Can you over train? Short answer, yes.
After exercise, your body needs rest and recovery time. How long your body needs to rest and recover depends on a number of factors, but the three I’ll dive into are:
- Fitness level
Recovery and Genetics
To me this one is patently obvious, but it may not be as obvious to others, so a story from my youth. When I was but a lad, there appeared upon the professional hockey scene a fellow who went on to rewrite the NHL scoring record books.
There are those who call him the greatest player of all time/ Personally, I think Gordy Howe, Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux might have a little something to say about that, with the jury still out on Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin. But I digress.
Once upon a time I read an article on this Wayne Gretzky fellow, and one of the things it mentioned was that he had an unusually speedy recovery time between shifts. While other players were still gassed, he was ready to go back over the boards.
It was not a training issue, or a fitness issue, he simply recovered quicker, and the explanation was, well, that’s the way he is, i.e. genetics. Some people are simply blessed with a body that recovers faster. Damnit.
Recovery and Fitness Level
Now the above on Gretzky (and I’ll admit I chose him just so I could stake a claim that I’ve got 3 to 5 players ahead of him on the list of all time greats) isn’t to say he wasn’t in terrific shape, he was. It was to say that in addition to being in terrific shape, he had something unique that made him recover faster.
Since very few of us have that genetic something, whatever it is, we need to control what we can. One thing we can control is our own fitness level. When you first start exercising, you have to start slowly, because the recovery from your workout is slow.
Think about going to the weight room for the first time (or after a long hiatus). The next two days (in particular the period between 24 and 48 hours after) are absolute hell. The deep, DEEP muscle soreness tortures you with every move, and constantly nags at you even if you’re sitting still.
The next workout? The recovery is bad, but certainly not as bad as after the first. And each successive workout is easier. The more you do an exercise, the easier it becomes to recover from it. Which is one of the reasons to change up your workouts, but that’s a topic for another day.
Recovery and Age
Continuing with the theme of weight lifting, are you over 30? Over 40? Over (God help you) 50? Have you taken a break of any length and then returned?
I started taking the summer off yoga a couple years ago. Yoga burnout, young kids, busy at work, too much to do, so I kayak and run instead. After my first summer off, one of my fellow old-fart yogis asked me before my first class back, “Are you ready to pay the Iron Price?”
Aside: if you missed the Game of Thrones reference, well, what rock have you been hiding under? I’m no pop-culture guru, but even I got that one when first I heard it.
Well, I was willing to pay the Iron Price, and pay the price I did. Go to class, challenge the body, suffer, recover. Repeat until back in shape.
Get to the point, what about over training?
These three (and other) factors mean that your body needs time to recover from your workout. The time varies from workout to workout, body to body, year to year, but you need time to recover.
The harder you train, the more damage you do to your body. Yes, damage. In fact, damage is the entire point of exercise, you damage your body force it to recover, and in recovering, make itself stronger than before.
If you do not give your body enough time to recover, then you layer damage upon damage. Layer on enough of this damage and your body will be too weak to handle even the workout itself risking serious injury.
So, yes Virginia, it is possible to over train. Listen to your body, and if it’s screaming at you to stop, then stop. I do not mean that if you hear “This is uncomfortable” then stop. I mean if you’re feeling red flag pain, and your body and soul are screaming, “STOP,” then bloody well stop.
As for chronic over training, that constant, mild, nagging ache which never leaves? That I’m feeling right this moment as I type this? That’s when you do what I’m doing: take a day off, and let your body recover, because that mild, constant, nagging ache is a sign you are headed for red flag pain and injury.