The idea of potentially overtraining is not unheard of by established athletes and conventional fitness enthusiasts but an authentic definition frequently remains mysterious. Learning to ride the fine line between training progression and overreaching should be most important to an athlete trying to maximize performance. To avoid overtraining syndrome it is vital to understanding the definition, identify stressors that can put an athlete at risk and learn how to adjust a training split properly.
Overreaching is an accumulation of stress resulting in short-term decrement in performance capacity. Restoration of performance ability can take several days to several weeks. If proper rest and recuperation is not applied in time, symptoms of overtraining will pursue.
Overtraining is an accumulation of stress resulting in long-term decrement in performance capacity. Restoration of performance ability can take several weeks to several months. Once an athlete has reached this stage, expecting greater performance is impossible – illness and injury becomes inevitable.
There are a lot of different stressors involved in physical and psychological overtraining symptoms. The key is to identify which stressors are affecting a training routine and then try to eliminate them, or otherwise reduce their negative impact on performance.
Environmental stressors can affect an athlete through many different possibilities: excessive training temperatures and humidity; excessive altitude and challenging terrain; environmental pollution and allergens; as well as poorly designed clothing, equipment and facilities. Physiological and biochemical stressors consist of disease, genetic factors, sleep disorders, poor nutrition; in addition to concurrent drug, herb and dietary supplement intake. Psychological and sociological stressors stem from: job problems; depression, metal illness, aging, anger, anxiety, academic problems, financial situations, family problems, sexual problems, personality and schedule conflicts, lack of encouragement, pressure to perform – and many more individual concerns.
Overtraining is repeatedly caused by anatomical and structural stressors; such as: surgically altered tissue, injury-induced alterations, physical defects, overuse stress, poor exercise technique and irrational training methods with continuous application of intensive, monotonous training compounded by insufficient rest. Combining challenging training routines with environmental stressors, such as repetitive participation in competitions with great personal responsibility, can be very stressful for the competitor.
Overtraining syndrome is a complex condition where no two trainees will exhibit the same symptoms. Seasoned bodybuilders and powerlifters, athletes able to handle heavy training loads and intensities, are at great risk for developing symptoms. Recreational lifters can also overreach by lifting too much, too soon and too often; amplified over and over again by inadequate rest and nutrition.
There are five common changes in overtraining athletes: an increase in morning (resting) heart rate; unexplained weight loss; prolonged excessive thirst; an alteration in sleep habits; and psychological malaise. Further evolution can affect endocrine profiles, create cardiovascular manifestations; as well as impair immune system response, muscle functioning and a healthy appetite.
According to Tudor Bompa, author of Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training, overreaching occurs when the work-recovery ratio is repeatedly exceeded, exposing the athlete to high intensity stimuli when in a state of fatigue. A serious condition can occur by ignoring chronic exhaustion and continuing high-level training. Bompa emphasizes importance in quickly defeating central fatigue by considering the foundation of motivation and coping with frustrations. Psychological symptoms require immediate action.
Bompa outlines proper training frequency with his theories identifying the stages leading to athletic advancement. The first phase presents a stimulus followed by fatigue. The second stage is compensation from the training incentive; muscle begins to repair. The third stage, overcompensation, is where training progress occurs. The fourth and final stage is involution followed by return to homeostasis.
An athlete that continues to train at the compensation stage is doing a great disservice to athletic progression by never allowing overcompensation to occur. Repeatedly training too early causes overreaching which will eventually lead into overtraining syndrome if warning signs are ignored.
A bodybuilder should think twice before adjusting training methods and frequency when limit strength and muscular gains slow down – or halt all together. There should be a period of reflection to discover at what stage retraining is actually occurring. There may be too much time for rest, resulting in a return to pre-training conditions; but more often than not, retraining is happening too soon and a serious condition is in the midst.
Thomas Kurz, author of Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance, explains correct exercise sequences for daily training cycles. His theories serve to minimize overtraining probability. In a single workout, Kurz suggests technique before speed drills, but both before strength or endurance training. Speed or strength exercises should be performed before endurance efforts. Training otherwise will extend your recovery time to double or triple that of a properly sequenced workout.
High intensity anaerobic training (speed or strength exercises) after fatiguing aerobic efforts (endurance) produces more lactic acid than the reverse order. Excessive lactic acid taxes the body’s ability to restore proper pH balance. Sodium is taken from body fluids and phosphorous from bones, causing demineralization and loss of calcium, required for optimal muscle contractions. Short-term fatigue from depletion of substrates, accumulation of metabolites and dehydration will limit the body’s ability to exert itself at optimal intensities or durations.
It’s important to understand that each athlete is an individual with personal capabilities for physical output and adaptation. A training program that drives one athlete into severe overtraining syndrome may generate record-breaking performance in another.