Pushing yourself past the limit can be as detrimental to your fitness goals as doing no training at all. Here Ashley Conrad tells you how to recognize when you’re overtraining and what you can do to combat it.
From a very early age I have lived by the mantra: you go 100% or you don’t go at all. My belief has always been we are designed with the gifts we need to achieve greatness. While most people focus on being better than the competition, my focus has always been on how to make myself better.
For me, focusing on competition is a distraction from understanding who you are and realizing your potential. Whether training to play basketball at USC or building a career as a personal trainer, at which I’ve been acclaimed by others to be one of the best in the world, the constant pursuit of unlocking 100% of my own capability has allowed me to achieve things most deemed impossible.
In preparation for playing basketball at the University of Southern California, I took my training to a whole new level. A daily regime of two-hour track workouts, two to three hours of basketball drills and scrimmage followed by two hours of weight training turned my body into the epitome of a machine.
I was fast and could run the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds. I was strong and could bench 210lb. And, at five-foot-nine, with a single leap I could nearly touch the rim of a regulation height basketball hoop. At 18 years old, 152lb and 13% body fat, I was ready.
But then something went terribly wrong. My body fat went up, my strength went down and suddenly I couldn’t even run halfway up the basketball court without feeling faint.
The first day it happened I thought it was a fluke. The second day I thought maybe I had the flu. On the fifth day, my mom forced me to go to the hospital.
As I sat there, with nurses prodding me with needles, I ran through the Rolodex in my head of potential missteps I’d made. But there were none. My eating had been perfect. My supplementation had been perfect. My training had been perfect.
And there was the problem: I’d pushed myself too far and had a dangerously low white blood-cell count. While demanding 100% from myself, I’d underestimated my body’s need to recover.
One of the biggest epidemics today among avid gym-goers is overtraining and under-eating. Every day I get dozens of emails and phone calls surrounding this exact issue. And everyone of those emails and calls starts with the same few words: I’m doing everything perfect.
And from there it evolves into:
- I’m doing everything perfect but I can’t lose the fat.
- I’m doing everything perfect but I can’t lose the fat, so I cut more calories.
- I’m doing everything perfect but I can’t lose the fat, so I cut more calories and I’m restricting all carbs.
- I’m doing everything perfect but I can’t lose the fat, so I cut more calories, restrict almost all carbs and now I’m gaining weight.
Is this you? If so, you are not alone.
Here are the facts: overtraining and restricting calories causes your cortisol (the hormone responsible for ‘belly fat’) to fluctuate so intensely that eventually you’re tapped out. From a scientific standpoint, your adrenal glands simply cannot produce cortisol anymore, ultimately leading to intense fatigue, depression-like symptoms and weight gain.
Overtraining also suppresses growth hormone and testosterone, the key players we have for burning fat and building muscle. This depletion causes the body’s defense mechanisms to kick in. Fat is then stored in an attempt to conserve energy because the body is malnourished.
There is so much room for those of us passionate about being fit to learn about the science of the body. Conducting experiments and pushing yourself to the limit can lead to permanent metabolic damage. Ideal results will always be a reflection of a perfect balance within the body.
For this reason I encourage all my clients to:
- Enjoy one high-carb cheat meal per week.
- Take two consecutive days off once a week.
- Completely relax for 10 minutes every day.
- The amazing thing about the body is that it will tell you exactly what it needs. Taking the time to listen and implement the necessary adjustments is the most important skill we can acquire.
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