OVERTRAINING CAN KILL YOU:
If you’ve been around the fitness scene for any length of time you’ll have heard it whispered about like Beetlejuice with people seemingly afraid to say it out loud for fear of invoking its wrath. The workouts done by this group wouldn’t hurt an average sized cat. Then there’s the other side of the coin. The no pain, no gain crew who don’t believe you can ever overtrain and who boast about causing rhabdomyolysis in their clients. Like with most things there’s truth to both sides and the smart approach is straight down the middle.
OVERTRAINING IS EXTREMELY MISUNDERSTOOD. THE EQUATION FOR TRAINING IS QUITE SIMPLE:
Training = Work + Rest
You don’t improve while training, only once you have recovered from the session and your body has rebuilt itself slightly better. This, supposedly, is common knowledge, yet all too often I see people only worry about the work side of things and never about the recovery aspect.
With the high stress, constantly on-call lifestyle many lead these days it’s quite common for people to turn to exercise for an escape. I am absolutely in love with my distance sessions at the moment because they give me hours to myself where I can’t be bothered by the phone or email. But is the exercise really helping me remove stress from my body or is it adding to it?
Every single training session you do adds stress to the body. While you may find it relaxing and enjoyable, you have added stress to an already stressed out system. The only way to overcome this is a better rest strategy, not more training.
Overtraining, in its early forms is often unrecognizable as a medical condition as no symptoms may appear. The only signs may be slight decreases in performance, injuries that never seem to heal, or a cold that simply won’t go away. It’s the accumulation of all the stress of work and training that contribute to these factors.
Overtraining syndrome frequently occurs in athletes who are training for competition or a specific event and train beyond the body’s ability to recover. Athletes often exercise longer and harder so they can improve. But without adequate rest and recovery, these training regimens can backfire, and actually decrease performance.
Conditioning requires a balance between overload and recovery. Too much overload and/or too little recovery may result in both physical and psychology symptoms of overtraining syndrome.
COMMON WARNING SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF OVERTRAINING SYNDROME
- Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
- Mild leg soreness, general aches and pains
- Pain in muscles and joints
- Sudden drop in performance
- Decreased immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
- Decrease in training capacity / intensity
- Moodiness and irritability
- Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
- Decreased appetite
- Increased incidence of injuries.
- A compulsive need to exercise
There are several ways you can objectively measure some signs of overtraining. One is by documenting your heart rates over time. Track your aerobic heart rate at specific exercise intensities and speed throughout your training and write it down. If your pace starts to slow, your resting heart rate increases and you experience other symptoms, you may heading into overtraining syndrome.
You can also track your resting heart rate each morning. Any marked increase from the norm may indicate that you aren’t fully recovered.
ORTHOSTATIC HEART RATE TEST
Another way to test recover to use something called the orthostatic heart rate test, developed by Heikki Rusko while working with cross country skiers.
TO OBTAIN THIS MEASUREMENT:
- Lay down and rest comfortably for 10 minutes the same time each day (morning is best).
- At the end of 10 minutes, record your heart rate in beats per minute.
- Then stand up
- After 15 seconds, take a second heart rate in beats per minute.
- After 90 seconds, take a third heart rate in beats per minute.
- After 120 seconds, take a fourth heart rate in beats per minute.
Well rested athletes will show a consistent heart rate between measurements, but Rusko found a marked increase (10 beats/minutes or more) in the 120 second-post-standing measurement of athletes on the verge of overtraining. Such a change may indicate that you have not recovered from a previous workout, are fatigued, or otherwise stressed and it may be helpful to reduce training or rest another day before performing another workout.
A training log that includes a note about how your feel each day can help you notice downward trends and decreased enthusiasm. It’s important to listen to your body signals and rest when you feel tired.
You can also ask those around you if they think you are exercising too much.
While there are many proposed ways to objectively test for overtraining, the most accurate and sensitive measurements are psychological signs and symptoms and changes in an athlete’s mental state. Decreased positive feelings for sports and increased negative feelings, such as depression, anger, fatigue, and irritability often appear after a few days of intensive overtraining. Studies have found increased ratings of perceived exertion during exercise after only three days of overload.
TREATMENT OF OVERTRAINING SYNDROME
If you suspect you are overtraining, start with the following:
REST AND RECOVER.
Reduce or stop exercise and allow yourself a few days of rest.
Drink plenty of fluids and alter your diet if necessary.
GET A SPORTS MASSAGE.
This may help relax you mentally and physically.
BEGIN CROSS TRAINING.
This often helps athletes who are overworking certain muscles or suffering from mental fatigue.
RESEARCH ON OVERTRAINING
Research on overtraining syndrome shows getting adequate rest is the primary treatment plan. New evidence indicating that low levels of exercise, or active recovery, during the rest period speeds recovery, and Moderate exercise increases immunity.
Total recovery from overtraining can take several weeks and should include proper nutrition and stress reduction.