I normally do some sort of activity every single day. If I’m not lifting I’m doing yoga, or at the very least I’m doing some type of cardio. I like to move and sweat every day. Perhaps I’m a little crazy, because there’s this little voice inside me that whispers of the universe imploding if I happen to take a day off.
Alas, the body sometimes needs a break. As much as I like to believe I am made of steel, I am in fact made of skin, bones, muscle and sinew. I might feel like Wonder Woman sometimes, but much to my dismay, I am completely…mortal. I have been painfully reminded of said mortality on several occasions, as my body begins to feel too tired to train effectively. That’s when I choose to take not one, but two days off of training (or more as needed).
And does the universe cease to exist because I lay off the iron for a few days? Of course not. But what does happen is that I hit the gym feeling fresh and ready to crush it when I get back to it!
So why do I choose to take time off? Well, when I start to notice signs of overtraining, I know what needs to be done. I’ve gotten pretty good at communicating with my body, and rather than train with rigid periodization, I prefer to train intuitively. I have a plan, of course, but I’m not afraid to color outside of its lines. If I need to take time off completely, or have a deload week, I do it—even if I don’t want to.
How do you know if it’s time to rest and recover? Perhaps you’re on a periodized plan that schedules these recovery bouts. But even if you are, you might need to listen closely to your body when it comes to overtraining or burnout.
Signs of Overtraining
- Soreness that is more intense or longer-lasting than normal
- Aches and pains that persist or worsen
- Performance either decreases or is stagnant
- Decreased motivation or desire to train
- Excessive feelings of fatigue
- Feeling debilitated hours after a training session
- Lack of progress in body composition, despite a solid nutritional regimen
- Experiencing common illnesses often (a weakened immune system)
- Overwhelming feelings of stress or irritability
If you’re going over that list and can check off more than two of these signs, it’s probably time to take a step back and evaluate your training. Has it been months since you’ve taken more than a day off of training? When was the last time you actively did something to aid in recovery, such as a massage or a contrast shower?
These are things to consider when contemplating burnout. If you’re anything like me, it can be difficult to rationalize time off. You feel the need to move constantly and often see not training as counter-productive to your goals. But sometimes the best thing you can do for your goals is to rest.
In training, more isn’t better—better is better. Better movement, better recovery, better efforts, better quality. These are things that will get you closer to your goals. You shouldn’t leave the gym feeling as though you’ve been trampled. Should you feel initially beat after a tough session? Perhaps. But this feeling should subside shortly, and you should typically feel better walking out of the gym than when you walked in.
Training isn’t about killing yourself. It’s about getting better.
In order to get better, you might need to implement one of the following strategies:
- Total rest: This strategy should be used in the event that you have not taken any time off, or done a deload, for months. It involves literally not training at all for a period of 2-5 days. You can get a massage, acupuncture, foam roll or simply stretch. You should implement a total rest if you are experiencing most of the signs of overtraining. During this time, you’ll want to make sure your nutrition is spot on.
- Active recovery: This involves movement that is less intense, such as walking, yoga, or a dynamic mobility circuit. You should engage in active recovery regularly, but especially if you have been hitting it hard at the gym every day without breaks. 2-3 active recovery sessions per week is optimal.
- Deload: These are best if planned every 5-8 weeks, or at the end of a training cycle, but can be implemented on the fly if you are experiencing overwhelming signs of burnout. A deload involves training similarly to your normal routine, but reducing volume, load and intensity. This could mean using a very low percentage of your max, or simply doing mostly bodyweight movements. Most people experience personal records at the gym in the week following a deload, and this is not a coincidence.
We think you’re a Wonder Woman. We truly do. You make time for the gym while pursuing a successful career, raising babies, or maintaining a steady academic load and an admirable GPA. We know you work hard, and we applaud you. But, we want you to remember that although you have the heart and the will of a superheroine, your body is still mortal. That’s why we’re reminding and encouraging you to train and eat in a way that makes your body better—even if it means taking a break.