- Working out too much can delay fitness progress or even undermine strength and muscle gains.
- Persistent fatigue, moodiness, or immobility are signs to slow down, says a powerlifting expert.
- Instead of pushing through injuries or bad form, allow your body to recover, he recommends.
Overtraining can hurt your fitness progress and increase risk of injury, especially when you’re a fitness beginner, according to Chris Duffin, a world record-holding powerlifter and co-founder of Kabuki Strength.
Warning signs like lack of progress, mood or sleep issues, and persistent aches and pains are all signals to take a step back, he said. Here’s what to look out for.
You’re working out hard, but not making strength or muscle gains
One huge red flag that you’re exercising too much is that you’ve stopped seeing progress.
Spending hours in the gym without being able to lift more or improve suggests you aren’t giving your muscles adequate rest and support to grow back stronger, he said.
You can’t finish the workout or lift the same weight you used to
If you don’t listen to your body, you could actually start to lose some of your hard-earned strength gains.
Duffin said overtraining can cause your muscles to fatigue to the point where you become too exhausted to finish a workout, or have to lower the weight or reduce the number of sets to finish.
Your mood, sleep quality, or other areas of your life are deteriorating
Lack of progress in the gym can be frustrating, but becoming moodier is also a sign of exhaustion.If you’re losing sleep because you’re too sore to get comfortable at night, it’s time for a break, Duffin said.
Your range of motion or form is getting worse
Another major indicator of burnout is if pain or fatigue limits your mobility. For instance, you may not be able to squat as low, or correctly hold a weight in front rack position.
You might find yourself in compensation patterns, using the wrong muscle groups and causing undue stress on your body as a result. Examples include leaning to one side as you run or having an unstable core while doing an overhead press, causing your lower ribs to flare out.
To find out if you’re in a compensation pattern, check with a trainer. And if something hurts beyond just muscle fatigue while training, stop what you’re doing, Duffin said. Working out with bad form won’t improve anything, and it increases your risk of getting hurt.
You’re relying on foam rolling, stretching, or massage just to get through your workouts
If your first stop at the gym is the foam roller, you might be overtraining, according to Duffin. Stretching and massage help with recovery and injury prevention, but you shouldn’t need them for pain-free exercise, he said.
Stopping mid-workout to relieve pain and tension shouldn’t be a regular occurrence.
“If you have to rely on quick fixes to get through your workout, you have a problem,” Duffin said. “If it’s one isolated thing, that’s not a big deal, but if you’re doing it every workout, it’s a sign to do something different.”
You have pain or injuries that won’t seem to heal
Persistent small pains are major red flags for overtraining, and you shouldn’t ignore them, Duffin said. Trying to push through can lead to worse injuries that keep you out of the gym for much longer.
If you’ve overdone it, scale back the intensity until you recover
The best way to recover from overtraining is to reduce your workload by lifting less weight or by resting more. If you have an injury or seriously limited range of motion, it may be best to stop training entirely.
After taking a full break from working out, it’s important to ease back in gradually to reduce the risk of reinjuring yourself, Duffin said.