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Don't Let Overtraining Stop You!

As the athlete continues to get better, it is human nature to want to add more and more stimulus in the hopes that they will continue to improve. Often this is not the end result however...

Too many athletes, playing their chosen sport makes up their livelihood. They dedicate many hours of their time to their training and so much of their daily life is focused on becoming a better athlete. With all this concentration on practice it is easy to end up in a situation where the load placed upon the body is more than one can handle.

As the athlete continues to get better, it is human nature to want to add more and more stimulus in the hopes that they will continue to improve. Often this is not the end result however. This misbelieve is what leads to a condition called overreaching. And, if this overreaching goes on long enough, overtraining syndrome will result.

Man resting between workouts

If Overreaching Goes On Long Enough, Overtraining Syndrome Will Result.

The Fine Line ///

There is a fine line between training just hard enough to present an overloading stimulus and prompt new muscle growth and training too hard where the body cannot adapt quickly and efficiently enough before the next training session.

When one pushes the body past it's limits this is termed "overreaching". This is not necessarily a bad thing if proper care is taken to immediately follow this period with a reduced workload phase known as tapering.

When this is practiced, super compensation will often occur where the athlete will rebuild and grow stronger. This is the desired effect of many training programs. If the tapering period is omitted or left out however, and overreaching goes on long enough, the athlete will become overtrained which will take much more time, often months to overcome and can be very devastating to the career of the athlete.

Symptoms such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, low libido, and muscle soreness are common among athletes undergoing intensive training and are characteristic of overreaching. It is when these symptoms persist after 2 weeks of lighter training and the athlete is constantly under performing that overtraining is diagnosed.

Have You Ever Gone Through A Period Of Overtraining?

Overtraining can be demonstrated through various signs and symptoms. Physical symptoms that may be present are poor sleep quality, persistent chronic fatigue, and muscle soreness.

Overtraining can also encompass a large number of psychological and psychosocial factors. When the athlete is experiencing conflict with teammates, family or coaches, or problems in the other aspects of their lives such as career, school or romantic relationships, their physical problems can be compounded and the situation will become progressively worse. Psychosocial symptoms shown can be tension-anxiety, depression, fatigue, confusion, decreased vigor, and anger.

Diet can also play a predominant role in the development of overtraining. Primary dietary influences are dehydration and an inadequate intake of calories, in particular carbohydrates.

Athletes who are on a low carbohydrate diet are often suffering from symptoms of overtraining as muscle glycogen is the primary fuel for exercise and recovery and without adequate carbohydrates in the diet, the body cannot keep up with either the training or the recovery.

Inadequate intake of protein, dietary fats, minerals and vitamins can also lead to overtraining if the deficiencies are great enough.

Eggs and fruit

Diet Can Play A Predominant Role In The Development Of Overtraining.

The Environment ///

The environment can also contribute to overtraining in various ways. If the athlete has recently done a fair amount of traveling due to competitions they will have the added stress of adjusting to different places for short amounts of time.

If they have recently had a change in time zones, weather conditions or altitude, these adjustment difficulties may be compounded. Along with the stresses of traveling, if the athlete has recently taken on a much greater workload at school or their job this may also serve to exacerbate their overtrained condition.

Deciding whether an athlete is overtrained is a complex procedure and often requires the help of a professional. It is often difficult to decide whether the athlete is just fatigued or if they do in fact have overtraining syndrome.

The deciding factor is often that the athlete has shown no improvement in fatigue resolution after a 2 week period of reduced workload or complete rest and that normally tolerated workouts now pose a great deal of stress for the athlete. The fatigue will also slowly go from just being present during the workout to being present for the rest of the day throughout daily activities.

Laboratory tests may be done which often measure the athletes blood count, iron levels, thyroid stimulating hormone level, creatine levels, blood urea nitrogen as well as serum electrolytes present.

These may help provide a more clinical picture of what is going on inside the athletes' body in a physiological sense. In the physical performance aspect, the athlete may have a lower VO2 max than they previously had and may have a lower absolute strength capacity.

Treatment For Overtraining ///

Treatment for overtraining symptom is multi variable and can be individualized to suit the need of the athlete depending on level of severity of fatigue, length of overtraining and preference of the athlete. The best treatment is complete and total rest for 3-5 weeks. Often though, this is a very hard request to accommodate when the athlete is raring to get back into training.

To compromise, active rest is often prescribed. This includes the athlete adopting an exercise plan that is much reduced from their former and in a mode of exercise that is not at all related to their sport. This helps reduce the psychological factors of comparing the current workload with the intensity they were performing before and thus trying to push themselves harder.

Light aerobic exercise of 5-20 minutes is usually a good choice keeping the heart rate below 140 bpm to ensure a moderate pace. The athlete should also monitor how they feel before, during and after their workouts to ensure they are showing no signs of over fatigue and are progressively getting better.

Man relaxing in tub

The Best Treatment Is Complete And Total Rest For 3-5 Weeks.

They may also wish to monitor sleeping patters, mood and muscle soreness as well to ensure all aspects of their well-being are taken care of. It should be noted that often, an athlete's mood might deteriorate for the first couple of weeks due to reduced training volume.

Many athletes find this hard to take psychologically and will develop great anxiety, nervousness and restlessness. After a couple of weeks however this should improve as the athlete realizes they are starting to feel better and begins to look forward to training at their previous level again without the feeling of fatigue.

After all of the present symptoms have subsided the athlete will be ready to return to training. An appropriate training program should be introduced that includes a good periodization plan, at least one day of rest a week along with some easier training days.

Their training plan should take advantage of competition and non-competition season to ensure that proper rest and relaxation is taken after a heavy competition period.

While they are returning to practice, it is important to continually monitor their physical, psychological and physiological health to ensure that they do not lead themselves down this path again and take early preventative measures if signs are beginning to show.


Overtraining is a complex syndrome that can stem from many different situations. Physical training, psychosocial issues, improper nutrition, and changing environmental conditions can all lead to its occurrence.

There is a fine line between presenting just enough of a training stimulus to get the athlete to show maximum amount of improvement and pushing them too hard that their body cannot recover and keep up.

Finding this line is the challenge that every athlete faces. With proper periodization program planning, monitoring of general well being, and ensuring that the athlete faces the least possible amount of stress in their daily life we can help prevent and control this devastating condition.

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