Exercise and overtraining
Many exercisers work very hard in order to succeed in achieving their goals. They run many miles, spend long hours at the gym and work assiduously day after day, in their mission to achieve their objectives. However, too much training can actually lead to a serious decline in performance. This decline is due to a condition called 'Overtraining'.
What is overtraining?
Overtraining is classified into two types: overreaching and overtraining (staleness). Overreaching is the first phase of overtraining and is the more easily remedied of the two. Overreaching is unusual muscle soreness that takes place when an athlete doesn’t allow sufficient recovery time between intense workouts. This usually occurs after several consecutive days of hard training.
Overtraining / staleness occurs when athletes ignore the initial symptoms of overreaching and regardless, continue to exert themselves heavily. Unfortunately, many exercisers actually believe that weakness or reduced levels of performance indicate a need for evengreater training intensity and consequently pile the pressure on, but this only compromises the body further still! It is very difficult to recover from overtraining and the process can easily take weeks or even months. This can be very challenging for someone whose life is much affected by exercise, so identifying overreaching early is very important. Remember that we ‘train to live, not live to train’.
Keen exercisers are more susceptible to breakdown and overtraining if there are other strong negative stressors also present in their lives such as problems at work, school or in relationships, etc. These athletes should use this ‘enforced’ rest time from their training, to evaluate and balance these other important aspects of their life.
The major warning signs and symptoms of overtraining
- Unusual muscle soreness after a workout, which persist with continued training
- Inability to train or exert at a previously manageable level
- "Heavy" leg muscles, even at light exercise intensities
- Significant delay in recovery from exercise sessions
- Performance plateaux or even declines
- Thoughts of avoiding or cancelling training sessions
- Prolonged holistic fatigue
- Increased tension, depression, anger or confusion
- Inability to relax or experiencing sleep difficulties
- Low energy, decreased motivation, mood changes
- Increased occurrences of sickness
- Increased blood pressure and elevated morning pulse
- Irregular menstrual cycle or actual loss of periods
- Weight and appetite loss
- Constipation or diarrhoea
Overtraining has been diagnosed ... what next?
Once you recognise the signs and symptoms, talk to your trainer and GP. Working as a team, you’ll receive some guidelines for recovery, which will probably include the following:
1. You may be advised to temporarily stop or significantly reduce your training. You might even be asked to cancel your participation in an exercise event or competition. And it is vitally important that you take the advice on board in the knowledge that is for your own ultimate wellbeing, despite the fact that you might well personally consider such guidance a little ‘excessive’ at the time!
1. Examine your eating habits carefully. Have you been depriving your body of the calories, protein, vitamins and minerals it needs for high quality and high-intensity work?
2. Consult a well-qualified nutritionist to provide your body with the energy and nutrients that it needs for the healing process.
A gradual return to training:
1. Your doctor and trainer will help you determine when your body is ready to begin significant exercise again. Your signal to resume full training is renewed interest and the ability to exert yourself strongly with completely normal responses.
2. Remember though…Start low and go slow! Your training volume may well have been reduced by up to 50 or 60% so only increase intensity again by about 10-15% each week.
1. Listen closely to your body and work closely with your trainer, making sure you let them know every step of the way, precisely how you’re feeling.
2. Keep a training diary which records your feelings of well-being as well as the amount of exercise you undertake..
3. Balance your training with recovery time to achieve maximum safe performance. Adequate rest is certainly not a sign of weakness, so give yourself at least one complete rest day each week. Arrange alternate hard and easy exercise days for a specific activity or discipline whilst utilising cross-training methodology or other forms of "active rest", only gradually increasing your workload and intensity..
4. If you find yourself becoming unhealthily obsessed with training, feeling somehow compelled to exercise when injured or in pain, or you feel guilty if you go a day without vigorous exercise, make absolutely sure you talk to your trainer or GP about these feelings.
1. Inadequate intake of carbohydrate and protein leads to decreased muscle glycogen storage levels, muscle fatigue and poor muscle tissue repair. Again, consult a well-qualified nutritionist to evaluate your eating habits and ensure that you’re getting enough of these vital nutrients. Most keen and regular exercisers need at least 55% of their calories from carbohydrates, as well as 6-12 ounces of good quality protein every day, depending of course, on activity level and bodyweight.
2. Make sure your calorie intake matches your body’s need for energy to cater for both your training and the requirements of muscle tissue repair.
3. Avoid obviously nutrient deficient foods, otherwise known as ‘junk’, as during this time of the healing process, their physiologically negative presence could create an increased susceptibility to infections.
4. Dehydration very significantly contributes to muscle fatigue. Consequently, drink a minimum of 8 glasses of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages every day and ensure your drinking choice is absolutely free from all artificial sweeteners like Aspartame. This efficient attention to detail should ensure that your urine reflects levels of competent hydration by being copious and light in colour. If at any time it is dark, you usually need to step up your fluid intake, but if you then do so and it still retains its darker hue, to be on the safe side, visit your GP for a check up.
This article is courtesy of Alan Gordon
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