Time to give it a rest

If starting a new fitness regime was one of your New Year’s resolutions, chances are you’re training hard but are you overtraining? When it comes to exercise, rest and recovery are just as important as working out.

In the early days of a new fitness regime it’s all-too-easy to get carried away. You want quick results so you push yourself, training harder and more often, but training too hard can have a detrimental effect on your physical and mental wellbeing.

During exercise, the body begins to break down tissue, resulting in microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. It is only when you rest that recovery occurs and the muscles adapt and grow. If you exercise again before recovery is complete, you will experience minimal or possibly no fitness gains.

Overtraining occurs when you exercise beyond your body’s capacity to recover. Unfortunately there is no magic formula to tell you how much rest you need between workouts. The amount of time you need to recover depends on a number of factors including your current fitness level, the intensity of your workout and your diet.

The best way to gauge the amount of rest required is to listen to your body. Obviously, if you are feeling stiff and sore, you have not recovered sufficiently. As a general guideline, beginners should allow a minimum of one day’s rest between training the same muscle group. More experienced exercisers, who are training at a higher intensity, may need up to seven days to recover. This is why many people use a split routine for strength training in which they work different muscle groups on different days. This simple technique enables them to train hard but still provides adequate time for recovery.

Signs of overtraining include a decline in performance, lack of progress or even loss of muscular strength, more frequent injuries, insomnia and decreased appetite. You may also experience a lack of motivation, feelings of lethargy and depression. Many people who experience these symptoms for the first time assume they’ve reached a plateau and intensify their training, which makes the problem worse.

If you think you may be overtraining, the only solution is to take some time off. Experts recommend at least four to five days of complete rest. When you begin training again, take it easy. Drink plenty of fluids and ensure you are eating a balanced diet. Sports massage can also help muscles to recover.

This is not, however, an excuse to abandon your fitness regime altogether. With too much rest, you will soon begin to experience a detraining effect. Cardiovascular fitness can decline in is little as three or four days while muscle strength will begin to decrease after a few weeks.

How to avoid over-training

  • Ensure you schedule at least one day off from training each week.
  • Make sure you get plenty of sleep. Sports scientists have discovered that athletes who sleep more enjoy improved performance.
  • Use the right fuel. Eat plenty of lean protein and complex carbohydrates to support tissue repair.
  • Keep it varied. Don’t stick to the same routine. This not only gives your body a chance to recover but it prevents you from becoming bored.
  • Introduce active rest days. Instead of following your usual workout routine, ease back with a light training session eg walking instead of running.
  • Keep a training log. This will enable you to keep track of your workouts and ensure you don’t fall into the overtraining trap.

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