Many people have probably heard the term “over-training” but don’t really know what it means or what it looks like. Over-training is typically defined as a state where a person is repeatedly stressed from exercise and the rest periods are not adequate to allow for full recovery. Basically, someone has been working out too hard for too long without the proper rest. Over-training can be a very serious problem, and should be identified as early as possible.
The most common symptom of over-training is fatigue. Overall, exhaustive fatigue. This may limit workouts, effect your work day, and alter your sleep patterns. Due to this, people may also become moody, easily irritated, depressed, lose their desire to workout, decreased appetite, and weight loss. People may also experience increased persistent muscle soreness, increased frequency of viral infections, and increased likelihood of injury. Other symptoms include increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels, decreased testosterone, and increased muscle breakdown.
The combination of all of these symptoms can lead to a significant downturn in a person’s quality of life. The good news is over-training is an easily corrected and avoided syndrome. The treatment for over-training is simple rest. However, the longer the over-training has been present, the longer rest period is needed. For some people, a week or two will be sufficient, for others, a month or more may be needed. During this recovery, it is important to try and identify the factors that led to over-training, or else it is extremely likely to happen again.
Unfortunately there is no one “test” that gives a specific diagnosis of over-training. However, there are some things to look for. If you are feeling fatigued all the time, or if your performance has been steadily decreasing of plateauing, it may be because of over-training. In some people, brittle fingernails and hair can be a sign as well. If you have a feeling of being “burnt out” or no desire to exercise (assuming that’s a change from the norm), you may be experiencing over-training syndrome. If you feel like you may be in a state of over-training, don’t be afraid to take some time off. The sooner you can identify over-training, the sooner you will be back to normal! The most important thing here is to make sure you are giving your body enough rest in your exercise routine so you never fall into the over-training cycle.
Rice, Mark (1998) Overtraining Syndrome. http://www.rice.edu/~jenky/sports/overtraining.html