Recovery is one of the key components to high performance in sports but is rarely appreciated by most athletes ranging from the weekend shuffler to the elite level endurance athlete. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the road to success is hard workouts, and the more the better.
A highly motivated athlete, no matter how elite, who has placed recovery on the back burner, will soon enough experience total fatigue. Waking up in the morning tired, unable to complete the easiest of training sessions. This can go on for days, weeks or even months. You’re overtrained.
How Overtraining can occur
Below is a list of just some of the reasons an athlete could become overtrained:
- Inadequate recovery between training sessions;
- Too much high intensity training, typically for too long;
- Sudden drastic increases in distance, length, or intensity of exercise routine;
- Daily intense weightlifting;
- High volumes of endurance training;
- No vacations, breaks, or off-seasons;
- For athletes, excessive competition at high levels (i.e. trying to win every race);
- Inadequate nutrition, typically in the form of caloric and carbohydrate/fat restriction;
- Insufficient sleep;
- High amounts of stress and anxiety.
Common Symptoms of Overtraining
There are many symptoms of overtraining, ranging from physiological to biochemical or even a compromised immune system. Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms of overtraining.
Physiological and Psychological
- Decreased performance;
- Decreased strength;
- Decreased work capacity;
- Changes in heart rate at rest, exercise and recovery;
- Increased frequency of breathing;
- Loss of appetite;
- Increased aches and pains;
- Chronic fatigue;
- Decreased self-esteem;
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Susceptibility to illness;
- Slow healing of minor scratches;
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- Negative nitrogen balance;
- Flat glucose tolerance curves;
- Reduced muscle glycogen concentration;
- Decreased hemoglobin;
- Decreased iron serum;
- Mineral depletion;
- Elevated cortisol levels;
- Low free testosterone.
The only way to overcome overtraining is adequate rest along with sound nutrition. Overtraining usually results from training mistakes, most commonly is an imbalance between stress and rest. This usually occurs as an athlete suddenly increases their training workload in either volume or intensity, sometimes both.
Overtraining can be avoided by following a long-term, structured training program that has scheduled rest and recovery days. A reduction in workload for a single training week, every 6-8 weeks is also very beneficial. Taking the time out to reduce both mental and physical stressors of the modern world can help with recovery.
Training programs should be unique to the individual athlete, taking into consideration, age, experience, susceptibility to illness and injury, along with any personal goals.