Overtraining (and How to Avoid It)

By Chloe McLeod

This is the dreaded O word that no athlete who loves their sport wants to hear.

What is overtraining? What are the signs? How can it happen? And how can we avoid it?

What is overtraining?

Overtraining happens when more training is done than an individual’s body can recover from, to the point where performance declines.

Signs of overtraining include fatigue, poor sleep, low mood or depression, muscle soreness, loss of motivation, irritability, change to heart rate (abnormally slow or fast), heavy/sore/stiff feeling in muscles, inability to concentrate and increased incidence of illness or injury.

How can overtraining occur?

Overtraining can easily happen when training hard for events -- when there’s a heavy training load, doing more than your body is able to recover from.

However, it is also important to remember that training isn’t the only thing that can cause stress for our bodies. Work, study, relationships, family life, pressure to perform (from self, and from external sources, such as teammates and sponsors) can all play a varying role in how stressed we feel on a day-to-day basis.

If you are doing similar training to what you would usually do but struggling to cope, it may very well be due to something that is happening outside of your training that is impacting your performance.

How do I avoid and manage overtraining?

Overtraining can be avoided by ensuring you incorporate adequate recovery into your training plan.

Poor nutrition while you’re putting your body under large workloads can also contribute to overtraining. The greater the demands on your body, the more precise you should be with how and when you should fuel. Underfuelling is also a stressor that impacts recovery.

Lastly, be mindful of where other stress may be coming from in your life, and deal with it accordingly. That might mean de-prioritising training or doing softer sessions instead when you’re pulling successive late nights at the office or dealing with family issues. Because these are stressors beyond your control, pulling back on the training can help you manage the load on your entire body and mind.

Work with your coach to determine this, especially if you suspect you're close to or have already gone over the edge into overtraining: how much and how intense your training is in a week, how quickly or gradually you ramp up the training load, and knowing when to back off.

If you’re self-coached, then taking note of including rest days, listening to your body, and taking it easy is even more imperative. Talking about your training with a like-minded friend can also help you find perspective and balance.

The key thought to avoiding overtraining: training and engaging in sport should always add to and enrich your life and health.

(Header photo by Lucas Favre on Unsplash)

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