Any athlete who’s been through a rigorous training schedule is no stranger to overtraining, that painful state in which your body is just unable to recover with its usual dose of rest. The good news, though, is that all the pitfalls of overtraining can be managed.
It’s a syndrome
The collection of emotional and physical symptoms due to overtraining that has persisted for weeks to months. Also called ‘burnout’ or ‘staleness’.
This is different from the day-to-day variation in performance and post-exercise tiredness that is common in conditioned athletes. Overtraining is marked by cumulative exhaustion that persists even after recovery periods.
There are two forms of the syndrome — the sympathetic form occurs in sprint sports and speeds up bodily processes, while the parasympathetic form occurs in endurance sports, and slows down body processes. Symptoms include:
Moodiness and depression
Loss of lean body weight
Reduced training capacity
Compulsive need to train
Anxiety and poor concentration
Managing emotional symptoms
Rest can help cure physical symptoms of burnout, but the emotional symptoms need to be carefully managed. People tend to withdraw socially when experiencing burnout. But cutting off doesn’t help as social support buffers against stress.
There is no test to confirm overtraining. Any athlete who experiences decreased performance and prolonged fatigue, and doesn’t have any other illness, can be said to have the syndrome.
The treatment for burnout is rest. If the overtraining has only occurred for a short period of time (3-4 weeks), then a 3-5 day break from training is usually enough. After this, workouts can be resumed on an alternate day basis. The intensity of the training can be maintained but the total volume must be lower. In more severe cases, the training programme may have to be interrupted for weeks and it may take months to recover. The routine may also have to be changed.
For those who do two or more sports It is very important not to sub- stitute more workouts in one sport to compensate for rest in another. Resting from over-training on the bicycle by swimming more may help tired quadriceps, but will not reduce the stress on the heart, pituitary and adrenals.
Usually, a gradual increase in training is recommended. A training schedule design called periodisation varies the training load in cycles with built-in rest phases. During the high workload phase, the athlete alternates between high intensity interval work and low intensity endurance work.
Variables such as sets, duration, intensity can be manipulated through periodisation.
When creating the periodised programme, it helps to consider the trainee’s ability, fitness level, motivation and goals.
You’re good to go if your answers to all the following are ayes:
Are you well hydrated? Have you been drinking 3-4 litres of water a day for 3 days prior to the marathon?
Are your energy levels high? Have you been on a carbohydrate-rich diet on the days preceding the marathon?
Do you feel anticipation at the thought of the race? Are you well rested?
Have you tapered your running programme to a smaller distance and slower pace?
There are no sharp pains that have prevented you from running during the past couple of weeks? Lingering pain that does not cause discomfort is fine.
Is you resting pulse rate steady and same as earlier? (If it’s 15 per cent higher, you have overtraining syndrome).