Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Fighting the Temptation to Overtrain

Anyone that knows me personally knows that I have a Type A++ personality! I’ve never been afraid of working hard toward a goal, and once I have my mind set on something, I’m willing to do everything in my power to make it happen, regardless of the amount of work required. I can also be very hard on myself – I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my own successes and failures.

I think that this is one of the reasons that I love the CrossFit Community so much – I have found in my experience that A LOT of CrossFitters have Type A personalities just like me – so I fit in pretty well within the community :) This makes me wonder though if others have to consciously work to “hold themselves back” to prevent overtraining . . . let me explain:

Overtraining occurs when the volume and intensity of exercise exceeds a person’s recovery capacity (Mondey). In other words, when we don’t give our bodies enough time to heal (a.k.a. RECOVER) after a workout, we risk suffering from overtraining. Symptoms of overtraining can vary from fatigue, irritability, and loss of motivation to constant muscle soreness, recurring sickness, reduced work capacity, and increased incidence of injuries.

So why does overtraining occur if everyone knows about it and its negative symptoms??
  • I don’t know about every one else, but I find that when I set my mind on a goal (either short term like mastering Hand Stand Pushups, Ring dips, a Snatch PR. . . or long term like competing at an Oly Lifting tournament or qualifying for the CF Games), I tend to let my Type A personality take over. A little devil on my shoulder tells me that if I train harder, longer, and heavier - I’ll reach my goals faster. I mean, in the other areas of my life harder work = faster/better results, so why wouldn’t this carry over to my training to, right? WRONG. (Or so I’ve been told by some very wise people who are trying to help me reach my goals . . . )

  • I’ve also found that chronic lack of proper nutrition can lead to overtraining symptoms for me, even if my training level hasn’t increased much. This is because when I’m eating poorly, I’m not giving my body the fuel that it needs to repair itself and get stronger after intense exercise. So it doesn’t heal as fast as it normally does when I’m giving it the right “fuel”. As a result, even though I’m not exercising more frequently, my body isn’t able to fully recover from an exercise session before I start the next one because of the lack of fuel, and as a result, I begin to see overtraining symptoms creep back in.

  • Finally, for me at least, exercise is addictive. The rush of endorphins that I get when working out is amazing, and I’m almost always left feeling a little bit euphoric after a Lifting Session or CF workout. Add to that the awesome feeling of accomplishment that I get when I am hitting PR’s, and it’s like my “happy drug”! It’s human nature to do things that make us feel good, so as a result I can sometimes go “of the deep-end” with a few to many 2-a-days. . .

You may ask why I’m writing this if I already have it “figured out”. . . well that’s the thing – I know about the dangers of overtraining, but recently I’ve found myself doing it yet again.

It started out with little things – like it’s a rest day, but there’s an awesome WOD on the board, so I say to myself “I can’t miss THIS one”, and do it anyway. . . after doing this a few times, I started to notice the fatigue and chronic muscle soreness creeping back in. So “Smart/Logical Christie” had to pull “Type A Just-Do-It Christie” into a corner and talk some sense into her head. . .

The fact of the matter is that we’re all capable of overtraining, regardless of our fitness levels. My husband refuses to CrossFit because he says he sees too many people getting hurt and putting themselves out for months at a time with injuries – and he says that several people that he works with feel the same way. And really, he has a point. . . . I do see a lot of injuries in CrossFitters at all levels, but I don’t think it’s actually CrossFit that is causing these injuries – I think it’s a bunch of Type A personalities like mine that are addicted to success and progress, and think that the harder that they push themselves, the more results they’ll see. . . again . . . WRONG.

One of the symptoms of overtraining is increased frequency of injuries. If we don’t give our bodies a chance to heal themselves in between workouts, they are going to start breaking down eventually. . and we begin to see injuries occur more and more often. It’s my personal opinion that the perception of CrossFit being “dangerous” comes more from people who injure themselves as a result of overtraining than it does from the type of training that we do. If we went into every workout fully recovered, I think we’d see a lot less injuries, and as a result more progress. . . . Of course, this is referring to our every-day training, and not competitions – occasional 2 or 3 a days in a competitive atmosphere are great – as long as full recovery time is given after the fact, and our every day training doesn’t become a string of 2-a-days.

So the moral of the story is – in some cases – less IS more. Reduced training frequency (more recovery time) can and will lead to better and faster results for someone who has regularly over trained in the past. Listen to your body – and if it’s screaming for a rest day – give it one


Cori said...

This was a great post for me to read on my rest day. I know I've worked hard every day this week, and my body is feeling it today, but here I am feeling guilty because I'm not at the gym. Thank you for your post and helping me remember that rest days are an important part of my training too!

Christie said...

Hey Cori - I'm glad the timing worked out!

I'm all to familiar with that "guilty" feeling, but I find that I don't get it if I plan my rest days in advance. I always take Sunday's completely off, and never feel bad about it because it is a pre-planned thing.

I do occasionally take an un-planned rest day mid week if my body is screaming at me, and I always feel a little guilty for those, but I know deep down that it's the right thing to do - I just have to keep reminding myself that I'll never get stronger or reach my goals if I don't take care of myself - and that includes giveing my body plenty of recovery time!