Overtraining Syndrome

by The Coaches on June 18, 2009

Overtraining is a term that is often and sometimes incorrectly used to describe a range of conditions associated with training too hard.  The correct term is actually overtraining syndrome and it describes the state of athletes who fail to adapt to the stress of sustained, long-term, high-intensity training. For an athlete’s performance to improve, they must push the body, however, there is a balance between improvement and ‘over-doing’ it.  Overtraining doesn’t just happen, there is a sequence:
Overload: A planned, systematic and progressive increase in training with the goal of improving performance.  With sufficient rest, the body responds to being pushed in a positive way.
Overreaching: Unplanned, excessive overload with inadequate rest.  Symptoms include unexpected poor performance during training or competition.
Overtraining Syndrome: untreated overreaching that results in chronic decreases in performance and impaired ability to train.  Often accompanied with other problems and injuries that may require medical attention.
The main cause of overtraining syndrome is normally a poorly conceived training program e.g. rapid increases in training volume and intensity or inadequate rest.  Sometimes an athlete with a good plan who misses a series of workouts will try to ‘catch-up’ and in so doing, enter an overreached state.  Unless the athlete, or their coach, recognizes this and modifies the training, they may become overtrained.   Overtraining is however, a complex issue and other factors play an important role:stress, monotony and tedium, medical conditions, diet, environmental, psychosocial and travel.
Symptoms: An unexpected drop in performance, moods (depression, anger, anxiety), changes in sleep patterns and appetite, general fatigue and malaise associated with a loss of energy and vigor and feelings of heaviness in the limbs.
Treatment: The key here is to identify the symptoms early and good communication between the coach and athlete is key.  Since no athlete is the same, it is important to have a training plan that adapts to the progress of each individual.
Overreaching: Rest is the primary treatment.  In some cases this may only be a reduction in the volume of training or active recovery.  In other cases, a break from training from a few days to a couple of weeks maybe required.  It is important to ensure that a proper nutritional plan is followed even though the athlete is not in training.
Overtraining syndrome: If full-blown, we recommend an examination by a physician to rule out illness or disease.  Following a clean-sheet, a complete break from training is necessary.  This may be as little as two weeks but much longer may be require in more serious cases.  Rest does not necessarily mean total inactivity which can often lead to greater stress in athletes used to active lifestyles.  A return to training is very dependent on the individual.  Careful monitoring of the athlete is required upon recommencing training activities.
We strive to develop a relationship with our athletes that encourages open and honest communication and teaches them to ‘listen to their bodies’.  Through our coaching consultations, we adapt each individual’s plan to ensure that maximum progress is made without entering an overreached stage.

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