With the increasing performance demands that athletes face daily, overtraining at both an amateur and professional level is a real concern that needs to be carefully monitored to prevent unnecessary injuries developing. Following is an outline of the essentials regarding overtraining, some of the warning signs and strategies to maximise performance.

DEFINITION:

Contrary to popular belief, overtraining is not defined as training daily, but rather an inadequate ratio between training and recovery. This often manifests from physical exertion but also encompasses mental stress and fatigue.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS:

  • Increase in fatigue
  • Underperformance
  • General ache
  • More susceptible to infections
  • Poor sleep
  • Altered emotions
  • Irritable
  • Low mood
  • Change in appetite

HOW TO ASSESS FOR OVERTRAINING:

Accurate diagnosis is critical to ensure that the athlete is not suffering from another condition or illness that can present similarly to overtraining. It is therefore important for athletes to know what their morning heart rate is when they initially wake up to have a comparative baseline. An elevated heart rate above the baseline can be an objective sign of overtraining. During critical training periods and competitions, an early morning heart rate diary can be beneficial. Gaining feedback from coaching and medical staff regarding performance and other observations can also be valuable in conjunction with psychological questionnaires.

CAUSES OF OVERTRAINING:

Inappropriate training load and monitoring

  • Training progressions unrealistic
  • Inadequate cool downs and rest periods
  • High mental stress and fatigue
  • Excessive competitions/ heats/ tryouts
  • Inappropriate return to sport programs post injury/ illness

TREATMENT:

Appropriate treatment can fast track recovery so a timely return to sport can be achieved. As such, a progressive active recovery has been shown to assist in recovery complimented by adequate nutrition, hydration and addressing any underlying psychological issues.

It is therefore important to recognise the early signs of overtraining to ensure training and ultimately competitive performance are not jeopardised in the athlete.

Rob Vander Kraats [B. Phty., GradCert (Sports Physio)., Cert (Integrative Medicine)] is the Director of Next Generation Physiotherapy and is on the Sports Physio Australia Committee. He consults at 291 Warwick Road in Greenwood, and can be contacted on 9203 7771.