Friday, 21 January 2011

The perils of overtraining...

Since I embarked on this fitness training programme a few people have warned me about over training. This is a serious issue and is not something one should overlook when doing regular, hard exercise. Anyone undergoing a serious program of exercise for a long period of time needs to be able to recognise the symptoms of over training and take steps to avoid it.

So, what exactly is over training? Muscle conditioning requires a balance between overload and recovery. The wikipedia article- Over training states that:

"Improvements in strength and fitness occur only after the rest period following hard training. This process can take days to complete, depending on the intensity and duration of exercise leading to the over trained state. 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".

This inability for muscle to repair properly due to inadequate rest periods may be due to several factors - protein deficiency, calorie deficiency, elevated cortisol levels and an imbalance between catabolism (breaking down of muscle tissue) and anabolism (building up of muscle tissue).

It's easy to get carried away with training isn't it? With all those endorphins flowing through our bodies it can become quite addictive. We may even think that training more often will produce quicker results. Well, it will to a point but then we will start to experience diminishing returns for our efforts. Sometimes less is more. We will get tired more easily, we may become weaker rather than stronger, be prone to infections and injuries, experience a variable heart rate, become depressed or lose interest in our training.....

Over training is a bit more serious than 'just over doing it a bit'. Over training is often considered a medical syndrome - something that needs diagnosing and treating. If you are aware of its existence then there are a few symptoms you should look out for in yourself and a couple of self-diagnostic tests you can carry out:

Zen to Fitness lists 5 signs of over training:
  • Increased appetite
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Lower back pain
  • Muscle twitches and
  • Sleeping too much or too little
Muscle aches, headaches, mood swings and general irritability can be added to that list too.

According to sports medicine , there are several ways you can objectively measure some signs of over training. One is by documenting your heart rate over time. Track your aerobic heart rate at  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 over training 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 test is the Orthostatic Heart Rate Test. Essentially this test requires you to lie down for 15 minutes to rest, then take your pulse (bpm), stand up and after 15 seconds take your pulse again. Compare the first reading with the second one. If the difference is greater than 15 - 20 beats then it means you have not recovered sufficiently from your last workout and should rest for another day.

If you think you have been over training then the main stay of treatment is to give your body more time to recover and repair itself:
  • Taking a break from training to allow time for recovery.
  • Reduce the volume and/or the intensity of the training.
  • Split the training program so that different sets of muscles are worked on different days.
  • Make sure you get adequate sleep.
  • Deep-tissue or sports massage of the affected muscles/ self massage of affected muscles.
  • Make sure you eat a nutritious diet.
  • Take supplements such as protein bars/drinks after training.
  • Keep well hydrated before/during/after exercise
If you think you are over training, do yourself a favour - TAKE A BREAK!


  1. Taking breaks. Simple, but not easy.

  2. I've always found that the simplest way to know I am starting to overtrain is when I just don't want to. When training, going to class, studying etc. become a chore.

    The methods you mentioned are clearly superior for tracking your body's reaction to training, but for me if I'd rather clean the garage than go to class, I know I'm burnt out.

    Good posts Sue.

  3. Prefering to clean the garage than do martial arts? That could become the new standard for defining burnout. LOL


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