Overtraining: what is it and how to manage it

It’s common knowledge that most adults are not meeting the minimum physical activity guidelines for general health. Encouraging people to engage in a less sedentary lifestyle is an everyday task as an Osteopath. On the other hand, some of us have a tendency to engage in too much physical activity with not enough rest, which can lead to overtraining. 

Engaging in strenuous physical activity with the appropriate amount of rest leads to positive  improvements in athletic performance. Overtraining occurs when the training demand on the body exceeds the recovery capacity. This may be the result of a sudden increase in training intensity/volume or continuing to train at a high intensity for a long period of time without adequate rest. 

Signs of overtraining 

  • Decreased athletic performance 
  • Experiencing constant fatigue 
  • Sleeping too much or too little 
  • Weight gain 
  • Chronic injuries or niggles 
  • Frequent colds, infections or illness 
  • Lingering muscle soreness 

Prevention of overtraining 

Follow a training program 

Having a plan is one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent overtraining. A training program will vary depending on what sport and what level you’re currently training at. However some general rules for a structured program include at least one rest/recovery day in a week. And a combination of hard and easy weeks within a training block. When looking to increase training volume and/or load it should increase gradually over a period of time. 

Complete a training diary

Keeping a training diary allows for reflection on how you’re coping with the current training load. If you find you’re constantly feeling tired during your training sessions and not experiencing any enjoyment from your sport, these things can be adjusted for when they’re easy to recognise. Writing down the RPE ‘rate of perceived exertion’ following a workout can be another useful tool to track your progress. Ideally a good training program should include a variety of both high and low intensity sessions. Too many sessions with a high RPE without any lower intensity sessions may increase your risk of overtraining. 

Stress management 

Your body processes exercise as a form of stress, this is not a bad thing as your body can experience both positive and negative stressors. However if you’re also experiencing a large amount of other stress in your everyday life  without adequate management it can lead to a chronic increase in cortisol levels (the stress hormone) which decreases athletic performance and impairs recovery. 

Recovery 

Prioritising the things you do outside training to assist your recovery such as practicing good sleep hygiene, adequate nutrition and hydration. Doing these things assists the body with adapting to the stress placed on the body via exercise in order to repair and strengthen. 

Train mindfully 

There is a subtle art in ‘listening to your body’ and knowing when to push and when it’s time to give yourself a break. Develop an awareness of how your body feels and how it is adapting to training. Trial and error different recovery strategies that suit your individual goals and needs. 

Seek help 

If you’re unsure how to manage your current training load or you’re feeling burnt out, seek the advice of a coach/trainer or trusted medical professional for advice. We offer a Athletic screening program that can help you reach your best performance click here to read all about it

Management of overtraining

If you have already reached a point where you feel you may have overtrained, some of the following advice may be useful: 

  • Decreased training load: this may be in the form of a few rest weeks or a decrease in the number/intensity of sessions depending on how you’re feeling. Initially for most people a period of complete rest is necessary for recovery 
  • Review your training program and causative factors: some reflection will be important for prevention 
  • Optimise your recovery strategies 
  • Seek professional help for further advice 
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