Overtraining in Sport

July 7, 2010

Category: Exercise and Fitness

Author: Jason White
The statement, "Records are made to be broken"is so true. The unbelievable improvements in athletic performance have been brought about by athletes who have literally extended the frontiers of human performance by increasing the intensity and volume of training. Athletes are now routinely doing things that were assumed to be "beyond human capacity" just a few decades ago.
It is important to remember that there is a limit to the amount of work even the most highly conditioned body can perform. There is a fine line between work and overwork. Athletic history is full of stories of athletes who over trained themselves out of great careers.
Intense training, followed by recovery, is essential for improving athletic performance. Some level of fatigue, depression, feelings of burnout, anxiety, irritability, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping is normal for athletes undergoing heavy training or competition. Athletes may also experience persistent muscle soreness, decreased coordination, reduced libido, and frequent upper respiratory infections. This training state is called "overreaching" and is an expected part of an intense training program.
The symptoms and reduced performance capacity of an overreached athlete resolve quickly if followed by a period of lighter training, often referred to as tapering. During tapering, the athlete's performance capacity will increase beyond the pre-training baseline and this response is called "super compensation." If overreaching continues for too long, overtraining syndrome can develop and the symptoms and decreased performance ability can last for weeks to months.
Overtraining is the result of giving your body more work or stress than it can handle. Overtraining occurs when a person experiences stress and physical trauma from exercise faster than their body can repair the damage.
The main causes of overtraining are inadequate recovery between training sessions, excessive amounts of high-intensity (and sometimes high-volume) training and sudden changes in training load (distance, duration or intensity). Other training factors that contribute to overtraining are intense strength training, frequent competition and travel, repetitiveness in training program and no off-season. Non-training factors that contribute to overtraining can be inadequate nutrition, insufficient sleep and rest, anxiety about life events (exams, new job), occupational stress, mental conflict, changes and irregularities in lifestyle and successive failure to achieve goals.
Overtraining can be a serious problem among all levels of athletes. Athletes who just begin training usually do too much for their "out of shape" bodies to adequately handle the new level of stress. They become injured or fatigued and often quit training completely. Veteran athletes who overtrain are frequently injured and are always dragging. The result is less than their best performance.
                Overtraining is more likely to be experienced by highly motivated athletes who choose to ignore early warning symptoms of being overtrained. The only reliable indicators of severe overtraining are the failure to meet the training criteria along with chronic fatigue or recurring or chronic infections.
Overtraining can be a devastating condition for any athlete because recovery requires an extended period away from training and competition.
There are a few specialty areas to consider when dealing with recovery strategies for an athlete’s training program; nutrition, physical therapies and psychological skills.
1.                    The most important factor is the nutritional considerations for recovery and how they relate to fluid and fuel replacement. Fluid loss should be kept to a minimum.
2.                    There are a wide variety of activities and therapies used to assist with recovery from training fatigue. Sleep is the most important form of recovery an athlete can have. A good night sleep of seven to nine hours of provides the invaluable adaptation time for adults to adjust to the physical, neurological, immunological and emotional stressors that are experienced during the day.
3.                     Hydrotherapies in the form of spa’s, pools, steam rooms and cold pools following plyometrics training help athletes to maintain explosiveness.
4.                     Sport massage, acupuncture and acupressure are also forms of therapies used for recovery of overtraining.
Evaluating and treating a persistently fatigued and underperforming athlete for overtraining can be challenging. Normally, overtraining is not recognized until months of poor performance and fatigue has occurred.
Overtraining can only be treated after other causes have been excluded. Health care professionals can prescribe relative or complete rest and strive to identify and correct the training, nutritional and psychosocial factors that contributed to the athlete's condition.

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