For years exercise enthusiasts have touted the phrases "Go for the Burn" and "No Pain, No Gain" in hopes to motivate individuals to get active. With a large percentage of our population still not acquiring the recommended amount of exercise to gain health benefits, the origin of these slogans can be understood. However, exercise does not have to be performed at an intensity and/or volume level that unduly stresses the body in order to improve overall health and well-being. In fact, too
much exercise can be counterproductive, leading to conditions known as overreaching and overtraining. Overreaching and overtraining conditions are not limited to the elite athlete, but can occur in individuals whose exercise goal is to improve overall health.
Overreaching is excessive training that occurs on a short-term basis. The body is overworked resulting in decreased exercise performance. The decrements in performance, however, can be easily reversed with a decrease in exercise workload for several days. When carefully prescribed by a qualified health fitness or sports medicine professional, overreaching can actually have a positive impact on exercise performance. Substantial gains in strength and power can occur when the muscles are overworked for a period of time followed by a tapering down phase in which the training stimulus is reduced. However, if not monitored properly and allowed to continue for an extended period of time, overreaching can lead to overtraining.
Overtraining occurs when the intensity and/or volume of exercise is excessive over a prolonged period of time without a sufficient recovery period. Overtraining not only impairs exercise performance, but alters the mood of the overtrained athlete. It can lead to marked decrements in exercise performance, injury, and/or illness. Unlike overreaching, overtraining can require months, if not years, for a full recovery to occur.
Overtraining is not fully understood and more research is needed in the area. However, there are certain physiological and psychological symptoms, known as the Overtraining Syndrome (OTS), that are suggestive of overtraining.
Physiological Symptoms Suggestive of OTS
Psychological Symptoms Suggestive of OTS
- Decreased and/or plateaued exercise performance despite continued exercise training
- Time to recover from exercise is prolonged
- Poor/reduced coordination of body movements
- Chronic fatigue (both during exercise and daily life activities)
- Sore/tender muscles
- Painful joints
- Increased thirst
- Altered breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure at rest
- Disruption of menstrual cycle
- Altered personality
- Lack of motivation to exercise
- Poor concentration
- Poor self-esteem
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your health care professional to determine the cause. If it is determined that you are suffering from overtraining, your exercise regimen will have to be altered to allow for adequate recovery and rest. If the thought of taking a break from exercise for a while is anxiety producing, discuss with your health care professional the possibility of alternative forms of activity such as light-intensity walking, calisthenics, stretching, or balance and stability exercises.
If you want to avoid the pitfalls of overtraining, there are some preventative steps you can take.
Steps to Avoid OTS
- Vary your workouts, alternating days of low-, moderate-, and high-intensity exercise levels
- Cross-train to work different muscle groups (e.g. bike one day, run the next)
- Schedule at least one or two days of rest throughout the week, especially after an intense workout
- Consume a healthy, well-balanced diet that will allow for adequate repletion of glycogen stores depleted from exercise (see my nutrition postings during the week of May 4, 2009)
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
It is important to listen to your body during your workout. If you notice that your workouts are harder despite continued training, that you have lost the desire to exercise, and/or your mood and personality have become altered, then you need to reevaluate your exercise program. The volume and/or intensity level of your activity may need to be reduced and extra recovery days added to your routine.
Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.
ACSM's Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, Sixth Edition
ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, July/August 2007 vol. 11, Issue 4; "Overtraining: Undermining Success?", pp. 8-12. Kinucan, P. and Kravitz, L.
Labels: ACSM, burnout, OTS, overreaching, Overtraining