We are CrossFitters. We love to workout. There’s nothing better than that high you get after a tough WOD, or when you finally accomplish a new skill you’ve been working on for months. We often think the more we exercise or the harder we train, the more improvements we’ll see in our WOD times and abilities…but that’s not always the case. In our quest for constant improvement and because we love it so much, it’s really easy to tiptoe into a dangerous level of working out: Overtraining.
Overtraining happens when you break your muscles down or stress your body faster than you can recover from it. This does not just mean “working out a lot.” Overtraining is a problem with serious physical ramifications. I’ve been there, and, trust me, it’s not fun.
There was a time several years ago when I trained HARD. I wanted nothing more than to keep getting stronger and faster and more efficient and more skilled. I wanted to test my physical limits to see what I was really capable of if I put my mind to it. My goal was extreme performance, especially leading into the Open. I did extra skill work, extra lifting, often two WODs a day, often extra cardio to increase my lackluster endurance, and rarely took a rest day. I trained weaknesses without focusing in on just one; I wanted to get better at all of them at the same time. I forced myself to keep pushing, even on days where I just didn’t want to do anything.
And those days that I didn’t want to do anything became more and more frequent. I became really sluggish and started feeling shaky and just all-around awful after every workout. It took me longer and longer to recover each day. Something that I used to love (CrossFit workouts) became something that I dreaded but forced upon myself every day. Mind over matter!
I remember one specific workout around that time: Zeus. Zeus is the worst workout I can ever remember doing, but it probably has more to do with my state at that time than what the actual workout consisted of. Anyway, it was a long one. I remember my body revolting during the workout; it just didn’t want to do anymore. But my brain kept telling me, “Just keep going. You’ll be glad you finished it when it’s over.” I was slow as molasses that day, but I kept chugging along. And it turns out I wasn’t glad when it was over; I was miserable. That day, I finished just as the next class was starting. The only thing I could do was crawl over near the windows to get out of the way and lie flat on my back. I was stuck in that position for the next two hours, shaking and feeling like I’d been hit by a truck. I didn’t have the strength or energy required to get up. Some kind souls brought me things to eat and drink, but nothing really helped.
As terrible as Zeus was, it didn’t deter me from my mission. In my head, working out was just something that made you feel terrible if you worked hard enough. I kept up my extreme schedule, and I broke my toe (literally!). But that still didn’t deter me! I just kept pushing through, working on movements that didn’t need that stupid toe. And by the time the Open rolled around, my toe was mostly better, but I was really sick. I had a bad cold and a cough that I just couldn’t shake. My body was tired and had had enough.
It seems so obvious looking back, but I didn’t realize at the time that I was in the midst of overtraining. It all came on very gradually over the course of many, many months, and I didn’t know the signs. I recognized that CrossFit had become a lot less fun for me than it used to be, but I thought that came with trying to become the level I wanted to be. And I recognized that I was feeling horrible after every workout, but I basically took that as a badge of honor – that meant that I had worked hard, like that’s how you’re supposed to feel when you’ve given it your all. (Guess what? It isn’t.)
After the Open that year, I was so tired of the constant struggle that I decided to take some time off from working out. When I started testing the waters again here and there, I would do so verrrry slowly, always performing well below my abilities. I didn’t allow myself to push hard because I was afraid of experiencing that awful feeling again….until one summer evening months later. That night, I did a workout with a partner – there’s nothing like fear of letting down your partner to make you go harder! So I gave in and went there, to that dark place. I gave it everything I had. And you know what? I felt AMAZING afterwards. I got that high again. I’d forgotten what that high felt like; it had been missing from my workouts for such a long time. That high reminded me what max effort is supposed to be. It’s supposed to feel awesome and empowering. It’s supposed to lift your spirits. It’s supposed to make you feel invincible.
I don’t share this story to discourage you from working skills; I encourage all forms of skill work! I also don’t bring this up to discourage two-a-day workouts; there is a place for two-a-days every once in awhile in a training program, when not taken to extremes and assuming your capacity is built enough to handle it. And I definitely don’t bring this up to discourage you from signing up for the Open; EVERYBODY should be doing that! It’s so much fun overall; you for sure don’t want to miss out.
I do share this story with you to make you more aware of the signs and to discourage you from overdoing it in your own life. Overtraining is a very real problem with far-reaching ramifications. Even if you’re not going to my extreme level, it’s easy to take it just a little too far. We’re interested in longevity here at CrossFit Hollywood. Working out is something that you should be doing for the rest of your life; burn-out is not an option!
I’ve listed below some common symptoms of overtraining. As you read through them, you’ll probably notice lots that overlap with my story above. I also want you to take a critical eye towards these symptoms to see if they might apply in your own life.
Common Warning Signs and Symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome
- Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
- Mild leg soreness, general aches, and pains
- Pain in muscles and joints
- Sudden drop in performance
- Decreased immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
- Decrease in training capacity / intensity
- Moodiness and irritability
- Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
- Decreased appetite
- Increased incidence of injuries.
- A compulsive need to exercise
If a bunch of the above are sounding really familiar to you, it might be time for some rest! Training = Work + Rest. We tend to focus a lot on the Work portion, but Recovery/rest is just as important to the equation because that’s when your gains are actually made.
Stay healthy! 🙂