Overtraining: Too much of a good thing

HARARE - There are two types of people who overtrain — the one who thinks more is better and the elite level athlete who just cannot stop training.

In the case of the more is better person this is primarily at the cost of their everyday health whereas to the athlete this is primarily at the cost of their performance.

Let’s hope you are neither!

Overtraining can best be described as the point at which a person cannot perform the required training loads or their training load exceeds their recovery capacity, and it is at this point that overtraining syndrome rears its ugly head.

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 systems can backfire, and undoubtedly decrease performance.

Their conditioning programmes require a calculated balance between overload and recovery.

Too much overload and or too little recovery may result in both physical and psychology symptoms of overtraining syndrome.

Interestingly overtraining can lead to exercise addiction which can lead to negative physiological and psychological effects, an addictive craving for physical activity is shown to lead extreme exercise whilst building up a tolerance to the exercise then needing to go to further levels to achieve the same high.

Like pharmacological drugs, physical exercise may be chemically addictive.

As a coach, trainer or athlete you need to be aware of the symptoms of overtraining and what to look out for.

Common major warning signs and symptoms of overtraining syndrome include:

1. Persistent fatigue — this is different from just being tired from a hard training session, this occurs when fatigue continues even after adequate rest.

You just experience this washed out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy and largely unenthusiastic.

2. Elevated resting heart rate — A persistently high heart rate after adequate rest such as in the morning after sleep. This can be a good indicator of overtraining.

3. Insomnia — Not to the extent that you just cannot sleep but rather that you experience poor sleep patterns.

Where this is detrimental is that in periods of high intensity training your body requires appropriate rest, and if you are not getting it then the system is broken down.

4. Loss of appetite — Any athlete who does not fuel or refuel themselves adequately will severely affect their performance in the gym, on the training pitch and on match day. Nutrition is king! Being a nutrient replete athlete is a priority at all times.

5. Depression — Athletes who compete need to be headstrong. They need mental resilience.

Should their training programme fail them, then the top two inches move to the dark side, their mental strength strains and this often leads to a loss of confidence.

When a competitive athlete loses confidence it is common for them to experience depression.

6. Depressed immune system — Recurring bouts of sickness become common and with this the athlete misses sessions or attempts to train through the sickness which further enhances the issue.

7. Decreased performance — The objective for every athlete should always be to improve on their performance.

Sadly this is not possible when experiencing the symptoms of overtraining.

The knock on effect of decreased performance is that of a regression in mental strength which in turn often leads to depression.

No amount of hardcore approaches or toughen up attitudes will beat overtraining, it will hunt you down and hold you in a corner...a tight corner for as long as it desires.

Slowly breaking you down. It is a legitimate issue in the world of competitive sports!

Next week’s article will look at ways to combat overtraining.

* Ex-Zimbabwe rugby international Grant Mitchell is High Performance Director at Innovate High Performance Centre in Harare and a top strength and conditioning coach.

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