Overtraining can be defined as an assortment of symptoms and behaviours that happen in athletes and recreational trainers after repeated high intensity workouts, with insufficient rest periods to allow for sufficient recovery of damaged muscle fibres. This overtraining syndrome can continue for weeks or months, depending on the length and intensity of overtraining that precedes the athlete or recreational gym goer’s symptoms.
The Physiology of overtraining
The main aim of training is to develop strength, build muscle and increase athletic performance. This usually involves stressing the skeletal muscles or cardiovascular system or both. This stress in the short term fatigues and weakens the muscle and there is also minor damage cause at a cellular level during intense training. While exercise temporarily weakens muscle, sufficient rest periods allow this muscle damage to be repaired.
This theory is typified by the below statement:
Workouts happen in the gym; however strength increases happen outside of the gym.
If you are overtraining, there is not enough rest time between workouts, stopping adequate repair and recovery of the damaged muscle tissue. This ultimately leads to decreased performance, fatigue, and other symptoms.
What are the main symptoms of overtraining?
- Fatigue, continuing even after rest
- General irritability and losing the ability to concentrate
- Lack of motivation
- Muscle soreness
- Absence of menstrual bleeding in females
- Diarrhoea, recurrent colds or flu and increased resting heart rate (RHR)
How to Diagnose and treat overtraining syndrome
Diagnosis of Overtraining is made by process of elimination. A complete medical check-up should be undertaken to rule out other diseases, before assuming an athlete is suffering from overtraining syndrome.
Treatment of overtraining centres around taking longer periods of rest. The longer the athlete has been overtraining, the more rest period will be needed to recover. The amount of rest can range from two or three days, to several weeks, depending on how much the athlete has been overtraining.
There are also no rules as to how much rest is needed exactly. Usually the rest periods should continue until symptoms of overtraining have disappeared. Once symptoms have gone, the athlete should return to light training, slowly increasing intensity over time as long as they are free of symptoms.
How to prevent Overtraining
It is possible that overtraining can be prevented; nevertheless this means as an athlete you need use self-discipline and common sense when undertaking any training. This is especially relevant for both recreational gym goers, as well as elite athletes. Care should be taken to get plenty of rest between workouts and competing. There is a tendency, especially in new leisure athletes, to feel that “the more they train the better”, this approach will quickly lead to symptoms of overtraining.
In order to avoid overtraining, athletes should not undertake the same workout routine two or more days on the trot, and should switch training sessions between high and low intensity sessions. In addition to this, planned rest days should be added to all training plans, to allow for sufficient recovery