What is it (and how does it happen)?
Overtraining syndrome occurs when an athlete pushes themselves to a volume and intensity where their body has no time to recover.
In an attempt to improve performance, athletes can quickly fall into the trap of always striving to do more, thus pushing their bodies past the point they can handle. Without the adequate rest and recovery it needs, your body experiences more harm from the exercise than good.
Exercise overload without allowing muscles to repair themselves can not only decrease performance capacity, but can also be psychologically harmful. When muscles do not have the fuel or time to repair themselves after a workout, they can’t get stronger; in fact, they actually start to diminish in order to keep the body running normally. It is also common for athletes to experience emotional fatigue (usually in the form of an intense feeling of burnout) that makes it even more difficult to complete workouts.
How do I know if I have it?
There is clear and important distinction to be made between normal exhaustion, soreness, or fatigue from a really tough training regimen and overtraining. When your soreness, fatigue, and drained energy are noticeably abnormal for an unusually long duration, take a step back and assess. Look at the workouts you’ve been doing – you may need to cut back. A gradual increase of your resting heart rate over time can be an indication you’re overtraining.
Other common symptoms of overtraining include:
- Feeling burned-out, feeling drained, or lacking energy
- Increased illness due to limited immunity
- Moodiness, irritability, and depression
- Loss of enthusiasm for the workout or sport
- Headaches and decreased appetite
- Increase of injuries
- Exercise compulsion
- Aches & pains (almost flu-like), mild continuous soreness in muscles/joints
- A sudden drop in performance, inability to train at same capacity & intensity
You think you might be overtraining. What do you do?
1. Most importantly, rest and recover.
It will depend on the intensity of your overtraining, but it may take days (or even several weeks) to exit the rut.
2. Continue to hydrate and eat properly.
Remember, your muscles need fuel to recover! This will also help give your body the nutrients it needs to rebuild immunity.
3. Active recovery and cross-training can/should also be implemented into your routine.
This will allow you to strengthen, work other muscle groups, and prevent overtraining/injury likelihood in overused muscles.
→ Note on the mental health side (especially in college): It is surprisingly easy to fall into overtraining in college. With added stress, the constant strive for perfection, and the attempt to maintain control, exercise can become a good outlet. However, that healthy outlet can become dangerously addictive.
It is very common – especially for those with heightened body image issues and/or the need for perfection in strength and performance – to go months without rest. It’s a common pitfall to think it will make us faster, stronger, leaner, etc., but we’re failing to recognize the toll this is taking on our bodies.
The bottom line is this: listen to your body.
I had to be constantly reminded by my trainer (who was a collegiate sprinter and bodybuilding competitor) that even the best of athletes rest. Rest is what makes muscles grow (along with working them and protein). Especially when it comes time to recover from overtraining (which means rest), the underlying psychological issues of eating, exercise bulimia, and body insecurity, can be aggravated, and these make rest very difficult. Take a look at your thoughts/behaviors and don’t be afraid to seek out help with coping with these insecurities and realities! Listen to your body, and proper rest will make you stronger in the long run!
Remember, your body needs rest to get stronger! All athletes should rest for one day a week (or more for vigorous strength trainers), or their bodies won’t be able to recover to increase performance.