Know the difference between training hard and training too hard.

6 Red Flags for Overtraining

Regular exercise is certainly one of the keys to a healthier, happier life. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to overdo it, and when you overtrain, you risk undoing all that progress you’ve made as well as introducing a host of new health issues. Here are 6 warning signs that can alert you that it’s time to dial back and take it a little easier.

1. Chronic Sore Muscles

If you notice muscle soreness that lasts more than a few days, it’s likely a sign of inadequate recovery. Your body should be able to build muscle gradually and bounce back from the strain of each workout, and if that’s not happening it’s a sign you’re overdoing it.

2. Dehydration

Does it seem like nothing quenches your thirst? Working out puts your body into a catabolic state and too much of this leads to dehydration and deprives your body of essential nutrients. Drink plenty of water and other fluids throughout the day, not just when you workout.

3. Weight Changes

If your body-mass index (BMI) drops too low or you are changes that are much more rapid than what is considered safe.  Monitoring BMI is one way to keep track of whether your training schedule is becoming unhealthy.  Women can develop something referred to as the female athlete triad. When you’re not consuming enough nutrition to sustain the expenditure of energy, it affects menses and bone density.  In both men and women, we other stress factors affected.

4. Sleep Disturbances

Training too hard can cause insomnia and other sleep problems by affecting your hormones, nervous system, and simply by leaving you over-tired and overstressed. Sleep disturbances can also be related to mood swings, as anxiety and depression impact sleep. This one becomes a negative loop, as overtiring sabotages your sleep and being poorly rested undermines your training. Build regular rest days into your routine and really rest – this doesn’t mean substituting a spin class, it means taking a day off from taxing physical activity.

5. Mood Swings

Exercising too much can result in mood alteration or  opposite can happen and attempting to work out depression and anxiety can lead to overtraining. This can be related to body image; overtraining is even more likely if you’re training not just to get fit but to lose weight or get washboard abs. To prevent this, it’s important to understand why you’re training. Ask yourself, am I doing this for realistic goals and a healthy lifestyle or am I using it as a crutch or a way to get down on myself?

6. You Get Sick More Often

You’d be surprised how often in the clinic someone comes in with the same story – they keep working out despite illness or injury and cannot understand why they are not getting well.  When we’re extremely fatigued or possibly overtraining our immunity drops.  Our body diverts its energy expenditure for exercise instead of focusing on resolving illness or injury. It’s usually a diagnosis of exclusion and we always consider other causes as well but if you are not healing in the expected time frame, consider the possibility you may be overtraining.

Asha Mehta, MD, currently works at the minor injury center at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, helping patients manage both acute and chronic musculoskeletal issues. With board certifications in internal medicine and sports medicine, she integrates these areas of expertise to promote a healthy, active lifestyle and help patients be at their very best. Since childhood, Dr. Mehta has played soccer and tennis. She stays fit with yoga, pilates and weight training, runs the occasional 5/10K or 1/2 marathon and plays soccer for the Golden Gate league in San Francisco.