The common misconception is that working out too much is the only cause of overtraining. However, there are actually multiple causes of overtraining and most of them have nothing to do with training at all.
In this post we are going to cover some of the secondary causes of overtraining and why you need to take a holistic look at not just your training, but on all of the stress in your life including family stress, work stress, etc.
We aren't going to cover every cause of overtraining in this post, so just keep in mind that stress is a cumulative issue.
Here are a couple other key points to consider as you read:
The average guy probably isn't working out frequently enough or intensely enough to cause overtraining.
A small amount of physical stress can be too much when combined with the other causes of overtraining and stress, leading to an overly burdened system and serious physical and mental consequences.
You must keep the following equation in balance at all times to avoid overtraining: Stress (Physical - Nutritional - Mental) = Rest and Recovery (Proper Nutrition, Sleep, etc.).
WHY IS OVERTRAINING AN ISSUE?
According to Ben House, contributor of Onnit Academy, overtraining can severely damage the immune system and cause hormonal imbalances, among other problems like increasing the risk of injury.
Additionally, according to the National Institute of Health website:
"Overtraining can cause prolonged fatigue and reduced performance despite increased training. Results of overtraining include... muscle damage, changes in cytokine actions...mood disturbances, and diverse changes in stress hormone responses."
4 PRIMARY CAUSES OF OVERTRAINING
Cause of Overtraining #1: Too Much Training
The obvious monster in this equation and the primary cause of overtraining is too much exercise.
Exercise by definition damages the body, tears muscles, causes the accumulation of metabolic waste (e.g., lactic acid) and triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol.
Constant exercise without allowing the body to rest literally causes chronic destruction.
Cause of Overtraining #2: Too Much Food
People in western society simply eat too much, and bodybuilders and athletes are some of the most guilty. This is because we have been told that eating 5 meals a day is essential for building muscle and keeping our metabolisms high.
However, science has proven that constant eating is a huge source of stress on the body and can cause serious digestive issues and health problems like insulin resistance, pancreatic insufficiency, etc.
Additionally, every time we eat, a large portion of our blood supply is diverted to the digestive system. This reduces the amount of resources available to the muscles and joints that are trying desperately to recover.
Cause of Overtraining #3: Poor Nutrition
Just like too much food is one of the causes of overtraining; too little food or not enough of the right foods can also be a huge source of stress.
The western diet primarily consists of mostly bread, meat and cheese, which is hardly sufficient for providing your body with the proper micronutrients and enzymes needed to faciliate the 1000s of chemical reactions of the body.
Most fitness junkies have the protein and amino-acid piece of the equation figured out (i.e., protein shakes), but very few people we've met are actually eating enough fruits and vegetables to get the required amounts of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.
Without proper micronutrients, your body simply will not recover or be able to handle the hours of abuse created in the gym.
Cause of Overtraining #4: Not Enough Rest
One of the primary causes of overtraining that is by far the easiest to address is a lack of sleep and rest.
Many fitness junkies believe their workouts are what cause them to grow and adapt, but the fact is that our bodies do most of their growing and repairing while we sleep.
Not getting enough quality sleep (at least 7 hours), can disrupt our endocrine system and our bodies ability to produce adequate amounts of the hormones required to build and repair our muscles.
Conclusion: There are many causes of overtraining, and it is these four primary items that over-stress our immune systems ability to deal with too much exercise.
If you are one of the few people that hit the gym everyday without a thought of the potential long term consequences, here are a few suggestions to help your body recover.
Make sure to mix in rest days. Not just days away from the gym, but from physical activity all together.
Do stretching and joint mobility work daily to help circulate synovial fluid and blood through the muscles and joints
Make sure to eat plenty green leafy vegetables, fruit, and superfoods like Pine Pollen and Spirulina.
Drink plenty of water and make getting at least 7 hours of sleep a priority every night.