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Overtraining vs Under Recovering

Here at Made 2 Move, the clients of our physical therapists know they need to train and they know they need to recover. But what is the appropriate balance between training and recovery? How do you know if what you’re feeling is a result of overtraining or or under recovering? Below we will delve into the intricacies of both recovery and training.

What is Overtraining?

Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) can be defined as “a persistent imbalance between training and recovery among athletes, which may lead to decreased performance and fatigue” (Cadegiani et. al 2020). Sounds pretty self explanatory, right? If you don’t balance training and recovery, then your performance will suffer.

By this definition, overtraining is simply an unbalanced equation. The amount of time and effort we put into our actual workouts and physical therapy does not equal the amount of time and effort we put into recovering. Thus, our bodies begin to feel out of whack. “Everybody sees all the commercials where everybody is working hard, sweating hard, doing everything they need to do, but you never see anybody talk about all that time that you need for that hard work to take root.” says Kristen Dieffenbach PhD, assistant professor of athletic coaching education at West Virginia University.

For most people, it’s probably not overtraining, but rather under recovering. World class and elite powerlifter Chad Aichs sums up under recovery well. Aichs states, “In the great majority of the cases I've seen, it isn't the training that is the problem. It's the lack of recovery that is needed to keep up with that training...ideally, training and recovery would get equal focus in order to make the greatest gains.” We’ve all heard it. It’s not just the hour or two in the gym that matters but also the other 22 hours of your day. Your body can handle high training loads if you want to train hard, but only if you balance the equation with proper and sufficient recovery.

What if we shifted our focus from “I guess I’m exercising too much” to “I must not be recovering properly”? In doing this, we can lay out a more tangible means by which to take care of our bodies instead of just ceasing all exercise for fear of overtraining. So what are the signs of under recovery? What are the ways in which I can optimize recovery so that I can continue to live a healthy, active lifestyle?

How do I know if I am Under Recovered?

  1. Decline in training

    • This is often a subjective observation by athletes or coaches in which athletes report feeling sluggish in workouts they used to feel energized for. This decline in training may manifest as feeling burnt out, unmotivated, or having no energy. A decline in training can just be something the athlete is feeling and can also include a literal decrease in the weight you’re able to lift or the pace you’re able to hold for an endurance workout.

  2. Chronic fatigue

  3. Sleep disturbances

    • This could look like an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, regardless of how tired you are.

  4. Nagging injuries

  5. Chronic achy and stiff muscles

  6. Weakened immune system

  7. Mental exhaustion

    • Inability to concentrate or focus

  8. Mood changes

    • Amplified emotions

    • Increased irritability and depression

    • Not feeling like yourself or not enjoying things you used to

  9. Workouts seem like work instead of fun

    • Don’t get me wrong, some days you won’t want to go to the gym. This is normal, even for us movement lovers here at Made 2 Move Charleston. But if the thought of hitting the gym feels daunting each morning, and every day feels exhausting, then something may be awry. You should not leave the gym every day feeling like you got hit by a freight train.

  10. Appetite changes

The Big 5 for Optimizing Recovery

So now that you know the signs of under recovery, how can you optimize recovery?

  1. Sleep

It sounds counterintuitive, but too much training without adequate recovery can lead to poor sleep. You would think: the harder I train, the more tired I’ll be and the better I’ll sleep. However, it is often the opposite. Everyone has a different happy number but 7-9 hours per night is standard. Play around with your sleep and find out the perfect amount that works for you.

If you have trouble falling asleep because of a restless mind, try keeping a journal next to your bed. Write down the things that are worrying you about the day you just had and any things you need to get done tomorrow, then leave it on the paper. Don’t bring it with you to sleep. Focusing on your breathing and doing body scans are also great ways to induce sleepiness.

  1. Nutrition

Whether for poor planning, blunted hunger cues due to elevated cortisol levels from training too intensely without proper recovery, or simply thinking they’re eating more than they actually are, many athletes are undereating. If you aren’t getting enough calories, you aren’t going to recover properly, so the #1 thing our Made 2 Move team emphasizes is that you’re eating the right number of calories. Aim to eat every macronutrient (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) and aim to eat high quality sources of each.

If you’re unsure of how many calories or amount of each macronutrient you should be eating, here is a tool that calculates it for you. Keep in mind that this calculated number is a rough estimate that is not customized to specific goals and does not include all factors pertaining to an individual’s caloric requirements. If looking to really hone into your nutrition, talk to a registered dietitian to develop an individualized plan.

  1. Hydration

Water water water. A general rule of thumb is to drink AT LEAST half your body weight per day in oz of water. So if I weigh 130 lbs, I need roughly 65 oz. of water per day. If you’re someone who struggles to stay hydrated, first figure out what is keeping you from drinking enough water.Do you not like the taste of water? Try drinking seltzers or coconut water. Do you just forget to drink water? Invest in a Nalgene water bottle. If you’re a 130 lb person, just fill it up twice a day and you’ve reached your water intake goal!

  1. Minimize and manage stress

Kristen Dieffenbach PhD states the importance of “understanding that you can only stress your body as much as you have the resources to match that stress” in regards to training and recovery. Too much training with too little recovery can lead to elevated cortisol levels which can negatively affect sleep, work, and many other areas of health.

Our body cannot differentiate between the different stressors in our lives, so stress, whether it be from exercise, school, work, kids, finances, etc., are all perceived the same by the body. What feels great one week for training may not work the next, depending on the stressors of that week. If you know you have a really stressful week coming up or you’re already feeling super sore, you’re doing more damage working out 7 days a week than working out 5 and doing active recovery the other two. “Backing off” has a negative connotation but is sometimes the best thing we can do for our training.

  1. Rest day

Rest days are a vital part of recovery missing from many athlete’s workout programs. While it may seem like working out 7 days a week is the best thing you can do for your body, it can actually hinder your progress because your muscles have no time to rebuild. Thus, aim to have at least one full recovery day in your week. Most people are shocked at the progress seen after incorporating rest days into their workout program. This day can include walking and should be restorative.

Don’t eat less on your rest day. Just because you’re not actively burning calories in a workout does not mean that your body needs less fuel. On recovery days, sometimes you may even find you’re hungrier as your body is attempting to rebuild! Listen to your hunger cues and don’t restrict caloric intake on rest days.

Include M & M on rest days. M & M stands for Made 2 Move. Okay not really. M & M stands for mobility and massage. (These two aspects of recovery are great to include on your rest day but can be used any day of the week.) Mobility could look like stretching or foam rolling. Looking for the best massage around Charleston? Reach out to Katie Edwards Bodywork.

Ready to Recover?

Are you ready to balance the workload: recovery equation so that you can perform at your best? Here at Made 2 Move, we are experts in the science of recovery. We offer a *literal* hands on approach in your rehab and recovery process by coupling soft tissue mobilization and optimal movement in order to maximize your strength and recovery.

In addition to manual therapy and exercise, we also recognize that you are more than just your injury, so we work as part of an interdisciplinary team in order to address all aspects of your recovery (sleep, stress, nutrition, hydration, and rest). Looking to rehab an injury and maximize your recovery? Reach out to to schedule your consultation today!


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