Overtraining syndrome: know it to avoid it.

Overtraining: what it is, how to recognize it and how to avoid it.

The increase in the performance levels imposed by some disciplines born in recent years has led athletes of any level to face significant workloads both in terms of volume and intensity.

The huge increase in the number of athletes capable of competing at the highest levels compels the trainer to meticulously evaluate the objectives and to fine-tune periods of work loading and discharging with the precision of a surgeon: athletes need to be at their best during a race.

Given the stressful impact of some disciplines or working methods, even in a non-competitive environment, it is absolutely necessary to provide for discharge microcycles, otherwise overtraining will be unavoidable.

The so-called “chronic fatigue” is an actual semi-pathological condition, which manifests itself when either a competitive or an amateur athlete undergoes excessively heavy training without giving the body the chance to recover.

The hypothesis that an excessive amount of training could lead to harmful effects on the psychophysical balance of athletes dates back to more than twenty years ago, but only in recent years have scholars decided to understand precisely what the clinical findings and the symptoms of overtraining are.

The experts have also tried to distinguish between the dangerous “overtraining” and “overreaching” which, even if invasive for the athlete, does not have the same characteristics. The effects of the latter do arise after an excessive workload, e.g. after a few games or training sessions that are not followed by resting, but two or three days of complete recovery are enough to rebalance the athlete’s parameters.

Chronic fatigue is quite different: trainers will find themselves with athletes who, due to the multitude of stress induced by training, performance, and the resulting and induced psychological pressure, face a serious decline in performance.

Frequent mood swings, sleep disorders, lack of appetite, weight loss, the decrease in attention and in the ability to maintain high concentration may cause athletes to make wrong movements by easily exposing themselves to injury.

The workouts, even at intensities lower than usual, feel very demanding and the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) goes on for several days.

An analysis of some physiological parameters can easily show if the symptoms found are actually attributable to overtraining: alterations in arterial and cardiac pressure, both at rest and during and after the effort (slow recovery of the basic parameters), a check of the concentration in lactic acid in the blood during efforts at submaximal and maximal intensity.

At rest, over-trained athletes may show a higher or lower heart rate than their “baseline”.

During exercise, though, the same frequency appears to be higher than normal due to work intensity below ceilings but, on the contrary, does not reach the maximum values for maximal efforts.

More in-depth investigations can lead the sports doctor to diagnose chronic fatigue, after analyzing the concentration of catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline produced by the adrenal glands) in the urine.

Similarly, the testosterone/cortisol (stress hormone) ratio will be extremely unbalanced.

Finally, there will be important alterations of the immune system that can more easily cause viral or bacterial infections.

In conclusion, we understand how important it is for the expert in motor sciences to understand when the symptoms of overtraining begin to show; in this case, the only medicine that will help is granting athletes an adequate period of physical and psychophysical rest to allow them to recover their energy.

Periodization is, once again, our code word: with it, overtraining will be avoided; without it, the training program will not bear fruits.

Francesco Vetri

Wellness Escapes® Co founder