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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

OverTraining or Under-recovering?

Overtraining or Under-recovering?
By: Andrew Jagim


It is well accepted that the list of positive benefits from exercise are practically endless but is there such thing as too much of a good thing?  For the most part, people who exercise do so recreationally and at relatively moderate intensities. However, there is that small fraction of the population who train at such a high level that it actually begins to be detrimental to their health.  This phenomenon of “training too much” is commonly referred to as overtraining.  Symptoms of overtraining can include: decreased performance, decreased strength, abnormal blood pressure and heart rate, suppressed immune function, decreased body fat, fatigue, loss in motivation, loss of appetite, hormonal imbalances and sleep disturbances.  These are just a few of the symptoms commonly associated with overtraining and people may suffer from one or several of them. 



Traditionally, overtraining symptoms are thought to arise as a result of the type of exercise involved, the volume and/or intensity of training.  For example, endurance athletes who participate in aerobic types of activities over long periods of time often suffer from overuse symptoms such as chronic fatigue, decreased immune function or stress fractures.  On the other hand, strength and power athletes who are training at much higher intensities but for shorter periods of time often suffer from strength decrements, chronic soreness, tendinitis, or muscle strains and tears. Regardless, the main cause seems to be an imbalance between training and recovery.  Symptoms of overtraining are sometimes difficult to detect until it's too late and the damage is already done before any preventative strategies can be implemented. 

Image result for overtraining
Exercise is not the sole factor involved in the onset of overtraining; rest days, proper nutrition and sleep are just as important in preventing overtraining and promoting optimal recovery.  For example, if a person consistently consumes fewer calories than they expend throughout the day and continues to train at a high level, their body will begin to breakdown and not be able to maintain their current training program. I would make the argument that it isn't necessarily overtraining but more so a matter of under-recovering; for most people that is.  There is absolutely a breaking point where the body can only withstand so much for so long.  However, as I mentioned previously, I think overtraining is more a case of an individual not recovering properly whether it be through active recovery, proper nutrition or rest.  Furthermore, as we learn more about soft-tissue plasticity and how improper movement-related and sedentary body positions or mechanics can lead to symptoms of chronic pain it seems as though ergonomics and soft-tissue work may be just as important.  Similarly, exercise technique and principles of biomehanics may also play a role in the onset of "overtraining"-like symptoms. For example, if someone is improperly squatting over and over and over again, eventually the connective tissues in their knees may be exposed to unnecessary stress and become prone to injury which may be perceived as overtraining but it's really just poor movement mechanics. 

The time frame need for recovery from overtraining syndrome can vary from person to person and typically depends on the severity of symptoms.  The most common prescription for recovery is REST! Clearly if too much exercise is the problem, than proper rest and recovery should help fix the problem. Furthermore, a sound nutrition program and sleep will also help speed up the recovery process.  However if mechanics and mobility are the problem then you need to address those areas first before you progress anymore with your training program (for more on this topic, I highly recommend (How to be a Supple Leopard by Dr. Kelly Starrett).



For Further Reading on Overtraining:

Kreider, RB., Fry, AC., O’Toole, Mary. Overtraining inSport.  Human Kinetics Publishing, Inc. Champaign, IL. 1998.
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