Among chronic exercisers, there is always the potential of doing more but receiving less. This is a common mistake in the weight room. What many exercisers do not realize is that additional workouts can sometimes lead to the law of diminishing returns, where anticipated results do not occur. It has been well established that in order to receive a training effect (weight loss, hypertrophy, speed, power), the exerciser must experience some fatigue. This fatigue will in turn induce a need for recovery, which leads to a period of overcompensation or the training effect. However, if there is little or no recovery, combined with additional intense activity, the overcompensation or training effects do not occur, and over training symptoms can result. The term over training has been used interchangeably with staleness, burnout, chronic fatigue, stagnation, overwork or run down. Researchers have reported no less than 31 features of over training extending to 84. The most prominent features of over training include heavy legs, sore muscles, high resting heart rate, poor motivation, sleep disturbances, low libido, frequent sickness or infection, weight loss, depression and increased rating of perceived exertion.
Over training occurs when an athlete has been exposed to prolonged high intensity, high volume training, which manifests itself in an accumulated fatigue state. It has been reported under over reaching, burnout, staleness etc. Athletes generally experience a deep and prolonged fatigue, poor performances and at times an inability to train and compete at the highest level.
The prevalence of over training appears to be specific to certain sports and exercise activities. Elite distance runners tend to demonstrate higher levels of over training, as do female athletes.
The three major causes of over training reported are inadequate recovery between sessions, excessive amounts of high intensity training and sudden increases in training load. General exercise prescription for overloading has recommended increases of no more than five to 10 percent. Other factors reported include too much intense strength training, too many competitions and travel and no breaks between training seasons. It is unusual to see over training symptoms in exercisers who maintain high volumes of low intensity training or moderate long term training.
An athlete’s lifestyle and the stress associated with it can contribute to over training. These may include poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, psychological conflict and an inability to achieve set goals.
The physical symptoms of over training include: poor performances, unable to maintain training load, chronic fatigue, elevated resting heart rate, hormonal changes, high blood pressure, continual muscle soreness, sudden weight loss, headaches, frequent sicknesses and menstrual irregularities. Emotional symptoms are: depression, poor self confidence, mood changes, apathy, lethargy, low motivation, poor sleep habits, irritability, boredom, poor appetite, inability to relax and anger.
It is of some concern that when these symptoms are recognized, it is often too late for adequate recovery before competition. Over training symptoms appear to be very much an individual response, and many times, an individual will exhibit a combination of symptoms. As a rule of thumb, one of the best indicators is still prolonged fatigue lasting one week.
Over training often requires extensive recovery. Elite athletes are always pushing the limit and as such train very close to the over trained state. In this case, it is much more effective to prevent the over trained state rather than treat it. Over training can be prevented by individualizing training programs, monitoring fatigue levels, increasing training load gradually, encouraging variety in workouts, scheduling rest days, providing breaks between seasons, encouraging good nutrition and including regenerative techniques such massage, flexibility, relaxation and hydrotherapy into the training program.
Remember, resting and off days are not a bad thing. These are very important components to a well balanced and successful fitness program. Over training can lead to injury, where you'll be forced to sit on the bench and slow your progress.