Saturday, June 23, 2012

Overtraining Syndrome

By Jannine Myers

While out running the other morning, I knew as soon as I rounded the first corner from my house that I was probably not going to meet my training objectives. Why? Because I simply wasn't feeling good. I didn't feel ill, but I didn't feel great either - I felt "off," if that makes any sense. So what to do? The stubborn and sometimes irrational side of me was quick to jump in and start harrassing me with words like, "You only think you feel bad, you're fine!" Or, "Stop being a baby, you can do it!" Words such as these would be perfectly fine if I was just being lazy, but when I'm genuinely not feeling good, they can actually be to my detriment and push me into a state of overtraining.

Overtraining, by the way, is not just some word I made up to emphasize a state of over-exerting myself. It's a very real condition that is experienced among athletes in all realms of sports and fitness. On the website, overtraining is defined as:

Exercising to the extreme in intensity, frequency and/or duration. Overtraining can cause a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, elevated resting heart rate and lowered performance.

However, since we are all at different levels of fitness, there is no way to define how much exercise is too much - the key is to learn how to recognize the symptoms of overtraining and make appropriate training adjustments. Sounds easy enough, but in many cases, runners have entered into a state of overtraining because they have become addicted to running (yes, running can be just as addictive as drugs, alcohol, or gambling); and it's addicted runners who will most likely resist the idea of slowing down or cutting back on mileage.

Since I plan on addressing running addiction in a later post, I'll get back to the issue of overtraining and how runners can learn to recognize it's symptoms and quickly reverse them.

Symptoms of overtraining can result from sudden increases in training intensity or frequency, or from running too many races, or from increasing mileage too quickly (new runners are particularly prone to the latter scenario). Over time, training starts to exceed the necessary amount of time it takes for the body to recover and the outcome is a decline in performance, or worse, the onset of injury or illness.

I suffered from a number of minor injuries and setbacks last year due to back-to-back training cycles and endless races, as well as a foolish disregard for what is essentially a crucial element of any successful training plan; recovery! Not allowing my body the necessary time to fully recover between workouts and races, finally took a toll and I wound up sitting in the office of Dr. Cardinale, the sports doctor over at Lester Family Practice. Do you want to know what his advice was, besides recommending certain strengthening and stretching exercises specific to my injury sites? He suggested I find a running coach on island! Needless to say I didn't whip out my WOOTCoaching business card and leave it with him - I hardly think he'd be enthusiastic about recommending me to any of his patients!

Okinawa Marathon 2012; my last big race before I finally decided to take some time off
 - signs of hamstring and IT band stress started to become more and more apparent
But seriously, even those of us who already know what the signs of overtraining are, and how best to avoid them, are not exempt from making training mistakes, especially when they are derived from a competitive drive to keep pushing out better and better results. I'm a work in progress, just as my clients are, and just as most other runners are. But as in all things, as I spend more and more time learning about my sport, and putting into practise everything I learn, the training errors will hopefully become fewer and further between.

Here are some common symptoms of overtraining, followed by a few overtraining recovery strategies:

Physiological Symptoms:

  • Muscle and joint tenderness and/or tightness
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased performance
  • Increased rate of overuse injuries (this was my red flag!)
  • Nausea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight loss/decreased appetite
  • Training fatigue/lethargy
  • Head colds/persistent upper respiratory tract infections
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Allergic reactions
  • Decreased coordination
  • Changes in menstrual pattern

Mental/Hormonal Symptoms
  • Irritability/moodiness
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation to train
  • Anxiousness
  • Lack of concentration
  • Palpitations
  • Elevated basal metabolic rate
These can all be exacerbated by other external stressors, such as relationship conflicts, lack of sleep, jetlag, work or college deadlines, or general fatigue from day-to-day home, work, or voluntary obligations. If overtraining symptoms present themselves, it's important to also limit additional stress from other sources.

Overtraining Recovery Strategies
  • Step One - take a day or two of complete rest if symptoms are minor, or three to five days of complete rest if symptoms have been present for some time.
  • Step Two - take up to two weeks off from running if symptoms manifested weeks ago ( several weeks of rest may be required if you're in a state of chronic overtraining)
  • Step Three - ease back into training by reducing both intensity and distance, as much as 50% if necessary.
  • Step Four - gradually increase the workload only when you are fully recovered.

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