Are Your Overtraining? - What Is Overtraining Syndrome and How to Avoid It.
Michal Dabrowski CAT(C) RMT
Training is an integral part of being an athlete. If you’re not training you’re not improving. But is there a point where too much training can negatively affect your career as an athlete? The answer is yes.
Overtraining is a real thing and it’s important for athletes to find the right balance between training and recovery in order to maximize performance results.
What Is Overtraining Syndrome?
Overtraining syndrome is a condition caused by excessive training without adequate rest and recovery. Athletes who experience overtraining syndrome often:
- Feel physically tired everyday
- Experience persistent muscle soreness
- Experience decreases in performance
- Feel worn down physically and mentally
- Frequently getting sick
How To Avoid Overtraining Syndrome
It is not uncommon to want to get ahead of the competition. It’s scary to think that while you’re resting your opponents are probably training.
This may lead to athletes wanting to lift heavier and more frequently, to put up hours and hours of extra practice or spend the majority of their day training at a high intensity in the gym.
The thing to remember is that rest and recovery are a part of training. Recovery is also not meant to be passive. Recovery days are not about laying on the couch and watching Netflix. Recovery days should prioritize stretching, mobility and mental health.
By incorporating and prioritizing recovery into your training you are getting ahead of the competition. While you’re training to become efficient and decrease injury risk the opponent who is overtraining is training to get injured.
Extra work without adequate recovery creates more wear and tear on the body and eventually the body cannot take anymore load especially if the athlete has any unknown weak links such an muscle imbalances, unresolved injuries or compensations.
Below are 5 tips to prevent overtraining syndrome. These tips were crafted with the elite athletes in mind but they also apply to recreational athletes, weekend warriors or regular people who go to the gym to keep fit. Anyone can benefit from these tips below!
1. Be Strategic: Plan Your Training
Training is more than simply lifting heavy weights and working on skills specific to your sport. You need to be strategic about what time of day you train and at what intensity. Review your game and practice schedules for the season and try to identify particular days, weeks or periods where training intensity will be the highest. Then plan recovery around that schedule and make it a priority.
This goes for the everyday person as well. Make sure to spread out training sessions accordingly. Don’t train your arms every single day at maximum intensity. Give them a break and train a different muscle group or work on some cardio before doing another arms session.
2. Plan Recovery Into Your Routine
Recovery is no longer simply checking a box once you do a few stretches post workout. It’s also not foam rolling for 2 minutes before or after a workout. Recovery should be pre planned and done with a purpose with specific goals in mind.
Say you’ve been sitting at the office for most of the day. You can incorporate stretches into your recovery routine to help avoid tension building up in your hips, neck and low back. This will also help you get more out of your next workout since you won’t be so tight.
3. Get Adequate Sleep
A good night’s sleep is arguably the most important factor for proper recovery. It’s a no brainer and everyone knows sleep is good for you but unfortunately only a fraction of athletes actually get enough of it.
Seven hours should be the minimum for athletes training hard, period. Athletes should have a sleep routine just like they have a pre game warm up routine and they should follow it consistently. When asked about what the most important factor to proper recovery is for him, LeBron James without hesitation said SLEEP!
If you’re thirsty, it’s already too late is what I usually tell my athletes. You want to make sure you always have water in your hands throughout the day. Do not drink a bottle of water all at once but rather take small sips throughout the day. Some studies show it takes up to 2 weeks to adequately restore hydration levels back to normal after severe dehydration.
When training, you lose a lot of water through breathing and sweating. Consider adding electrolytes to help with muscle contraction and to maintain optimal mineral levels. Electrolytes are usually found in sports drinks but be careful as many of these drinks contain a lot of sugar.
Make sure to avoid dehydrating drinks such as alcohol, sodas, sugary drinks, coffee and tea. Coffee and tea are good but in moderation and in combination with water to rehydrate.
Aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. Elite athletes who train more at a higher intensity will need even more.
5. Proper Fuel: Nutrition
You would be amazed at some of the meals I have seen professional athletes eat before and after games and practices. You would not put the lowest grade fuel into a Ferrari so why would you put garbage food into your system after a game when instead you need food rich in nutrients to get you better for the next day.
Eat real food! Avoid processed and food high in sugar content. Try to eat as much local and organic foods and make sure to have a variety of colour on your plates. Fruits and vegetables provide our bodies with the appropriate nutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Here are some things to stay away from:
- Refined carbohydrates
- Heavily processed foods
- Unhealthy fats (Trans fats, saturated fats)
- Limit salt
- Limit alcohol and caffeine
Overtraining Can Be Prevented
Overtraining is very preventable. Trying to do too much too fast is a recipe for disaster, eventually something will break down. The good news is, your body will give you a lot of warning signs that something is wrong before any real damage happens.
But make no mistake, it is dangerous to ignore those warning signs. If you experience any of the symptoms above it’s best to take some time off, prioritize recovery or speak to someone who can help.
Think of recovery as part of your training not in addition to it. Strategically schedule recovery sessions daily to avoid overtraining syndrome and decrease your chances of injury.
- Michal Dabrowski
- Elevate Rehabilitation and Performance