Injury Prevention: Overtraining
When most people launch a new athletic training or weight loss plan, they get ready to tackle the biggest obstacles that seem to be standing in the way, like a lack of will power or the pull of competing obligations. Just getting into the gym every day can be a challenge, and sneaking in a few minutes of cardio or weight training a few times a week can feel like a real victory. But once these obstacles are moved aside, is it possible to exercise too much? Can the hours an athlete spends on the running track or at the gym actually cause more harm than good? Sometimes overtraining can push the body in an unhealthy direction, and too much strain on the bones and muscles may cause any number of issues, from overuse injuries to sleep disorders.
Overtraining: Signs of Trouble
Some of the problems that come from overtraining are easy to recognize right away. Repetitive stress injuries, for example, often announce themselves in the form of pinching, tingling or burning in the joints. Sometimes these injuries occur in the extremities, like the wrists and ankles. The knees and elbows are also subject to overtraining and overuse injuries. And the back and neck, which are central to a wide range of athletic movements, will often provide a strong warning when it’s time for an athlete to take a break and slow down.
But there are several signs of overtraining that are not localized to specific joints and muscles. Some of these include the following:
1. Sleep problems: Sleep issues related to overtraining can include insomnia and also fitful or easily interrupted sleep. Trouble falling asleep, trouble getting out of bed in the morning, restless dreams, sleepiness during the day, and wakefulness in the middle of the night are all signs that it may be time to take a hard look at your workout schedule.
2. Elevated resting heart rate: For the most part, a strong cardio workout routine will help reduce the resting heart rate as it increases the strength and efficiency of the heart muscle. But when the point of diminishing returns is reached, the resting heart rate ceases to go down and actually starts to rise back up.
3. Menstrual problems: Missed menstrual cycles and cycle disturbances can often be linked to excessive, repetitive cardio activities, like endurance running.
4. Reduced performance with increased effort: If an athlete is struggling harder in order to lift lower amounts of weight, overtraining may be at the heart of the problem.
5. Appetite issues: A loss of interest in food may be linked to overtraining. As the body burns more calories, it tends to want to replace those calories by taking in more. But when the process slows down and hunger fades, this may be a sign of metabolic shifts or other overtraining problems.
6. Immunity issues: Overtraining and overuse injuries can lower the body’s ability to fight off illness and infection. This may lead to strep throat, colds, and flu that linger for long periods of time. And it can also slow the healing process and increase the likelihood of infection for cuts and sores.
7. A general loss of enthusiasm: Changes in mood related to overtraining can cover a wide range, from a simple lack of interest in a once-loved sport, to full-on depression. Athletes who feel moody, irritable, compulsive about their training routines, or suddenly bored with a sport they usually love may have overtraining to blame.
Preventing and Treating Overtraining and Overuse Injuries
Overuse injuries like stressed joints, strained muscles, and shin splints can usually be treated with rest, ice, elevation, and compression. But if overtraining lies at the heart of the problem, most of these moves will only provide temporary fixes. Of all four components of the RICE treatment, rest is the most critical for true recovery.
If a limit has been reached and exceeded, and a muscle or joint has suddenly been pushed past the point of injury, stop the activity in question, apply the RICE treatment, and see a doctor if the injury hasn’t healed in three days. As for the incremental problems of overtraining listed above, athletes should respond by scaling back a rigorous training routine. The following moves can also help:
1. Attention to warm ups and stretching: Proper warm-ups usually involve a brief jog or brisk walk to increase blood flow to the large muscles, followed by a series of dynamic stretches like high-leg kicks or Spiderman crawls.
2. Appropriate cool downs: After a session of intense cardio-focused athletic training, it’s a good idea to scale down gradually, moving from running, to jogging, to walking, etc. End each vigorous workout with another session of stretching.
3. Hydration: The human body doesn’t have a very strong thirst reflex, so dehydration can progress significantly before an athlete actually feels thirsty. Intense training can dull the thirst reflex even further. This means drinking should be a conscious decision. Outside of intense training activity, most people should actively drink at least eight glasses of water per day.
4. The ten percent rule: Increase training intensity by no more than 10 percent per week. This is usually measured in miles run and pounds of weight lifted, which means a 50 pound bench press can be increased by five pounds the following week, and a ten mile run can be increased by one mile, etc.
If an athlete recognizes any of the signs of overtraining and doesn’t adjust his or her routine accordingly, they may face more serious problems down the road. And what could have been solved with a simple reduction will now require days, or even weeks, of no training at all.
The best way to avoid overtraining and overuse injuries is simple, and it begins with careful attention and a bit of common sense. Athletes and non-athletes alike should try to tune in and recognize the rhythms and patterns that are unique to their own bodies. Stretching properly, warming up, cooling down, stopping any repetitive motion that causes pinching or burning, and making personal adjustments to any generic workout plan are all great places to start.