Updated 30 September 2014

Could you be overtraining?

More is not always better when it comes to exercise. And too much exercise can have a damaging effect on the body.


There is no disputing the importance of daily exercise, but as with all things, too much of a good thing can have negative consequences. We spoke to an expert to find out what overtraining is and how to avoid it.

If you struggle with any of the following problems, you might have stepped into the realm of overtraining:

  • You are continually getting sick
  • Your bones, joints and muscles hurt
  • You are losing leanness despite increased exercise
  • You feel fatigued all the time
  • You can’t get a good night’s rest

Rika Diedericks is an Olympic rower, Crossfit coach and personal trainer. She has witnessed the toll that overtraining can take on the body first-hand, which is why we turned to her for advice on how to identify the symptoms of overtraining and some tips on how to avoid it.

Learn to listen to your body

Her first tip is probably the most important – something that is very often neglected, to our detriment: “Listen to your body! We are all unique individuals and need to find a rhythm that is right for us. You need to learn what your body likes and dislikes, become aware of you weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and nurture yourself accordingly,” she says.

Rika advises starting with the basics: rest and nutrition. One of the major reasons people suffer from overtraining is because they are not giving their body the nourishment and the rest it needs to recover from a workout.

“Your rest and recovery need the same attention as your workout. You also need to ensure that you are eating good food (fresh, organic and as unprocessed as possible) – performance is 80% diet, after all.”

Not just too much exercise                                                                                                                                 

 If you’re reading this and realise that you have the symptoms of overtraining, and yet you only train three times a week – how is this possible? Rika points out that overtraining is not just about pushing one’s body in the gym, it’s about what happens to it between workouts.

“Most people have many other stressors that could push them into overtraining mode. It is not solely determined by how many workouts you’re doing – it also includes emotional, psychological and social stressors.”

One of the biggest culprits is actually a lack of sleep. If you are not getting enough sleep, your body will not function optimally and if you overload it with intense workouts on top of insufficient shut-eye you are asking for trouble.

What to do if you are overtraining                                                                                                                            

If you are already suffering from overtraining, Rika says you need to take some time to rejuvenate/recharge. Try one of the following ideas:

  • Take a break, or at least reduce the volume or intensity of your workouts.
  • Sleep, and then sleep some more.
  • A great massage – get one.
  • Focus on active recovery. It is as important as exercise.

“And when you start your new training cycle, make sure it is a cycle that includes rest and recovery.

“I am a big fan of a training regime that starts with the preparation of joints before any exercise or working with weights – and a session is only complete after an active recovery decompression session. This allows me to handle multiple workouts per day, because of the active recovery.”


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