Reacting to Signs of Overtraining

March 14, 2019

Athletes—and Strength/Conditioning Coaches and Sport Coaches—are taught one guiding principle that extends well beyond athletics: The harder you work, the more success you'll achieve. It's a principle that is generally very accurate.

However, there's another phrase that also holds true for all facets of life...including athletics: Taking something to the extreme is bad for you.

Given our culture, it's not surprising that overtraining can occur with competitive athletes who strive to excel in competition. That's why Strength & Conditioning Coaches need to have procedures in place to prevent “Overtraining Syndrome.”

In an article on the Training & Conditioning website, “Too Far, Too Fast,” Dr. Terry Favero writes that Overtraining is defined as “the result of an imbalance in the training-to-recovery ratio--too much training and competing and too little recovery and regeneration. The difficulty is deciding just what constitutes 'too much' and 'too little.'

“Athletes enhance performance by overloading the body and then allowing it to recover,” Favero writes. This stimulus-recovery process is called adaptation, and it's a characteristic shared by all living organisms. In developing athletes, small to moderate training loads can lead to large improvements in performance if they're implemented properly.

But while a little is good, more is not necessarily better. The adaptation process has built-in limits that govern both how quickly an athlete can adapt and their maximum capacity to endure intense training. These limitations function as safety mechanisms to protect the body from irreversible damage.”

Naturally, most coaches and athletes notice performance-related symptoms first, and may overlook the psychological clues--reduced concentration, anxiety, apathy toward training, irritability--that often precede performance deficits. But if the non-physical signs of overtraining syndrome are caught and intervention begins early, athletes can avoid the long-term effects and put themselves back on track for healthy training and adaptation.

Overtraining Prevention

As Favero write in his article, “The best-case scenario isn't to catch overtraining syndrome in its early stages, but to avoid it in the first place. Most instances of overtraining result from poorly conceived programs that can be corrected with forethought and attention to recovery needs.”

As an example, Favero points out that, “if a preseason program does not gradually increase intensity and performance demands, athletes won't develop a sound training base before the start of their competitive season. They may 'play their way' into game shape by mid-season, but the physical and mental stresses of pursuing optimal performance from an inadequate foundation will take their toll over time, increasing the risk for overtraining and most likely creating disappointing results late in the season.”

Overtraining can certainly occur for athletes who play on more than one sport at their school. Favero recommends the strength coach create “a hybrid strength and conditioning program that meets the training needs of both sports without creating overstress.” If a school doesn't have a strength coach, then it's important for the coaches of the two teams for which the athlete participates to communicate with each other and develop a program that works for both sports.

Symptoms

An article on VeryWellFit.com, written by fitnes consultant Elizabeth Quinn, lists the following warning signs 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

  • Insomnia

  • Headaches

  • Decreased Immunity (increased number of colds, and sore throats)

  • Decrease in training capacity/intensity

  • Moodiness and irritability

  • Depression

  • Loss of enthusiasm for the sport

  • Decreased appetite

  • Increased incidence of injuries

  • A compulsive need to exercise

Treatment

Quinn suggests the following first steps toward treating Overtraining Syndrome.

  • Rest and recover. Reduce or stop the exercise and allow yourself a few days of rest.

  • Hydrate, 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.

Quinn mentions out one thing: “New evidence suggests that low levels of exercise during the rest period, which is labeled 'active recovery,' speeds recovery, and moderate exercise increases immunity.”

Favero points out in his article: “The good news is that access to advanced monitoring techniques, solid research, and time-tested workout strategies provides athletes and coaches today with more information about optimal training levels than ever before.”

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