10-20% of all those who train intensely experience overtraining which results in chronic decreases in performance and impaired ability to train. (Raglin J, Barzdukas (1999). Overtraining in athletes: The challenge of prevention. ACSM. Health Fitness J. 3:27-31.)
Admittedly, It's very easily done. You spend your week training all of the various movements that you love, followed by those you don't love but need to work on, followed by those you hate but do anyway for the "gains" and before you realise it, it's Monday again and it's back to the grind.
There is a certain level of training required for health and well being. There is an additional demand for those training towards a greater goal than just a satisfactory waistline and then again, there is an exceptional demand for those of you hoping to take exercise and training that one step further with a semi pro - pro career in sports. Do not be fooled, each of these varying categories of exercises require adequate rest and will all equally suffer and slow their own progress without it which may be known as overtraining (OT). So many believe that overtraining will speed up progress but the truth is it won't, it will almost certainly slow it down. Think about it logically for a split second, if your training furiously Monday - Monday and then you attempt a max effort lift or a timed workout for your best effort, how fresh are you? How representative of your fitness is it after such little recovery? Surely a hard 4 days with a few days rest prior to max efforts would see better performance? Let's move on ...
Overtraining in sport is very common, however, OT in Crossfit is far to prevalent. Let's take it from the start here, brand new cross fitters (the cult-fitters) who catch the "bug" instantly after that first emotional high 5 post workout see the fittest on earth and decide that in 6 short months they will make it to the games. This action plan is quickly followed by a 12 WOD week and a double helping of reduced carbohydrate intake. Que the chronic overtraining syndrome and a taxi to injury city. Do not pass go my friend, your time here is over. Then you have the opposite end to this scale, the seasoned Crossfit "athlete" who believes their step up to the big levels will follow post triple training days and "Sunday Clubs" without any real focus, direction or periodisation of their programming. Going all out in all directions over long periods of time will not improve your long term ability to produce an increased capacity or performance. It will however decrease your ability to recover efficiently, it may increase your risk of injury, it can leave you vulnerable to common colds and flu, open to infections and all other conditions usually fought off by the immune system. It may lead to serious conditions including Overtraining syndrome (OTS), chronic fatigue and possibly adrenal fatigue which will be covered in a later article. OT can also occur in those athlete who believe they are "maintaining greatness" with a few sedentary/low level days followed by a monster mash Monday where they will cover all movements known to man over a brutal 5 hour body assault which will be proceeded by another day or 2 of Sweet FA. The problem here is the exhaustive stress of exercise regardless of the daily attack it's still an extreme attack without sufficient recovery to which your body will not take kindly.
What ever your sport, If you compete in numerous events over the course of a day or weekend then you should be taking a FEW days off, maybe even more. Not only have you physically given all you could under extreme competition pressure but you will have exerted adrenaline by the bucket load mentally draining yourself as well as stressing your vital organs over an entire day. Not something you can bounce back from with a Krispy Kreme and a nap. There should be no justifiable reason to be in the gym the day following a competition other than to drop off your kit OR to do light mobility and catch up on who was sick during the days training.
So how do we increase performance without OT? Everyone is different however, generally speaking, athletes train regularly to increase performance. Performance increases are achieved through increased training loads (Reps, sets, intensity, frequency, duration) Increased loads are tolerated only through interspersed periods of rest and recovery—training periodisation. Overreaching is considered an accumulation of training load that leads to performance decrements requiring days to weeks for recovery. Overreaching followed by appropriate rest can ultimately lead to performance increases. However, if overreaching is extreme and combined with an additional stressor, such as under eating, long work hours, personal stress or worry, overtraining syndrome (OTS) may result.
What does constant training without rest do to your performance? Both physically and mentally? How do we spot the signs ?
Signs of Over-training
Symptoms indicating over exertion can be classified in the following way:
Movement coordination symptoms:
-Unable to continue relations of movements such as high volume squats,
-Increased incidence of disturbances in random movement (Spasm, cramp, twitching)
-Disturbances in rhythm and flow of movement
-Lack of movement concentration
-Reduced power of differentiation and correction of direction
- The feeling of "The empty tank", Zero energy.
-Diminished powers of endurance, strength, speed.
-Increase in recovery time, loss of 'sparkle' (competitive qualities)
-Reduced readiness for action, fear of competition, giving-up in face of difficult situations
-Confusion in competition, sudden lack of focus
-Susceptibility to demoralising influences before and during competition
-Increasing tendency to abandon the struggle
-No amount of sleep is even nearly enough sleep for you
-Increased irritability, obstinacy, tendency to hysteria, grumbling, defiance,
-Becoming Argumentative, avoidance of contact with coach and colleagues
-Over sensitivity to criticism, or increasing indolence, poor incentive, dullness,
-Hallucinations , anxiety, depression, melancholy, insecurity
What to do if you spot the signs ?
Close personal observation can help eliminate the possibility of serious effects of over-stressing.
As soon as symptoms are noticed, loading should be reduced and recovery pursued. All performance checks and competition pressures must be removed and active recovery put in their place. It is important to understand that the longer you survive without your required rest the longer the rest period will become when it finally catches up to you. Instead of a day or 2 a week on a consistent basis it may become a month or 2 of complete rest to adequately recover the over used muscles and mind.
A qualified coach will be able to help you make sense of your training plan and allocate certain days as rest to enable you to attempt more challenging movements or workouts as well as max rep efforts with a true representation of what your fresh muscle is capable of shifting. These considerations along with adequate fuelling with a nutritionally balanced diet and you may just be on your way to training smarter rather than training harder. I feel it would be rude not to briefly discuss the nutritional aspect of OTS and so let's quickly examine the mechanics behind the number one contributor to OTS (Over training syndrome), a lack of carbohydrates.
Low carb diets - Without adequate CHO daily there will be low muscle glycogen (the fuel source derived from carbohydrates stored in the muscle) which can impair performance because of inadequate fuel for the workload. Low muscle glycogen also results in increased oxidation and decreased concentrations of branched chain amino acids (the essential nutrients needed by the body and found in foods such as meat and diary produce) This can alter synthesis of central neurotransmitters involved in fatigue. Because decrements in performance and fatigue are hallmarks of OTS, decreased muscle glycogen may cause OTS.
To summarise all of this, overtraining is very common and it can come in many forms from consistently training daily without rest to overtraining in 1 day (5 workouts on Monday and nothing until Friday when you hit a mega workout again) without constancy over the rest of the week. If you feel tired during a workout, you probably are. If you train daily and are injured easily and often this too is a sign of fatigue and under recovery. It isn't impressive to ignore the importance of rest and recovery, it doesn't make you bigger and stronger than the guy on the bench or more determined to "make it". It slows your progress, it compromises your performance and it will contribute to your risk of injury.
Slow down, take a break. You will be very surprised how strong you feel when you return.
Rest regularly and allow your body to grow and progress.
Train consistently across the week without a weeks worth within one day.
Eat well and allow yourself your number one energy source, carbohydrates.
Focus on your own program without compromise just because "Never Rest Rick" is in the gym.
Be aware the longer you put off your rest the longer the rest period you need will become.
Rest after competition, not doing so will almost always result in niggles and injuries/illness.
Thanks for taking your time to read over this brief insight into this overtraining article, if there are things you would like to add send it over to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sheli McCoy 24/09/15