There is a malady in exercise that affects new and seasoned exercisers alike. This malady is overtraining and can be harmful for the unsuspecting exerciser. If unrecognized and exercise modification does not occur, overtraining can cause stagnation, decrease in exercise gains or even injury. Overtraining is defined as excessive frequency, volume, or intensity of training, resulting in fatigue (which is due to the lack of proper rest and recovery).
If one thinks of exercise as a wear or stress placed on the body in order to cause it to adapt to handle or overcome the stress, it makes sense how this could occur. When the stress placed on the body is so great and in high frequency that the body cannot adapt quickly enough, it causes a compounding effect of wear on the body. Over time without rest and recovery, it becomes too much for the body to handle. This is when stagnation and decreases in gains occur and if left unchecked can result in injury. Adaptation can take time, especially for ligaments and tendons, and the exerciser needs to be aware that ample time for recovery is needed.
Overtraining Syndrome is the condition resulting from overtraining.
- It can take as long as 6 months to recover from this syndrome
- The syndrome can, but does not always, include a plateau or decrease in performance
- Recovery may not be immediate
- It can result in injury
Overtraining syndrome can result when overtraining is left unchecked. Usually with this syndrome, damage is being done to the body in small increments unknown to the exerciser. Think of it as a scrape. A light scrape on your arm may not break the skin but just make the skin a little raw. If one were to continually scrape the same spot day after day eventually the scrape will get deep and cause tissue damage. Overtraining syndrome works in the same way. Usually once this sets in, damage is done to the body and time needs to be taken in order to allow the body to heal.
Who is susceptible?
ANYBODY!! (It can affect people of all training and fitness levels)
Although overtraining is more apparent in an untrained individual starting out with too much exercise, it does not mean seasoned exercisers are immune. In my experience and opinion the seasoned exerciser may be at more risk than the beginner. For most, the problem lies with “too much, too soon” and too much repetitive overuse. This is more dangerous for the seasoned exerciser because they are accustomed to exercise, already accomplishing a higher volume of exercise, and may feel that they are not meeting the goals they would like or failing to quickly meet a goal. They run into the problem of too much repetitive overuse because to them, failing to meet a goal simply means they need to ramp up the volume, intensity, etc. in order to make their goals happen.
Although, this article will not spend any time on proper goal setting (for more on this see Luke Lewitzke’s blog on setting SMART goals), it is a factor when the seasoned exerciser has the motivation to push harder to reach a certain goal that may be unattainable or unattainable in the given time frame. Many beginners do not always see overtraining due to the fact that when they are sore or tired they will just take a day or two off or completely give up on exercise, while the seasoned exerciser will most often try to push through it to finish the workout. This is why a properly produced, scientifically based, exercise routine is paramount for any exerciser at any level.
The other pitfall many seasoned exercisers encounter is the mind set that unless they are dead tired after every workout, they are not getting a good enough workout. Many exercisers feel they must be crawling out of the gym, barely able to move to have achieved a true “work out.” This is not always the case, as much as tough workouts are important, the light or moderate workouts are also important, as well as a change up in routine. For the beginner this “all, or nothing” mindset is also incorrect, in that the beginner needs to gradually work up the ability for their body to handle a very vigorous tough workout.
How Does Overtraining Occur?
Below are some examples of how overtraining can occur:
- Too fast of a progression in resistance
- Too high of volume with heavy loads
- Insufficient rest from strenuous workouts
- Too much total body physical stress
- Too much psychological stress
- Too much energy depletion without time to recover
Any combination of the above increases the chances of overtraining. The more factors involved, the greater the likelihood of the onset of overtraining.
Mechanisms of Overtraining
Some of these mechanisms were briefly mentioned or hinted at already; but to sum it all up these two mechanisms are responsible for most of the cases of overtraining.
- An inappropriate volume of exercise can create an environment that exceeds the body’s ability to recover from the stress
- This increases as adults move from the 40s to 60s as remodeling of muscles and connective tissue slows as a person ages and requires more rest
Do you think you might be overtraining? Talk to a trainer and they can set you up on a specialized plan that will prevent overtraining, but still help you get the results you want!Get your own personalized plan!