual.
Most really fit people have a resting heart rate sub 50 or 60 bpm or so (the average person’s resting heart rate is 72 bpm).
Check yours regularly: if you’re in great shape, but your heart rate is significantly higher than expected, you may want to give your body a break from exercise.
There are lots of apps that will track resting heart rate these days, or if you’re a fitness nerd like me you might be interested in checking out the Whoop wearable band to measure recovery, including resting heart rate.
8. Your Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is Low.
While you want your resting heart rate to be fairly low, you actually want your heart rate variability (HRV) to be higher. Having a high HRV is a sign that your body is recovering well from stress (including your workouts). A low HRV is usually a sign that your body isn’t recovering well. Exercising too much can prevent you from proper recovery, and a low HRV will show it.
Again, there are a number of apps that measure HRV these days fairly accurately, or the Whoop does this as well.
9. You’re Less Motivated Than Usual.
If you’re an avid exerciser like me, but you’re feeling less and less motivated to work out, it could be your body giving you a signal that you actually need some time off.
Take a few days or even a week off and see if your motivation returns. Alternatively, you may just need some time away from intense training or your specific sport. Try swapping up your regular workouts for nature hikes, new or fun learning-style classes, or a friendly game of tennis/frisbee/pickup basketball/something totally different.
10. You Were Making So Much Progress… Then Hit a Plateau.
Have you been working as hard as you possibly can, yet you can’t seem to improve your speed, strength or overall athletic performance?
Congratulations: you’ve officially plateaued.
Instead of pushing harder, you may want to think about giving your body a break, since a constant state of plateau is one of the main indicators of overtraining.
How to Prevent Overtraining
While there’s no one-size-fits all predictor of how much exercise is too much (everyone will be different) there are some steps you can take to prevent overtraining.
Here are the most important ones:
Take a little extra time off every so often. Some people in the fitness world strongly believe you should take an entire week off of training every few months or so to let your body recuperate.
I’ve never actually done this—I’d go crazy with pent up energy if I tried—but it could be worth trying if you’re experiencing multiple symptoms of overtraining.
Alternatively, take a few days off of intense training and do some active rest day activities instead.
Replenish your body’s fluids. Drink lots and lots of fluids, including fluids with electrolytes and potassium.
Water, coconut water, cherry juice, and electrolyte-enhanced sports drinks are all good choices. If it’s hot out or you’re sweating more than normal, you’ll need even more fluids.
Prioritize recovery. While it’s important to work hard while training, it’s equally as important to let your body properly recover.
Sleep. While most people (myself included) would prefer to go with as little sleep as possible in order to accomplish more in a day, sleep is our body’s prime time to recover, and shorting yourself of it puts you at a high risk for overtraining.
So make sure you get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and take a cat nap when you feel the need.
Your body will thank you for it.