Have you fallen victim to overtraining?
First things first, the expression ‘overtraining’ is totally misleading. The wording leaves us to believe that overtraining means that you’re training too much/often,when in fact, this is not the case. So, my gym friends, what is overtraining?
“It’s a physiological state caused by an excess accumulation of physical, psychological, emotional, environmental, and chemical stress that leads to a sustained decrease in physical and mental performance, and that requires a relatively long recovery period.”
It’s similar to a burn out (what a lot of us may feel if we train too much without the right nutrition or sleep), clinical depression or illness. As ‘athletes’ (let’s call ourselves that) we want to improve our performance, and we want to get bigger, better and stronger. The only way to get there is to increase performance and training loads, go harder and/or go for longer. This is a term known as ‘overreaching’. And, overreaching in conjunction with a.) lack of rest days and b.) additional stressors, can lead to overtraining.
All types of stress have a systemic effect on the body and it doesn’t have to be a direct result of your training. It could be the fact that not only do you have £2 to see yourself through another week with no food in the cupboard but you also have troubles in a close relationship, you lost your oyster card (with a whole month on it!), the kids are running riot on a daily basis AND you just can’t get that last spreadsheet finished. As per the reference, it is a combination of physical, psychological, emotional, environmental, and chemical stresses, and is very unlikely to solely be caused by training too much.
So if it’s just a week you need off to get rested and back into the swing of things, we’d hardly deem that as a ‘long’ recovery period, unless you’re counting in dog years. You’re looking at months, as opposed to weeks to make a comeback from overtraining. Under recovery and overtraining can have the same impact on your body as they both have a negative effect on your training. The difference between the two is that under recovery can lead to overtraining, whereas the opposite does not apply. The following table (because I wanted to sound educated for once) describes symptoms of overtraining:
Overtraining often occurs because, over a long period of time, we have neglected the signs our bodies have been giving us or not paid that much attention to ourselves. We are indeed, human, and that means that we are bound to make mistakes. When we train, we put our nervous, immune and hormonal systems through its paces! There’s not a problem with pushing ourselves to our limits, but you must facilitate recovery in your programme (and I’m not talking about taking a break every five steps of ten flights of stairs, use this statement as an excuse to take a holiday).
If we’re being honest, there’s only a small percentage of us that are at risk of true overtraining (I am most definitely not classing myself in that small percentage) and this is more likely to occur in professional athletes. So how to we keep our body in the right state to prevent any form of a burnout? The use of certain supplements (for example, but not limited to; Rhodiola, helps your body to tolerate stress), good nutrition and a decent night sleep (which is vital for your neural, hormonal and immune systems to recovery sufficiently). Every now and again, you may need a coffee date with your bestie, or a beer with your ‘best bud’ to destress and talk about a few of the things that are bothering you.
REMEMBER: there is a huge difference between overtraining and smart training. Just because you’ve finished 40 straight sets of standing dumbbell curls in a single session, doesn’t mean you’ve ‘over trained’ them (refer back to original definition), but it probably wasn’t the smartest move you made.
Moral of the story, no single action can destroy us. It takes multiple factors to bring us down and throw us into a state of turmoil. In order to look after yourself, take care of your mind, body and soul.
Kellmann, M. (2010). Overtraining and recovery. In S. J. Hanrahan & M. B. Andersen (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Applied Sport Psychology: A comprehensive guide for students and practitioners. (pp. 292-302). London: Taylor & Francis Group.
Kreher, J. B. & Schwartz, J. B. (2012). Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 4 (2), 128-138. doi: 10.1177/1941738111434406
Poliquin Group. (2015). Don’t Kill Yourself In The Gym: Three Types of Dangerous Metabolic Stress To Avoid. Retrieved from: http://main.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/1304/_Dont_Kill_Yourself_In_The_Gym_Three_Types_Of_Dang.aspx
Thibaudeau, C. (2016). What Overtraining Is and Isn’t. Are You Really Overtraining?Retrieved from: https://www.t-nation.com/training/what-overtraining-is-and-isnt