Of course, you have to work hard and push yourself to improve your performance in most aspects of life, particularly in sport. The goal of pushing hard is to stress the body just beyond your current fitness level, to gradually increase the stress loads on your body and then to ensure recovery. The key word here is ‘gradually’; it’s about evolution not revolution. You can’t just double your training all of a sudden and expect your body to cope with it!
A good metaphor to explain the concept of overtraining is to imagine your body as an electrical socket that powers all of your daily activities. If you plug too many things into a socket it shorts out, and your body isn’t much different. Your central nervous system controls your muscles through sending nerve impulses, and when this is chronically overstressed, these nerve impulses can weaken and become inefficient; triggering the symptoms of overtraining.
Causes of Overtraining
A sudden increase in training volume or intensity.
Repeating the same training day in and day out.
Self-reported high stress levels (related and/or unrelated to training).
Symptoms of overtraining
Fatigue: The most common symptom, it may limit training and cause progress to plateau and even decline.
Lack of Motivation: We all have days when we don’t feel like training, but if you go days or even weeks without wanting anything to do with your training then you must listen to your body; it’s time to take a rest.
Increase in Injury: This can mean either getting injured more often or re-aggravating old injuries. Your body doesn’t get enough time to recuperate between training sessions, meaning that at some point you begin training in a weakened state, therefore increasing your risk of injury.
Increase in Illness: The process of overtraining means your body is in a continual catabolic state – this lowers immunity and increases your chances of becoming ill. It’s really easy to ignore the occasional cough or those early morning sniffles, but it could be your body telling you you’re lacking sleep, insufficient nutrients and not enough rest!
Get more Sleep: Simple, cheap and effective, but most people don’t pay enough attention to it! Your body needs adequate sleep to repair.
Adjust your Training: Train smart, not long. Don’t train to the point where it takes two weeks to recover from one session. Progress your training slowly, not in one giant leap – you’re not Neil Armstrong!
Improve your Nutrition: You don’t put the wrong fuel in your car, so don’t put the wrong food into your body and expect it to run just fine. Make sure you’re taking in the right nutrients, particularly focusing on the meals pre and post-training.
Add in Recovery: This doesn’t mean to do absolutely nothing on rest days – why not try spending some extra time stretching or using a foam roller to help prevent overtraining and injuries? Non-impact activities such as swimming or yoga can also aid in recovery.
Reduce Stress: This can be stress on the body and/or on the mind. If stress levels are building up at work, or if you’re moving house or having family issues, perhaps think about taking some time off training and try out some yoga or meditation to help ease your mind.
Overtraining starts out as a flame, and if we continue to push through our fatigue, it turns into a forest fire that can only be put out with rest and recovery. To avoid overtraining you must progress from your current fitness level at a gradual rate; balance hard training sessions with active recovery and rest, and make sure you listen to how your body responds!