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6 physical symptoms of overtraining

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  • What physical warning signs should exercisers take a break from exercise?
  • When and why do sports breaks make sense?
  • How should you structure a training break?
  • Are frequent muscle cramps also a reason to take breaks from sports?
  • What warning signs should athletes seek medical advice?

Athletes know: Regular training is good for you physically and mentally. Even if the training sessions are strenuous, you will feel fit, relaxed and comfortable in your own skin after you shower afterwards. The fact that you have a slack every now and then is, of course, a gift. The motto is to overcome the weakness and move on.

But be careful: there are warning signals from your body that you shouldn’t ignore. You can find out here what these are and when taking a break from sports is important for your health and can even be constructive for sport.

What physical warning signs should exercisers take a break from exercise?

Dr. Caroline Werkmeister, sports medicine specialist at the Athleticum of the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), names 7 types of warning signals that ambitious sports enthusiasts should use as an opportunity to think about taking a break from sports:

  1. Physical exhaustion: When training, which until recently was easy, suddenly becomes physically very strenuous and tiring.
  2. Lack of performance improvement: If a performance plateau occurs despite intensive training or optimal training control, minor injuries may also become more frequent.
  3. Mental exhaustion: If you find it difficult to motivate yourself to exercise for a longer period of time, you increasingly lack the drive to complete your training schedule and you become increasingly listless about training. Chronic fatigue is also part of it. Nervousness when a unit cannot be perceived.
  4. Increased susceptibility to infections: If you have one cold after another, it indicates a weakening of your immune system. This can be a result of overtraining and is a clear signal to take a break from training.
  5. sleep disorders: Exercise increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol, which is an antagonist of the sleep hormone melatonin. If cortisol levels are elevated due to late or very intensive exercise sessions, this can lead to difficulty falling asleep and restless sleep.
  6. Gastrointestinal problems: Studies show: Stress can trigger and increase inflammatory reactions in the intestines. If we put our body under stress for a long time through too many or too intense sports sessions, this can have an impact on the gastrointestinal tract.

“With all of these symptoms, as a sports doctor, I ask myself whether the regeneration times between training sessions are or were sufficient,” says Dr. foreman.

Are you really exhausted by your training at the moment? Take a break and try something completely different, for example mobility. Find out how your body and performance benefit from your sport.

When and why do sports breaks make sense?

The symptoms mentioned above are non-specific, but they all signal that everything in my body is not in balance. And often it’s because you’re overtaxing your body.

“If you follow a strict training plan, it puts the body under stress,” explains Dr. Werkmeister, “If you overdo it with training for a while, or if private or professional psychological stress occurs, it affects our cortisol metabolism. The stress hormones are released more intensively, create a hormonal imbalance and can thus trigger a decline in physical and mental health performance.” On the other hand, if you work on doing even more exercise, you will further weaken your body and drive yourself further into a decline in performance and motivation.

Studies show that overtraining can cause a form of burnout, which is characterized by an unexplained decline in performance combined with a severe feeling of fatigue.

The sports doctor advises that in stressful phases of life and when the above-mentioned symptoms occur, you should slow down your training at least a gear until your entire life situation relaxes. “If ambitious athletes often notice poor form, chronic fatigue and a non-specific susceptibility to injury, they should take it seriously and ideally take 14 days of regeneration,” advises the sports doctor.

If you continue as before instead, overtraining may occur. Then your muscles are at risk of breaking down, your immune system working less efficiently, your susceptibility to injury increasing – and your training performance and motivation continuing to decline.

How should you structure a training break?

A break from training does not mean that you have to take a complete break from exercise. Dr. Werkmeister: “It’s best to try something completely different or a recreational sport during this time, for example gymnastics, yoga, tai chi. Or go to the sauna. Relaxing walks also help.”

All of this has a positive effect on your stress level and your muscles and immune system get plenty of time to regenerate. You will be amazed at how much more efficient you will be when you return to your usual training after such a break from sports, how your risk of injury will decrease and your immune system will also become more resilient.

Exception: If you have viral infections, such as colds, corona or flu infections, you should avoid physical exertion altogether. The general rule is: “You should not do any exercise if you have a fever or a sore throat, even if the symptoms are temporarily masked thanks to ibuprofen or antibiotics,” says Dr. foreman. According to the expert’s advice, you should be symptom-free for 5 days before starting training again. Otherwise there is a risk of permanent damage to your health, in the worst case, inflammation of the heart muscle.

Are frequent muscle cramps also a reason to take breaks from sports?

“Muscle cramps are more likely to be an acute overload and possibly a lack of electrolytes,” says the sports doctor. “They usually don’t go away with breaks in training.” Instead, have your family doctor check your blood for electrolytes and supplement if you are deficient in a nutrient.

What warning signs should athletes seek medical advice?

Most of the warning signs described are non-specific and can have causes other than excessive training. If you don’t feel better after a 14-day regeneration phase, it makes sense to have an exclusion diagnosis carried out by your family doctor or in a sports medicine practice, for example, check for deficiency symptoms and have your heart, blood pressure and thyroid checked. “The more regularly you have a medical check-up, even when you are feeling well, the more values ​​are available on the basis of which the treating doctor can classify the symptoms of those affected and make a diagnosis,” says Dr . foreman.

Tip: Many health insurance companies support regular “sports checks” and reimburse the majority of preventive sports medical examinations if a sports doctor recommended by the German Society for Sports Medicine and Prevention (DGSP) is visited. You can find all information about this here

Regardless of your sporting ambitions: listen to your body’s signals. Give him enough rest to regenerate. And don’t underestimate the value of walks and gentle exercise on your long-term training success.

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