Feeling stale and tired? More aches and pain than usual after your exercise? You could be OVERTRAINING. Find out more about this condition and what you can do about it.
ARE YOU OVER-TRAINING ??
Overtraining. Also called “overtraining syndrome.” For some, this represents a dark period in their exercise quest, one plagued with sports injury, illness, and lost of interest. For others, the concept of over-training is hazy, something they don’t have an immediate concern over. For all who take their physical exercise and training seriously, though, overtraining is a common threat.
In order to ensure that you stay in the best physical and mental shape for your exercise and sport – and to optimize those hours of dedicated effort in improving your performance – you should know about overtraining and how it might affect you in your recreational of high performance sports endeavours.
What is OVER-TRAINING ?
- As an athlete, you train in a way that shifts your body’s daily physical state beyond its normal everyday level of functioning. This is something called overload, but it is within the capacity of the body. Carefully regulated and controlled, such intensive demands made of your heart, lungs, muscles and joints become the training stimulus that allows you to reach towards improved performance.
- Occasionally, the amount of training you do (as measured by frequency, intensity and duration) may go beyond the body’s ability to adapt to the stresses imposed. You may thus “over-reach.” This may form part of your training and competition cycle, and provided that you have proper recovery from these episodes of over-reaching, your performance development will continue without much problem.
- For example, you may be taking part in the regular local cycling races as well as in regional races. If these races are outside of your normal pattern (eg. your first ever 4-day tour race event), you physiologically reach further than ever before. If there is no let-up in training or competition preparation after that event, your body does not have the chance to adapt and recover, and you risk entering into the zone of relative physical and mental overload called “overtraining.” This is one situation when more is better does not hold.
How do I know if I have over-trained ?
- The over-trained body responds with disturbances of several functions of the body including those of the nervous system, hormones and the immune system. While no two people will respond in exactly the same way, there is a general appearance of signs that things are not well. These can cause the active sports person to become quite depressed that their hard work is not resulting in improving performance.
- The trick to managing what can be a confusing and defeating period in your exercise or sports journey is to recognize the signs and symptoms of overtraining. The body’s way of telling you that you have over-trained. You may not have all of these signs, but if your exercise and sports performance is dropping and you have some of the other symptoms listed, you may indeed suffering from overtraining.
- Poor or decreased performance
- Loss of muscular strength
- Decline in endurance
- Drop in exercise capacity
- Decreased co-ordination
- Troubling physical & mental sensations
- Increased muscle fatigue
- Muscle soreness at lower levels of exercise, and persisting after exercise
- Raised heart rate (pulse) at rest and during exercise
- Loss of interest and drive to exercise
- Feelings of staleness & lethargy
- General health disturbances
- Loss of appetite & body weight loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased minor illnesses (eg. sore throat, coughs, colds, allergic reactions)
What can I about my overtraining condition ?
- The first thing to do is to recognize that you may indeed have this condition – and then DON’T PANIC !! There are 2 common responses to over-training: to resign yourself dejectedly with dark visions of plummeting fitness and performance, or to exercise even harder to overcome the condition through sheer brute effort. No pain, no gain at its finest. Both of these approaches are fraught with problems and will delay your ability to overcome the condition and reach towards new heights of performance.
- Professionals who have dealt with highly trained, super-motivated and top performance sports people agree that a simple plan of positively taken steps will help the over-trained body to restore itself to the settings that will put things back on track. Here is a simple 7-step plan to managing your over-training:
- Stop and determine if you have the overtraining condition. You may already have the signs of overtraining listed above. If you have any doubts, consult someone whom you feel may have experience in this area: your coach, an exercise scientist, a sports doctor. Convince yourself that this is really what is happening. Accept it. And now determine to do something about it !!
- Relative rest. R-E-S-T is a doubtful 4-letter word to a lot of active people, but this is one circumstance where honoring it is better than hedging it. Your body needs to take a break from the usual physical stresses that your training and competition place on it. So this is the time that you should step away from your running shoes, bike, swimming pool, or whatever and wherever your sport brings you to. And indeed, chill out a little. Involve yourself in activities away from the main sport that brought you to over-training in the first place.
But the REST is relative. Don’t be too worried about losing all that carefully built fitness. You can stay active after a period of rest, but do something that you enjoy, and something that does not need you to exert yourself too heavily on the physical front. Take a break, focus on stretching, get a massage, and enjoy doing other things for a while.
- See a doctor. If you are being troubled by minor illnesses or injury aches and pain, here is the opportunity for you to take time off, see a doctor, and have them properly treated. This not only helps restore your body to health; it also gives you a feeling that you are getting over the bad things that are happening to you.
- Eat, drink, and make merry!! Your over-trained body may have become depleted in the Nutrition department. All that training plus your careful management of your diet may have taken its toll on your stores of energy, fat, protein, minerals and vitamins. Now is the time to kick back a little and feed your body. Think upon this as a re-building period which will allow you to replenish the stores you need to have for your return to training and competition.
- Carry out maintenance tasks. Here’s a good chance for you to catch up on things which you may have put aside because of your heavy training timetable. These might involve catching up with friends, dealing with correspondence, having things fixed, or just finding time to read all those books you have bought. Or listen to those CDs. Perhaps send the bike for servicing (and leave it in the shop for a while). There are a lot of things that you can fill your time with while taking your mind and body away from the over-training stimulus.
- Start forward planning. As you find yourself getting a little happier with life, you may sense the re-kindling of excitement about your sport or exercise. With your new-found knowledge of what over-training is all about, another positive step you can take is to record your feelings as a diary to spur avoidance of this condition in the future. And now, move on to reviewing your plans for the next 6 – 12 months. Note your competition dates, and set yourself new training goals that see you progressively move back to top form (or better !!). Ensure that your training periods allow for recovery. In so doing, you are planning your physical peaks, recovery periods, and a more carefully structured approach to all that physical effort – which helps to prevent over-training from rearing its ugly head once again.
- Starting up again. As you sense a growing hunger and impatience to be back on the proverbial sports saddle again, allow yourself the luxury of a deliberate and systematic build-up. Work on distinct areas that bring you back to exercising again: flexibility, strength, endurance, and skills. Start to knit these together and re-enter your training programme once again. Starting out at a lower level than when you left off, listen to your body as you increase the training pace.
And if all goes according to plan, then let me be the first to greet you with : WELCOME BACK !!!