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Overtraining occurs when a person exceeds their body's ability to recover from strenuous exercise. Overtraining can be described as a point where a person may have a decrease in performance and plateauing as a result of failure to consistently perform at a certain level or training load; a load which exceeds their recovery capacity. People who are overtrained cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness. Overtraining is also known as chronic fatigue, burnout and overstress in athletes. It is suggested that there are different variations of overtraining, firstly monotonous program over training suggest that repetition of the same movement such as certain weight lifting and baseball batting can cause performance plateau due to an adaption of the central nervous system which results from a lack of stimulation. A second example of overtraining is described as chronic overwork type training where the subject may be training with too high intensity or high volume and not allowing sufficient recovery time for the body. Up to 10% of elite endurance athletes and 10% of American college swimmers are affected by overtraining syndrome (unexplained underperformance for approximately 2 weeks even after having adequate resting time).
Signs and symptoms
- Persistent muscle soreness
- Persistent fatigue, this is different from just being tired from a hard training session, this occurs when fatigue continues even after adequate rest.
- Elevated resting heart rate, a persistently high heart rate after adequate rest such as in the morning after sleep, this can be an indicator of overtraining.
- Reduced heart rate variability
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Increased incidence of injuries
- Mental breakdown
It is important to note the difference between overtraining and over-reaching; over-reaching is when an athlete is undergoing hard training but with adequate recovery, overtraining however, is when an athlete is undergoing hard training without the adequate recovery. With over-reaching, the consequential drop in performance can be resolved in a few days or weeks.
- Early onset of fatigue
- Decreased aerobic capacity (VO2 max)
- Poor physical performance
- Inability to complete workouts
- Delayed recovery
It is also important to remember that the effect of overtraining is not isolated only to affecting the athlete's athletic ability but it can have implications on other areas of life such as performance in studies or the work force. An overtrained athlete who is suffering from physical and or psychological symptoms could also have trouble socialising with friends and family, studying for an exam or prepping for work.
Like pharmacological drugs, physical exercise may be chemically addictive. Addiction can be defined as, the frequent engaging in the behavior to a greater extent or for a longer time period than intended. It is theorized that this addiction is due to natural endorphins and dopamine generated and regulated by the exercise. Whether strictly due to this chemical by-product or not, some people can be said to become addicted to or fixated on psychological/physical effects of physical exercise and fitness. This may lead to overexercise, resulting in the "overtraining" syndrome.
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".
- Systemic Inflammation which results in the release of cytokines activating an immune response
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.
- Deep-tissue or sports massage of the affected muscles.
- Self-massage or rub down of the affected muscles.
- Short sprints with long resting time once the athlete is able to continue with light training
- Ensuring that calorie intake at least matches expenditure.
- Ensuring total calories are from a suitable macronutrient ratio.
- Addressing vitamin deficiencies with nutritional supplements.
Seeing as there are many non beneficial results of overtraining and the main treatment is taking time out to rest, so to avoid taking time off training prevention is very important for many athletes. An additional method preferred by many collegiate and professional level athletes is the incorporation of active recovery into training. The gradual varying of intensity and volume of training is an effective way to prevent overtraining. The athlete should be closely monitored by keeping records of weight, diet and heart rate and the training program should be adjusted in accordance to different physical and emotional stresses.
Along with the recording of rest, diet, weight and heart rates, there are multiple training types that can assist with ensuring that over training is not occurring.
Interval training ensures that, even though they are short, rest periods during training are taken. The “periods of high intensity and low intensity”  mixed characteristics of interval training enable athletes to ensure they are including rest and allowing the body to rest or repair in between intervals and in between each stage of a training session.
Australian rowers “require a mix of technique, power and endurance of both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems”  follow a strict training schedule to enable them to ensure that rest is taken into count to ensure that overtraining is not present. “Train upwards of 11 months of the year”  this large volume of training is well spaced and thought out to avoid over training symptoms.
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