Q&A: The one about over-training

Q&A – The one about over-training

I have had a few questions about overtraining in the last 3-weeks so I thought I would dedicate this Q&A to that topic.

Overtraining is a syndrome, which sounds awful, until you think about what a syndrome is by definition; it is a collection of symptoms.  It is much more complicated that you may think with different symptoms depending on whether it is affecting the sympathetic or parasympathetic system, the former more common in sprint-type athletes, the latter found in more endurance-based athletes.

The symptoms of overtraining can include:

  • Increased resting heart rate (sympathetic)
  • Decreased resting heart rate (parasympathetic)
  • Early onset of fatigue
  • Slow recovery
  • Decrease in performance
  • Increase in injuries
  • Getting sick more often
  • Irritability

It is okay to be tired.

Now there may be days or weeks when we all feel wiped out, we feel weaker, slower and stiffer.  Don’t be alarmed, this can and will happen when your training volume or intensity is high.  In fact if the players I train during their off-season don’t feel this way during at least one week during the summer, I start to worry.

If you have just started a training program and you feel tired after the first week, that is okay, you have been training – you should be tired.  True overtraining syndrome takes time to develop.

The problem occurs if this is happening for weeks on end without an absence of symptoms.   If you are training hard – high volume and/or high intensity and seeing decreases in performance, poor recovery and undue fatigue (by this I mean, you have not recently increased either volume or intensity), then you may need to take some time off.

If you have only been experiencing the symptoms for 3-4 weeks (this is what is referred to as ‘Over-Reaching’), then start by taking 3-5 days off and see how you recover.  If you spring back to your regular self, then consider that your training volume or intensity was too much for you at this time and scale back.  Start back slowly so you don’t plunge yourself back into over-reaching.

The simple way to avoid overtraining

There is a simple thing you can do to avoid overtraining, follow a good, progressive training program that builds over time.  Focus on training smarter; do not confuse a ‘hard’ workout with a productive workout.  In fact some athletes who start to feel the effects of over-reaching feel compelled to train harder – they perceive that they are just out of shape.

Build in some unloading weeks where you slow the pace a little bit.  During a four month off-season, we give our hockey players 4-5 days off around week 9-10 and it works wonders for them.

Don’t be afraid of rest, unless of course you are resting everyday.

Finally, don’t be shy to follow up with your doctor to make sure there isn’t something going on health-wise that is making you feel this way.

Bottom line… 

In my career, I don’t think I have ever had a hockey player I work with get into an over training syndrome, but their programs are closely controlled and progressive in nature.  This issue is much more prevalent in endurance athletes like distance runners and triathletes.

Take stock of the training you are actually doing.  You may be doing more than you think.  Maybe you do your own workout 6 days per week for a 90-minutes, then have practice or games 4 days per week and then have two team workouts per week where you basically run stairs for an hour.  That can all add up.

Being tired is okay – but it shouldn’t last for weeks/months at a time.  So listen to your body – take an extra day off if you need one.  If you rest and cut back on training, but the symptoms don’t resolve then definitely go talk with your doctor about it.

Finally, don’t discount the ‘stress’ of your day-to-day life.  You all have a lot going on with school, family, work, etc.  This will add to the load on your body.

I feel tired everyday, that is because I get up at 5am and run two businesses, but I still make progress with my training, I still feel good after I go for a run or do a workout.  This is just being tired, not over-training.


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