Many people who train regularly find that during certain times of the year, it gets rough. Sometimes, it’s the change of seasons that causes our bodies to feel lethargic. Everything hurts. Sleeping is the only thing we want to do, and our gym workouts start to feel like chores. So, what do you do? Is it time for a week off from the training? Or, is it better to stick with it and do less?
Signs of Overtraining
First of all, let’s review the signs that you’re overtraining:
Fatigue or insomnia; waking up unrefreshed
Loss of motivation
Sore, stiff muscles
Lack of mental concentration
If you’re simply sore from a workout, that’s not overtraining. The soreness, called DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) should subside within a few days, just in time for your next workout with those same muscles. But, if you start to feel like just existing hurts, that is a sign you need to take a break. You shouldn’t feel tired all the time nor should you have difficulty waking up and feeling ready to take on your day, your work and your relationships. When this happens, it’s time to pause, reset and recharge.
Deloading as a Way to Prevent Burnout
People who lift weights regularly, using the principle of progressive overload, lifting heavier each time they work a muscle group, can benefit greatly from a deload. Deloads are a way to give your body a break from training while keeping you in the habit of going to the gym on the regular. They allow you to reduce the stress on your body in one of two ways – by reducing the intensity (load lifted) or reducing the volume (set or reps performed). If you regularly push your body to its limits, working out at least 12 weeks at a time, four to six times per week, you would benefit from a deload.
If you plan a deload correctly, you can prevent injuries, plateaus and burnout without compromising your gains. Contrary to what some think, you won’t lose muscle by going lighter for a week. In fact, you can stop lifting weights for up to six weeks before you start losing muscle and strength, particularly if you are keeping your calories and protein up.
Take a Rest Week
The amount of rest and recovery you need depends on how hard you work on a regular basis. If you stress your body more, you need more rest. That being said, a lighter fitness regimen may not require a deload at all. In fact, most people don’t train hard enough to need it. If you’re not tracking your lifts, adding more intensity, and you’re not managing your diet to support fitness goals, you probably don’t need to deload. If you’re simply staying healthy and going to the gym to keep yourself active, you probably can safely take a week off to rest before jumping back into your routine.
One thing to guard against is getting out of the habit of going to the gym. If you’re like me, routine is everything. So, if you worry that not going will break your healthy habit, by all means go to the gym, but do something super light, such as pilates, yoga or walking on the treadmill. Another thing I do to keep with my habit is wait until I have a family vacation to take my rest week, which typically takes place twice a year at least. This is a built in way to take a break without ruining any habits since your routine is all different anyway when you’re on vacation!
Prevention is the Best Medicine
There is way to avoid the need to deload or rest altogether. If you are methodical about it, you can make sure you take care of your body while improving your body composition and performance over time.
Get enough sleep – make sure you get at least eight hours of sleep a night and if you are having difficulty falling or staying asleep, figure out why and fix it. It may be as simple as taking a supplement, such as magnesium or melatonin.
Eat enough food – figure out how much you need to eat to meet your health and fitness goals. One way to do this is to know your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) to make sure you are eating enough to sustain not only your metabolism but also your workouts. Consume the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats to fuel your body. A nutrition coach can help set you on the right path and keep you on track.
Manage your stress – make sure you deal with your stress. Work and family can add a ton of extra stress to our lives, making our workouts feel that much harder. Find ways to relax, whether it be self-imposed “Self-care Sundays,” yoga, or any other activity that relaxes you. Don’t let your stress become all-consuming and stay ahead of it to manage it effectively.
Follow quality routines – find a workout routine that works for your goals without overdoing it. Know your body and your abilities. A personal trainer can help you figure out what’s best for you and can design a routine that will gradually add more intensity at the right pace for you.
If you listen to your body and follow expert advice, you can meet your health and fitness goals without burning out. But, if you do find yourself in overtraining mode, deloads and rest can help.