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Stress and Overtraining Can Derail Your Workouts

Hopefully, you have set goals for working out, just as you have established goals for other areas of your life in which you hope to see progress. As a good performance-planner, your goals should be SMART: specific and small, measurable, attainable and actionable, realistic and relevant, and time-based.

When you evaluate the SMART goals in place for your workout program, are you seeing progress?  Are you meeting your goals?  For example, are you increasing muscle mass? Losing weight? Are your workouts resulting in reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol or A1C (diabetic risk) numbers?  If you are not achieving your workout goals,  it could be the result of overtraining.

Overtraining syndrome can counteract and even sabotage your workouts. Although it may surprise you, the root of overtraining is stress.  Stress is one of the most underestimated contributors to poor health, and the relationship between stress and overtraining provides even more proof.

Stress is a natural occurrence that we cannot escape.  In fact, not all stress is bad.  Up to a certain level, stress supports healthy, even optimal, performance. But stress above a certain level, an overload of stress, can cause imbalance, breakdown and distress.

A number of lifestyle conditions and behaviors contribute to your level of stress, and working out is one of them.

You may be thinking, “But doesn’t working out help reduce stress?!”  Well, working out is designed to benefit your body by breaking it down so that it rebuilds stronger.  Breaking your body down during workouts is what it sounds like – a form of stress.

Like many things associated with health, working out in moderation is the key. Past a certain point, you may be overtraining.

This is where lifestyle comes in.  If stress builds up in other areas of your life with no recovery, you have less tolerance for the added stress of working out. As a result, especially if your workouts are intense, you may be overtraining.

Managing your tolerance for stress is a balancing act among three major categories of activities: working out, timing out and replenishing or fortifying.  To reduce the risk of overtraining and achieve your desired benefits, it’s important to balance working out with timing out and replenishing and fortifying activities.

A significant timing-out activity is sleep. Some people are so committed to working out that they show up even when they have had a late night out, a restless night or something else that prevented a full night’s sleep.  They are the “workoutaholics.”

Sleep is our time for stress, brain and muscle recovery, yet an estimated 30 percent of Americans are sleep-deprived.  Our workouts cannot be effective when we have not given the stress on our bodies the opportunity to recover from the previous day, let alone the previous workout. In fact, it is more beneficial to take a nap than to work out if you are sleep-deprived. Without proper rest, we create additional stress on our bodies and risk overtraining.

Another timing-out activity is relaxation. Since timing occurs when you’re not expending energy or accumulating stress, thus allowing your body to recover, relaxing activities can enable recovery from stress.

For example, breathing exercises are great because they specifically focus on slowing down the rapid, shallow breathing effects of stress. You can even mimic sleep-breathing for similar benefits! Other effective timing-out activities include massage therapy, nature walks, gentle yoga, tai chi, stretching, meditation and good old-fashioned laughter.

Replenishing and fortifying the body are essential, and one of the primary ways is through nutrition and diet. It is said that you cannot out-train a bad diet and that what you put in your body is more important than how you move it, especially as it relates to weight management and energy levels. As a sports and exercise nutrition adviser, I have always emphasized the special importance of nourishing your body appropriately when working out.

Energy deficits – eating less while moving more – and caloric restriction are often touted as the path to weight loss. However, you may be restricting more than just calories – you may be restricting critical nutrients that you need more of because you are moving more.  Essentially, you are doing your body a disservice if you move it more and feed it less than what it needs or don’t replenish, whether calories, nutrients or both.

If you are not meeting your body’s additional demands for energy and nutrients when you work out, you are increasing the stress of your workout, risking stress overload and overtraining.

Another obvious replenishing and fortifying activity is hydration. On average, the human body is 60 percent water. Even higher are important body parts such as the brain and heart (up to 75 percent water), skeletal muscles (79 percent) and the lungs (83 percent).

We are critically composed of water, so hydration is essential to our body and its functions. Without it, we cause ourselves physical stress. Yet, an estimated 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated and fall short of their hydration needs on a regular basis.

As you can imagine, if you are working out in a state of dehydration, you are risking stress overload and overtraining.

To avoid overtraining, get the most out of your workouts and reach your SMART workout goals, you must balance the stress of working out with the other stress in your life.  Balancing your working out (expending energy), timing out (recovering from expending energy) and replenishing and fortifying (replacing energy) make your workouts more effective and help you achieve your optimal stress and performance level!

Tanya Leake is a certified health coach, group fitness and dance instructor, wellness presenter and book author based in Atlanta.

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