What is overtraining? Learn to prevent it!

Neus Vives

17 February, 2014

We can define overtraining syndrome as an altered response of the athlete to excessive exercise without adequate rest, which leads to the involvement of multiple systems (physical and psychological) and the reduction of sports performance.

Sports training is based on a process that involves overloading the body, applying a load that causes physical effort to produce a biological response that alters homeostasis or cell balance. After a time of adequate recovery, there is a new biological response to return to the internal balance that we call overcompensation and which entails an improvement in sports performance.
The recovery period is necessary to return to the order of the internal environment: recover the volume of lost liquids, the concentrations of electrolytes inside and outside the cells, the energy reserves of creatinophosphate, glycogen and lipids, the resynthesis of contractile proteins, enzymes, etc. And it is also necessary to recover the mechanical wear and tear that suffer from the joints and muscles of our body.
Three phases
When the training is so intense that the athlete is not able to recover in a few days we talk about overtraining. Lately, the European College of Sport Science has determined three stages of overreach based on the recovery time:
1. Acute fatigue functional: The increase in training leads to a temporary decrease in performance for a few days with the positive effect and sought overcompensation.
2. Acute fatigue not functional: The decrease in performance after intense training is longer, for a few weeks, but with full recovery after a break. It is accompanied by psychological or neuroendocrine symptoms. The result is negative due to the symptoms it presents and the loss of training time.
3. Overdose syndrome or chronic fatigue: Non-functional fatigue with the time of longer performance decline (more than two months), the most serious symptomatology and an additional stress factor not explained by any other illness. The result is negative due to the symptoms of poor adaptation and the possible end of the sports career.

Clinically, it manifests itself as a set of changes in the vegetative nervous system. In an initial phase we can find insomnia, irritability, agitation, tachycardia, arterial hypertension, restlessness, most common in anaerobic sports, and later appear symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, depression, bradycardia, loss of motivation, most common in aerobic sports. Other alterations such as anorexia, weight loss, lack of mental concentration, pain and muscle stiffness, anxiety and tiredness at rest may also occur.

In order to diagnose an over-training syndrome we must observe a low inexplicable sports performance that persists despite weeks or months of recovery, associated with mood disorders. It is necessary to rule out any other medical cause of low performance such as respiratory, infectious, diabetes, eating disorders and many others. If low performance occurs without periods of rest and recovery, it can not be said that it is overtraining, then it will be simply fatigue.
Currently, several markers are used: hormones, performance tests, psychological tests and biochemical and immunological markers, but none do not meet all the requirements for their use to be accepted as a diagnosis of overtraining syndrome. It is still being investigated to find the marker capable of differentiating us from functional fatigue or not of overtraining syndrome.
Often low performance is associated with an increase in volume and intensity of training to improve the results, but it is not the only triggering factor.
1. Increase of the training load without adequate recovery
2. The monotony of the training
3. Excess number of competitions
4. Alterations of sound
5. Stress situations, including personal life (family, relationships) and occupational
6. Pre-existing illness
7. Exposure to the height
8. Heat during exercise
9. Deficiency in glycogen deposits
Treatment is rest. If the whole rest increases depression or anxiety, active rest will prefer not to stop completely and for a period of not less than two months. It is best to detect the signs that lead to overtraining and activate the preventative measures as before.
Preventive measures
It is important to do a training for several reasons:
• Guarantees adjusting the volume and intensity of the training based on performance and mood.
• Suitable rest / recovery.
• Ensures good nutrition, balanced, with antioxidants and a sufficient amount of calories for the load of training.
• Ensures adequate hydration.
• Hours of sound sufficient.
• It allows you to stop training after infections or periods of high stress and restart it gradually.
• Avoid extreme environmental conditions.
• Control mood, sensation of fatigue and muscle discomfort during training.

the author

Neus Vives

Head of the Health Department of Claror Cartagena

Medical specialist in Physical Education and Sports Medicine (UB)

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