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Are You Overtraining?

Overtraining is a period of prolonged fatigue where the athlete experiences plateaus or decreases in performance despite continued training (Mackinnon and Hopper, 1991; Stone et al.1991; Fry, Morton and Keast, 1991). Overtraining should not be confused with overload training, which is beneficial and necessary for an adaptation to occur.

There are two levels of overtraining that we will discuss these are:

1. Overreaching

Overreaching is a short term over training in which performance decreases. Generally there are no health problems associated with overreaching if it is recognized early. Overreaching can be reversed if a slightly longer than normal regeneration period is followed. Overreaching is sometimes used to try to stimulate a peak just prior to a major competition.(Stone et al. 1991; Fry, Morton and Keast, 1991).

Physical Indicators

Decrements in performance
Chronic fatigue
Elevated resting heart rate
Slower heart rate recovery
Persistent muscle soreness
Elevated blood pressure
Unexplained loss of body weight
Deterioration of sport skills
Frequent illness (cold, flu)
Menstrual irregularities

Psychological Indicators

Decreased self confidence
Mood changes
Low motivation
Sleep disturbances
Loss of appetite
Excessive emotional display
Lack of concentration

2. Overtraining Syndrome

Overtraining syndrome is a chronic situation that results from long periods of high intensity or high volume work without rest periods. This type of overtraining is characterized by prolonged periods of decreased performance. Health problems may develop out of this type of overtraining (Stone et al. 1991; Fry, Morton and Keast, 1991).

Symptoms of Overtraining

Overtraining is characterized by chronic fatigue and decrements in performance of 5-15%. The fact that decreases in performance is one of the best indicators of overtraining presents a problem to both the coach and athlete. Once performance is negatively affected by overtraining it is often not possible to correct the situation in time for an important competition (Mackinnon and Hooper, 1991). There are other symptoms that the coach and athlete should be aware of which are useful in the early detection of overtraining these can be seen in table 1.

Causes of Overtraining

There are a variety of factors, which can contribute to the development of the overtraining syndrome these include:

Inadequate recovery between training sessions
Excessive amounts of high intensity training
Increases in training volumes of greater than 10% per week
Sudden increases in training intensity
Monotonous unvarying training programs
No break in training between seasons
Frequent competition and travel
External stressors (family, job, school, etc)
Often, more than one of these factors contribute to the development of overtraining. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to prevent overtraining.

Prevention of Overtraining

Highly motivated people are at the greatest risk of overtraining. These people are capable of pushing themselves for long periods of time. Elite athletes tend to spend much of their time on the verge of overtraining. These athletes are normally able to recover from training following a couple of days of rest. Recovery from the overtraining syndrome may take several weeks or months. Early recognition of over training and prevention can keep an athlete from losing a large part of their season to over training (Mackinnon and Hooper, 1991).

Prevention of overtraining is accomplished through the use of a Periodized training program and periodic fitness testing. Regular improvement should be seen in fitness levels. If there is no improvement in fitness level following training it is possible that the athlete is starting to become overtrained.

If you have an athlete that you feel is overtraining give them several days off, if there performance does not improve send them to a doctor to have some blood work done. There are many biochemical markers that indicate overtraining is occurring that can only be evaluated by trained medical technologists. Try to develop good communication with your athletes about what they are feeling during training. This will probably be the most important factor in the prevention of overtraining syndrome.

Many of the symptoms of overtraining will occur individually at different times throughout the training year. Individually these symptoms are not a problem but when multiple symptoms occur the coach and athlete should look at the training program and evaluate where a period of decreased training could be included. Since medical problems can result from chronic overtraining a sports medicine doctor should be consulted if there is an athlete that you suspect is chronically overtrained.