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Overtraining Syndrome

Overtraining is excessive high intensity training and diminished rest periods which may result in feelings of constant tiredness, reduced performance, neural and hormonal changes, mood swings and frequent poor health.

Overtraining syndrome is the result of overtraining and is a neuroendocrine disorder (meaning it affects nerves and hormones). This has sometimes previously been termed 'burnout' and 'staleness'.

As we know, the principle of overload must be applied to any training program in order for performance enhancement. Provided there is adequate rest incorporated in the program, gains will be made. When too little rest is allowed, the benefits of training are reduced or even completely diminished and performance suffers. At this point, if an athlete were to rest for 1-2 weeks, any feelings of fatigue and other symptoms would disappear, allowing a return to full training with the incorporation of plenty of rest.

However, when performance starts to suffer, the athlete often starts to train harder in an attempt to better his/her results. This leads to further impairment of results, more increases in training and the development of a vicious cycle of poor performance and increased training.

What are the Symptoms of Overtraining?

Fatigue is the first symptom to become apparent. This is usually followed by any number of other symptoms:

  • Increased morning heart rate and blood pressure
  • Decreased maximal heart rate
  • Frequent illness such as upper respiratory tract infections
  • Persistent muscles soreness
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of motivation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Irritability
  • Depression

Further investigations may find the following:

  • Hematological changes (blood content)
  • Hormonal changes
  • Changes in the blood lactate threshold and concentration at a given exercise intensity
  • Neuroendocrine changes (elevated plasma noradrenalin and decreased excretion)

How to Deal with Overtraining

Once overtraining is suspected, the athlete can then be monitored closely by completing a daily diary. This should include information about stress levels, fatigue, sleep quality, training details, perceived exertion during training and muscle soreness.

The real key to recovery from overtraining syndrome and prevention of a reoccurrence is education, concerning the importance of rest in the training cycle and the negative effects of excessive training. A period of complete rest is recommended in the short-term, with sleep being emphasised over the first 48 hours. In less severe cases this may be sufficient to eliminate symptoms and re-invigorate the athlete. More complex cases will require further rest, relaxation techniques, attention to dietary and fluid intakes and psychological support.

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