Regardless of the goal, the result of regular training should mean that you become stronger, fitter and more energetic. You can also expect to feel improvements in your stress levels and general sense of well-being. For some people, however, that is not the case.

One thing that ought to be understood is the difference between muscle soreness and injury. As has been mentioned here previously, physical activity places stress on the body and in turn the body adapts to that stress and becomes stronger as a result.

Under normal circumstances an individual will experience DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) for anywhere between 24 and 96 hours after beginning an exercise regime, with the “discomfort” usually peaking between 24 and 72 hours post-exercise.

For those people who are new to training this can be a scary experience. But it’s important to realize that it’s entirely normal, and that as you train more regularly, you’ll experience it to a far lesser degree.

However, as many trainees will tell you, it never completely goes away and nor should it, but controlling it is a delicate balancing act and depends very much on the individual concerned. If the workout is too difficult, the DOMS effect may prevent you from being able to train for up to a week. But, if the training session is too easy it will not encourage your body to grow fitter, stronger and leaner. Experience and proper instruction will ensure that you get the balance right.

Overtraining can be difficult to prescribe because we all have different levels of physical and mental strength and some people can push themselves to the point of almost total exhaustion, whereas others will stop when they’re feeling a bit tired.

That said, it’s possible for both types of individual to overtrain, because rest and recovery are hugely important aspects of an exercise programme, and they’re usually overlooked.

Supercompensation is the term used to describe the process by which muscles recover and are able to do more work during the next session. Not being able to do so is a classic sign of overtraining. Other symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following: reduced function of the immune system resulting in colds and ‘flu’, constant muscle soreness, joint pain, lack of motivation, constant tiredness, reduced sex drive, disturbed sleep patterns, depression and loss of appetite. That’s not quite what you were hoping for when you took out your annual gym membership, so how do you prevent it?

In order to get the most from your programme and avoid overtraining you will need to recognize the signals your body is sending you.

Sometimes you may feel tired at the start of a training session but as you begin to move, you’ll find that your motivation and energy levels start to rise, and you feel great at the end of the workout.

Contrast that to how you will feel when you are overtrained: the warm-up feels like a High Intensity Interval Session and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to lift, run or even move with any degree of speed or strength.

However, many trainees will persist with their efforts for fear of undoing all the progress they’ve made in previous sessions. I find that this is a very misguided approach and I’ve discovered this through personal experience.

If your immune system is run down and is busy trying to fight an infection, the last thing your body needs is a training session which will divert its scarce energy resources. In situations like this, it makes more sense to skip 1 or 2 training sessions to allow for full recovery rather than making the infection worse and being away from training for 2 or 3 weeks.

If you look on your training programme as a long-term lifestyle change, rather than a short-term drop-a-clothes size stunt, decisions like the above will be far easier to make and will result in a lot less guilt. So, listen to your body and recognize when it needs a day off training and then put your feet up!

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