Serious athletes have no time to break from training, right? Wrong. Conditioning for your sport is not all about work, activity and movement. You also have to rest, relax, and recover (or restore, recuperate, and regenerate). Overtraining can lead to a number of serious consequences and set your training back weeks or even months.
Are you overtraining (pushing your body too far over the course of a training program) or overreaching (going too hard in a single workout or series of workouts)? You've gone too far if you're experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Sympathetic overtraining syndrome, where your resting heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolic rate are abnormally elevated
- Parasympathetic overtraining syndrome, where your resting heart rate and blood pressure decrease abnormally
- Emotional instability like fatigue, apathy, depression or irritability
- Decreased desire for and enjoyment of training
- Decline in performance
- Loss of muscle strength
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Prolonged recovery from training sessions, which can include tenderness and soreness in muscles and joints
- Sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
Overuse injuries often result from repeated, abnormal stress applied to a muscle, tendon, ligament or bone—by doing too much, doing too much too soon, or not taking enough time to recover and recuperate (Baechle and Earle, 2008). They can also occur as a result of training errors, faulty technique, decreased flexibility or insufficient strength. Find out if you're overtraining or underrecovering.
How to Prevent Overtraining
Are you guilty of overtraining or overreaching? Start incorporating some of these ideas into your training.
- Design a good training program that incorporates sound exercise principles, including rest days
- Design a program that is appropriate for your level of conditioning
- Use the principles of cross training (variety of activity)
- Use the principles of interval training (variety of intensities)
- Learn to control your stress in daily life so your body can recover from exercise sessions
- Get enough sleep to allow your mind and body to recover from workouts
- Get a massage periodically
- Use self-massage tools after a workout or on rest days—e.g., massage stick, foam roll, or small massage balls
- Use a steam bath, sauna, or whirlpool, as needed
- Eat a balanced healthy diet so that you replenish fluids and nutrients needed for recovery
- Take a vacation several times a year to allow your mind and body to recharge; an often overlooked area in training is how your daily life impacts recovery from exercise, workouts, and sports competition
You can also prevent overtraining and overreaching by tweaking aspects of your personal life, such as:
- Cutting back on smart phone time, including texting, web surfing, checking emails, and talking, to give your brain a break
- Driving slower in your community so that your body is not on overdrive (not to mention that it's safer for you and other people on the road)
- Keeping your personal finances simple and in order
- Enjoying time with family and friends
- Avoiding being a constant weight watcher. Don't micromanage every second of your life
- Learn to complain less throughout your day
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 6th ed. Philadelphia; Wolters Kluwer Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010.
Baechle TR, Earle RW, eds. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 3rd ed. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 2008.
Kreider RB, Fry AC, O'Toole ML, eds. Overtraining in Sport. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 1998.
Richardson SO, Andersen MB, Morris T. Overtraining Athletes: Personal Journeys in Sport. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 2008.
Verkhoshansky Y, Siff M. Supertraining, 6th ed. Rome, Italy: Verkhoshansky, 2009. www.verkhoshansky.com and www.melsiff.com.