Friday, October 18, 2019

Beware of Overtraining

Beware of Overtraining
By: Adrian Quimbayo-Cipric

          It is often thought that in order to improve, an athlete must go a hundred and ten percent every time, day in and day out. We see it all the time in movies and other media; “sleep is for the weak,” “no rest days” and such. While it is good to have an intense mentality when it comes to training, it is extremely important to make sure adequate recovery is reached. Often times athletes will give their all in practice and training, but will not get adequate sleep, under-eat or not eat the right foods, or just be doing too much at once. In the example of lifting weights, a person is breaking down their muscle more and more as the workout progresses, this means the athlete is at their weakest at the end of the workout. Their increases in muscular size and strength does not increase during the workout, but during feeding their body with food and proper rest.

What is Overtraining?

So, what is overtraining exactly? Overtraining happens due to a difference in the demand of an athlete’s performance and their functional capacity, and this leads to a decrease in performance despite still training. It is caused by training too intensely too frequently and/or under recovering. When someone is experiencing overtraining it can lead to many negative symptoms including physiological, psychological, immunological, and biochemical side effects. The physiological effects are ones such as prolonged recovery, decreased performance, decreased strength and work capacity, and insomnia. Some psychological effects include depression, emotional instability, and being more sensitive to stress. The immunological effects contain decreased immune function, slower healing, and flu-like illnesses. Finally the biochemical side effects can include decreased bone mineral content, mineral depletion, and lower levels of testosterone.1 Overtraining usually starts with small symptoms, then they disappear and there’s usually an increased fatigue, if intensive training is continued the symptoms come back at a more severe level. Knowing about overtraining is important because athletes at every level are susceptible to it, especially those whom are less experienced and do not know how to manage their training loads as well.

How Can Overtraining be Prevented?

Now that we know what overtraining does, how can we prevent it. In the case of overtraining, prevention is much more effective than trying to reverse it, and that starts with optimal recovery. Recovery is different for everybody and many factors can influence the type or length of recovery needed. Recovery depends on the kind of exercise and stress that was placed on the body; high stress, intense training is going to need more recovery than a more moderate level of training.2 It is also very individualized, with each athlete responding differently, which is why it must be closely monitored and how an athlete is feeling before, during, and after training should be taken into account. Also if a new type of training/activity is introduced that the athlete is either unused to or unfamiliar with they could potentially need a little longer to recover.2 Recovery does not mean just laying in bed all day and being lazy, there are different types of recovery. There is passive recovery, which is much more relaxed and can involve no physical activity, while on the other end there is active recovery, which can include performing activities such as going on a walk or even low intensity cycling or swimming.2 The most important way to aid in the prevention of overtraining is to educate the athletes and coaches of it and how to recognize it; this way it can be caught early on and extra recovery methods can be taken and looked into. The best way for an athlete to recognize overtraining is when their performance is declining despite increased training efforts, and then for this to be communicated quickly to coaches and trainers.3 An important factor for prevention is periodization of training as well as taking in the proper amount of calories, staying hydrated, getting optimal sleep and to try and avoid prolonged periods of intense training combined with high stressors in sleep, mood, and environment.

I Think I am Overtraining, How Do I Fix It?

Although prevention is ideal, what can a person do that finds themselves already overtraining, and how can they begin to reverse that process? Overtraining treatment and the amount of recovery needed can vary from individual to individual in terms of time needed. One recommendation is to either cease training or to significantly lower training volume and intensity for one to two weeks, or however long it takes one to feel recovered and start reversing the symptoms. Another option is to cross train, or to focus on another activity for a few weeks, until symptoms are reversed. Just like with preventing it, in order to reverse overtraining it is of utmost importance that adequate sleep is taken every night. In addition, it is essential that a person eats healthy, balanced meals that are high in protein and carbohydrates, for repair and energy. Overall getting rest and taking the time to pause, allowing your body to catch up, is the ideal way to reverse overtraining.

Why Does it Matter?

          Recognizing overtraining matters because as previously mentioned, it can impact anyone, from child athletes all the way up to the professionals. Anyone who performs exercise can potentially be affected by it if they are either training too intensely for too long, or the more common circumstance, under recovering. Going all out pedal to the medal for training 24/7 sounds cool, but is not the right train of thought to have when it comes to long term improvement, especially for those who are less experienced. It can potentially hold back and stop athletes from reaching that next level that they desire. It is more important to be efficient with one’s training, knowing when to push and when to slightly hold back, as well as making sure the recovery one is receiving is optimal and they are not undereating or under sleeping. This also can tie back to how important it is for an athlete to have an offseason because as humans, our bodies need rest and time to recover, and cannot go one hundred percent for extended periods of time with no breaks. It is important to train intelligently, and to remember the purpose of training in the long run is to improve, to build up and not to break down.


1. Fry RW, Morton AR, Keast D. Overtraining in Athletes: An Update. Sport Med. 1991;12(1):32-65. doi:10.2165/00007256-199112010-00004

2. Kellmann M. Preventing overtraining in athletes in high-intensity sports and stress/recovery monitoring. Scand J Med Sci Sport. 2010;20(SUPPL. 2):95-102. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01192.x

3. Kreher J. Diagnosis and prevention of overtraining syndrome: an opinion on education strategies. Open Access J Sport Med. 2016;Volume 7:115-122. doi:10.2147/oajsm.s91657


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