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Overtraining is an emotional, behavioral and physical condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. Overtraining is a common problem in weight training, but it can also be experienced by runners and other athletes. An example of overtraining would be lifting at high-intensity with the same muscle groups 2 days in a row.
Improvements in strength and fitness occur only during the rest period following hard training (see supercompensation). This process takes at least 12-24 hours to complete. If sufficient rest is not available then complete regeneration cannot occur. If this imbalance between excess training and inadequate rest persists then the individual’s performance will eventually plateau and decline. Mild over training may require several days of rest or reduced activity to fully restore an athlete’s fitness. If prompt attention is not given to the developing state, and an athlete continues to train and accumulate fatigue, the condition may come to persist for many weeks or even months.
Over training occurs more readily if the individual is simultaneously exposed to other physical and psychological stressors, such as jet lag, ongoing illness, overwork, menstruation, poor nutrition etc. It is a particular problem for bodybuilders and other dieters who engage in intense exercise while limiting their food intake.
A number of possible mechanisms for overtraining have been proposed:
- Microtrauma to the muscles are created faster than the body can heal them.
- Amino acids are used up faster than they are supplied in the diet. This is sometimes called “protein deficiency“.
- The body becomes calorie-deficient and the rate of break down of muscle tissue increases.
- Levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone) are elevated for long periods of time.
- The body spends more time in a catabolic state than an anabolic state (perhaps as a result of elevated cortisol levels).
- Excessive strain to the nervous system during training.
 Other symptoms
Overtraining may be accompanied by one or more concomitant symptoms:
- Persistent muscle soreness (Delayed onset muscle soreness)
- Persistent fatigue
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Increased incidence of injuries
- Loss of motivation
- Altered sleep patterns
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased libido
- Weight loss
- Decreased sports performance
- Loss of concentration
Allowing more time for the body to recover:
- Taking a break from training to allow time for recovery.
- Reducing the volume and/or the intensity of the training.
- Suitable periodization of training.
- Splitting the training program so that different sets of muscles are worked on different days.
- Increase sleep time
- Ensuring that calorie intake at least matches expenditure.
- Ensuring total calories are from a suitable macronutrient ratio.
- Addressing vitamin deficiencies with nutritional supplements.
- Deep-tissue or sports massage of the affected muscles.
- Self-massage or rub down of the affected muscles.
- Cryotherapy and thermotherapy.
- Temperature contrast therapy (contrast showers etc).
 Planned Overtraining
Overtraining can be used advantageously, as when a bodybuilder is purposely overtrained for a brief period of time to super compensate during a regeneration phase. These are known as “shock micro-cycles” and were a key training technique used by Soviet athletes.
 See Also
- ^ http://bmb.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/48/3/518
- ^ Smith DJ (2003). “A framework for understanding the training process leading to elite performance”. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) 33 (15): 1103–26. doi:10.2165/00007256-200333150-00003. PMID 14719980.
 External links
- A good summary of overtraining (Academic) with studies cited
- National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)
- The overtrainer workout logging system
- Does overtraining exist ?
When decreasing your training improves performance
By , About.com
Updated: January 18, 2008
About.com Health’s Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the
Common warning signs of overtraining include:
- Washed-out feeling, tired, drained, lack of energy
- Mild leg soreness, general aches and pains
- Pain in muscles and joints
- Sudden drop in performance
- (increased number of colds, and sore throats)
- Decrease in training capacity / intensity
- Moodiness and irritability
- Loss of enthusiasm for the sport
- Decreased appetite
- Increased incidence of injuries.
It’s hard to predict overtraining since everyone’s body is different. It is important, however, to vary training through the year and schedule in significant rest time.
Treating Overtraining Syndrome
If you suspect you are overtraining, the first thing to do is reduce or stop your exercise and allow a few days of rest. Drink plenty of fluids, and alter your diet if necessary. Crosstraining can help you discover if you are overworking certain muscles and also help you determine if you are just mentally fatigued. A sports massage can help you recharge overused muscles.
There are several ways you can objectively measure some signs of overtraining. One is by documenting your heart rates over time. Track your aerobic heart rate at a specific exercise intensities and speed throughout your training and write it down. If your pace starts to slow, your resting heart rate increases and you experience other symptoms, you may heading into overtraining syndrome.
You can also track your resting heart rate each morning. Any marked increase from the norm may indicated that you aren’t fully recovered.
Another way to test recover to use something called the orthostatic heart rate test, developed by Heikki Rusko while working with cross country skiers. To obtain this measurement:
- Lay down and rest comfortably for 10 minutes the same time each day (morning is best).
- At the end of 10 minutes, record your heart rate in beats per minute.
- Then stand up
- After 15 seconds, take a second heart rate in beats per minute.
- After 90 seconds, take a third heart rate in beats per minute.
- After 120 seconds, take a fourth heart rate in beats per minute.
Well rested athletes will show a consistent heart rate between measurements, but Rusko found a marked increase (10 beats/minutes or more) in the 120 second-post-standing measurement of athletes on the verge of overtraining. Such a change may indicate that you have not recovered from a previous workout, are fatigued, or otherwise stressed and it may be helpful to reduce training or rest another day before performing another workout.
A training log that includes a note about how your feel each day can help you notice downward trends and decreased enthusiasm. It’s important to listen to your body signals and rest when you feel tired.
You can also ask those around you if they think you are exercising too much.
While there are many proposed ways to objectively test for overtraining, the most accurate and sensitive measurements are psychological signs and symptoms and changes in an athlete’s mental state. Decreased positive feelings for sports and increased negative feelings, such as depression, anger, fatigue, and irritability often appear after a few days of intensive overtraining. Studies have found increased during exercise after only three days of overload.
Research on overtraining syndrome shows rest is the primary treatment plan. Some new evidence indicating that low levels of exercise () during the rest period will speed recovery. . Total recovery can take several weeks and includes proper nutrition and stress reduction.
The subjective assessments, and mental state of an athlete is clearly the most reliable indicator of overtraining. Unfortunately, most athletes ignore these signs or wait too long before doing something. An important component of exercise is to objectively measure your training and modify it before damage is done.
Uusitalo, A.L.T., Tahvanainen, K.U.O., Uusitalo, A.J., Rusko, H.K.: Does increase in training intensity vs. volume influence supine and standing heart rate and heart rate variability. Overtraining and Overreaching in Sport – Congress, Memphis, Tennessee, 1996.
Uusitalo, A., Hanin, Y., Rusko, H.: Effect of exhaustive training on mental state, autonomic regulation and hematological parameters. Int. Congress on applied research in sports, Helsinki, 1994.
Kirwan JP, Costill DL, Flynn MG, et al: Physiological responses to successive days of intense training in competitive swimmers. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 1988;20(3):255-259