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Overtraining is always a difficult term to bring up with an athlete of any standard; it can be a hugely emotive word, sometimes taken almost as an attack on someones knowledge, experience, or performance. Of course it is none of these things, but it should be a very real consideration for anyone looking to compete and/or simply improve performance. Whilst it is widely agreed that overtraining can be employed in order to achieve peak performance,  it is also now recognised that overtraining can actually produce a decrease in performance (1). A fine line I’m sure you’ll agree. The challenge is one of monitoring stress indicators thus preventing the onset of ‘staleness’.

So what does ‘overtraining’ actually mean? It can best be defined as the state where an athlete has been repeatedly stressed by training to the point where rest alone is no longer adequate to allow for recovery. This causes both physiological and psychological issues – sometimes referred to as Overtraining Syndrome – marked by lasting exhaustion that persists even after recovery periods. Note, this is very different from that much over-used acronym, DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) which should last no longer than 48 hours when following a thorough Recovery Protocol.

Studies have indicated that overtraining has led to decreased performance in exercise tests, decrease in mood state, and in some cases increased cortisol levels – the body’s “stress” hormone. Findngs also indicate a decrease in testosterone (inability to build muscle mass), altered immune status (increased chance of illness), and an increase in muscular break down/waste products (2). This means that the body now has a decreased ability to repair itself during rest.

Signs and Symptoms

Things to look out for include

Physically – High resting heart rate, weight loss, plateu in gains, fatigue

Psychological – Poor sleep pattern, loss of enthusiasm, irritability, mental tiredness, depression

Things you can do to limit the danger of Overtraining Syndrome
As with all things, prevention is better then cure. Gradual increases in training are recommended, and – again – adhering to a good recovery protocol. Embrace the idea that ‘rest’ is training, as your body is adapting.

A training log is a good method to monitor progress. Rate your session intensity i.e
1. Very, Very Easy
2. Very Easy
3. Easy
4. Average
5. Hard
6. Very Hard
7. Very, Very Hard
Committed athletes will also record their resting morning heart rate, weight, how the workout felt, and levels of soreness and fatigue.
Below is a simple diagram indicating the body’s path through exercise – fatigue – recovery – adaptation. Although ‘Time’ is missing from the charts (impossible to include as too many variables) it does demonstrate under and over training quite effectively.


From the above we can see that higher intensity training needs a longer time to recover, and therefore for the body to adapt, than low intensity training. In Figure 2, B, we can see the limitations of adaptation when overtraining, leading to plateauing.

Any questions please feel free to email me at, on Facebook at DC Injury Clinic, or on Twitter @DC_InjuryClinic




N.B. There are no ‘one size fits all’ style quick fixes in most injury scenarios, so these article shouldnt be seen as such. They are merely guides to a better understanding of how our bodies work.

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