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Tips For Addressing Over-Training

  • Discuss your work out options with your Physical Therapist.
  • Never perform the same exercise routine on consecutive days.
  • Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep nightly.
  • If you suspect that you are developing the effects of over-training, seek help from a healthcare professional.
  • Cross training can reduce injuries and help to avoid the “over-training syndrome.”

Recognizing and responding to the signs of over-training

Over-training syndrome can impact your body, emotions and behaviors in negative ways, causing your conditioning to work against your goals. If the amount of exercise and its intensity go beyond your body’s capability to recover, you can suffer from over-training syndrome. This imbalance between recovery and exercise may happen when a person is already experiencing a range of other stressors in life, or when an athlete allows their intense drive to push them beyond the limit, or when anybody simply exercises more than their body can handle.

We have all heard of the enormous dedication of certain athletes who have spent many years preparing for their sport or competition. These athletes can experience symptoms related to “over-training.” The “average” person who trains excessively may also experience these symptoms. If you are excessive with your workouts, you could be suffering from “over-training syndrome” or “burn out.” Check your symptoms. Some of the tell tale sign of over-training include the following: fatigue, difficulty completing your normal workout, sleeplessness, easily irritated, depression, poor appetite, lost desire to exercise, or constantly ill.

What Is Over-Training Syndrome?

Many people believe that hard workouts are part of being physically fit. The harder someone works out, the more results she should feel and see when she looks into the mirror. This is not always the case. During excessively hard training sessions, there is extensive muscular and cell damage. This damage has been labeled Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and can cause joint and muscle pain for several days following an intense workout session. Over-training is far beyond the effects of DOMS. The body needs adequate rest periods to “heal” the damaged tissue. If there is not a balanced ratio of training to rest, the person performing the routine is at risk of experiencing the effects of over-training.

Impacts of Over-Training

Over-training has been described medically as a neuro-endocrine disorder. The entire body is affected physically and mentally. Most people suffering from this disorder are chronically fatigued, depressed and perform sub-par in training or sporting events. The signs and symptoms of over-training need to be assessed by a healthcare professional.

Unfortunately, literature for this disorder is minimal and sometimes controversial. Often there is no clear cut physical finding regardless of the diagnostic tests performed on the patient which can lead to disbelief that anything is “wrong” with them. Many of these people get labeled as lazy, weak minded or having no desire to succeed when they are actually suffering from too much training.

The two parts of the nervous system are thought to affect the body differently in this disorder: the parasympathetic system is most involved in the endurance athlete; and the sympathetic system is most involved in the power/sprint type athlete. In the parasympathetic system the athlete’s heart rate is lower than normal, and he has a difficult time achieving and maintaining his target heart rate during the work out. He cannot sustain the same endurance type workload, and at times his glucose levels may be affected and not regulated, forcing him into a hypoglycemic state. Conversely, the sympathetic nervous system can be stressed to a level that causes a higher resting heart rate, irritability, and concentration difficulties. The nervous system is in “over-drive” all of the time. Consequently, the athlete’s body cannot relax, rest or heal properly.

Many people that over-train become very sluggish and unmotivated to participate in any aspect of their sport/workout sessions. Their sleep may be greatly affected and the “deep sleep” may not be achieved. The body heals best in this part of the “sleep cycle.” Those suffering from the “over-training syndrome” can find themselves working out extremely hard and actually losing muscle mass. The amount of “fuel” needed to perform the intense, extensive workouts leads to a break down of proteins (muscle) to be able to meet the demands placed on their body. These people will become ill with colds and coughs due to a decrease in their immunity system (primary cause) and also due to the added stress and increased cortisol levels (secondary causes).

Burn-out Prevention and Recovery

The best way to treat this syndrome is not necessarily complete and total rest. Most of these people are “addicted” to exercise and making them stop will be extremely difficult for them to handle. “Active rest” is the best way to accomplish recovery from these symptoms. Changing the workload and possibly performing different exercises/activities that are not as demanding might be enough to restore the homeostasis of their body. The athlete must be monitored because they will tend to add too much of the new activity to compensate for the portion of their workout that they have given up.

The best way to avoid the over-training syndrome is to progress intensity, workload, duration and frequency slowly. There have to be “built in” rest periods that will allow the body to heal. Getting enough sleep (8 hours per night is recommended), eating a well balanced diet with vitamin supplements if needed, and not performing the same intense routine daily will help immensely.

The human body responds positively to “hard” workouts and the affects will enhance the quality of one’s life in most cases. Too much of anything is usually not good and the same goes for too much extreme levels of exercise. Progress slowly, perform multiple types of exercise, get enough rest, and the “over-training syndrome” can be avoided by most people.