The consequences of overtraining

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What happens to your body, and mind, when you overtrain? We turned to the experts to find out exactly what happens to your body when you train excessively. 

“The cumulative effect of continually over working can throw your hormones out of balance and damage your muscles and bones,” says personal trainer and author of The Fat Burn Revolution Julie Buckley. “I experienced what I now know are typical symptoms – extreme tiredness, fast heartbeat, weakness, aches and pains, erratic appetite and low mood.”

Extreme long-term endurance exercise can put a strain on the cardiovascular system, ultimately placing you at risk of heart rhythm disorders.

The hormone cortisol is largely responsible for some of the worst effects of overtraining.

“Basically, a small amount of cortisol aids our training. But a large amount inhibits our results,”  says Kate Allot, head of fitness at Anytime Fitness. “Physically, when we overtrain our body produces excess cortisol, resulting in our body shifting into survival modern, slowing our body’s functions and therefore our recovery and results.”

Overtraining doesn’t necessarily mean pushing your run into the third hour, for four days straight. It can occur after a mere 30 minutes, says Clare Goodwin, an expert in exercise science and women’s hormonal health.

“The rise in cortisol isn’t a problem if you’re giving your body a day off between training, getting lots of sleep and eating plenty of good quality food to recover,” she says. “The problem is, most of us aren’t doing that. Instead, we’re rushing off from that morning spin class to get to our full day of meetings, fuelling our day with coffee, commuting in traffic and not getting home until late, before getting up at 5am to do it all again. All of these things are fuelling the cortisol fire.

“Long-term high cortisol breaks down muscle, suppresses your immune system and causes infertility in females. Continuing to overtrain can lead to adrenal fatigue and cause chronic inflammation, which can develop into an autoimmune condition such as Hasimotos thyroiditis, or mood disturbances such as depression and anxiety.”

Grab the September 2017 edition of WH&F for the full story covering fitness addiction by David Goding today.