Sports and fitness routines that are pushed to extreme limits can result in painful overtraining symptoms that may be caused by a condition known as Overtraining Syndrome.
From professional and amateur athletes to people who live active, goal-driven lifestyles, physical training is a way to topple the next big challenge. The reward for all that hard work and sweat can be exhilarating.
However, on the way to the reward, many people may unwittingly get caught in a cycle of overtraining that can actually diminish performance, hinder recovery, and increase the risk of pain and injury.
What is Overtraining Syndrome?
Overtraining syndrome occurs when a person routinely ignores the body’s signals for rest and recovery and continues to train through pain, injury, or a decrease in performance.
Muscle fatigue, soreness, minor aches and pains, or even overuse injuries are part and parcel of physical training, whether it be for sport, good health, or just to relieve stress.
While it may be appropriate in some circumstances to push through soreness and fatigue, these are also signs that the body needs to rest and recover.
While tracking their workouts, it’s common for people to incorrectly interpret poor performance and muscle exhaustion as weakness, and make the mistake of pushing even harder, ultimately breaking the body down further.
What’s particularly important to understand is that overtraining symptoms can come with serious physical and mental consequences, and in some cases, take much longer to recover from than a single injury or a series of intense workouts.
Overtraining injuries can appear in many forms such as stress fractures, tennis elbow, shoulder impingements, or even something like hip tendinitis.
Warning Signs of Overtraining Symptoms
A big issue with overtraining syndrome is deciphering the difference between a strenuous, high-intensity training blueprint that produces results, and a workout regimen that is simply too much.
The key is to take things slowly, pay attention to the body, and watch out for any indicators and symptoms of overtraining that may lead to pain or the inability to continue working out.
Common Overtraining Symptoms include:
- Delayed muscle recovery
- Prolonged fatigue after workouts
- Muscle heaviness or exhaustion, even at a lower-level of exercise intensity
- Continued inability to perform or train at previous levels
- Consistent declines in overall strength and performance
- Increased instances of soft-tissue and muscle injuries
- Decreased motivation or lack of energy
- Moodiness or depression
- Getting sick more often as a result of a diminished immune system
- In serious cases, blood pressure and heart rate issues, weight loss, constipation, or diarrhea can be factors as the body struggles
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of overtraining syndrome early and taking the appropriate steps to recover will lessen downtime and the amount of gains lost.
How to Avoid Overtraining Syndrome
In some cases, athletes have coaches and trainers that can spot the signs of overtraining symptoms, but that doesn’t apply to anyone working out and training on their own.
For people training solo, and even those with trainers, it’s important to stay mindful of what the body requires in order to avoid overtraining syndrome.
Though everyone will vary based on his or her own fitness level, strengths, and abilities, there are some general guidelines to follow to stay at peak performance.
4 Steps to Avoid Overtraining Syndrome
1. Rest Days Help Avoid Overtraining Syndrome
For some, a workout cycle may be three days on, one rest day off, while others may find that five days of moderate exercise, with two rest days off will best meets their needs.
Several rest days of rest ahead of an intense competitive performance is also recommended.
The key element to remember is to keep things balanced so adequate rest and recovery time from workouts will actually enhance strength and performance and lessen the chance of overtraining.
2. Proper Nutrition
While some athletes, especially those at the professional level, will require specialized meal plans created by nutritionists to ensure they’re consuming enough calories to perform at high levels, the average person should focus on a well-rounded, healthy diet.
Proper Nutrition means plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and fish. This is particularly vital for those using exercise as a means to cut weight.
Avoiding unnecessary, empty calories from junk food is fine, but while training, the body must be fed properly or a person is at an increased risk of overtraining syndrome.
3. Restful Sleep
“Rest Days” in item number 1 above is meant as “resting or taking a break from training” and should not be confused with sleep.
Restful Sleep is just as important as taking a break, and can be anywhere from six to nine hours of proper, healthy sleep to allow the body to rejuvenate itself to aid in avoiding overtraining symptoms.
4. Mental Health and Meditation
Taking the necessary days to recover from training can be difficult, especially when an exercise regimen is built into a daily schedule. So it helps to get rid of excess stress experienced during any given day to improve mental health.
Meditation is a great way to boost mental health, cognitive clarity, and instill a sense of calm for the mind and body. Meditation focused on breathing will relax the brain and body and has shown to enhance recovery and healing.
How to Recover from Overtraining Syndrome Injuries
All of the strategies for avoiding overtraining syndrome also apply to treating or recovering from overtraining injuries.
There are some additional steps that can be taken to improve recovery and lessen downtime, especially if suffering from specific soft-tissue or muscle injuries.
Treatment for Overtraining Symptoms and Injuries Can Include:
1. The RICE Method
The RICE Method (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) approach for overtraining injuries is typically the first step when noticing soft-tissue or muscle pain.
RICE is a simple but effective method for healing injuries that involves 1) resting the injury, 2) icing it to decrease inflammation 3) applying compression to stabilize it and 4) elevating it above the heart to reduce swelling and allow excess fluid to drain.
2. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, work to decrease pain and inflammation from swelling, and may help to prevent blood clots.
NSAIDs are popular over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) that do not require a prescription and can be used while resting the injury and following the RICE Method.
3. Physical Therapy for Overtraining Symptoms
Physical Therapy can promote healing from injuries and overtraining symptoms after they have occurred, and help prevent them from happening in the first place.
Physical therapists can provide a wide range of functions that include physical examinations, injury treatment, rehabilitation, prevention, and suggestions for appropriate footwear or equipment for training and recovery.
Physical therapists also educate athletes or anyone who works out about proper techniques to avoid injuries, and offer exercises and stretching methods to heal and perform at high levels. They will suggest training regimens to aid performance enhancement and lessen the chances of overtraining syndrome.
4. EPAT Therapy / Shockwave Treatment
EPAT Therapy (Extracorporeal Pulse Activation Technology) is a non-invasive and painless method for treating many types of overtraining symptoms and injuries.
A Shockwave Therapy Machine emits high or low-energy pressure waves that are focused directly at the injured area to increase blood flow and stimulate new cell growth.
EPAT / Shockwave Therapy speeds up healing and recovery so athletes can get back to training faster. Professional sports teams use this advanced technology due to its effectiveness of healing athletes more quickly.
5. Make a Gradual Return to Training
Many people often have an impulse to rush back to the same levels of workout intensity he or she maintained before overtraining, but it’s important to make a gradual return to training for at least a couple of weeks after recovery.
In severe cases of overtraining syndrome, getting cleared medically by a doctor or sports physician may also be necessary.
All of the treatment methods and tips for avoiding overtraining symptoms outlined here should be helpful for keeping amateur and professional athletes alike from struggling with injuries and unwanted downtime.