Monday, September 5, 2016

Overtraining- a deeper look into what it is and how it affects you

While I initially wrote the following to help a journalist out with a story they were working on, I realized a few days after the story was posted, that this more detailed information on overtraining is far too valuable to not be released for athletes to see and understand for themselves. 

I hope you find this article helpful for yourself, and for those you train with. 
Please share this article with those whom are starting the sport, are looking to learn more about their body, or who may be on the path to overtraining.

If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at 

What is overtraining, and what does it do to our body that makes it so bad?

There are actually 2 different kinds of overtraining- one is called Basedowic overtraining (also referred to as “Overwork”), which may occur due to excessive high-intensity training without building a proper base beforehand (doing low-intensity exercise at with a build-up of volume over appropriate time). Basedowic overtraining can also occur due to too much psycho-emotional stress placed on the athlete, such as when they are in a high pressure situation to win, or there are personal-life problems.

The other kind of overtraining is called Addisonic overtraining (also referred to as "monotonous training"), and this can occur if three is too great of volume of work, repeating the same workout routine for a prolonged period of time, or from not allowing the body to recover properly in between exercise sessions. 

While we may think that Addisonic training is very hard to achieve, it in fact can, and does occur. A current example (most likely Addisonic, although I do not know the details) is that which the current World champion bike racer Pauline-Ferrand Prevot has suffered, just this past month withdrawing from the Olympic race, due to fatigue and exhaustion (

Both of these types of overtraining can correlate with a number of different hormonal responses including decreased IGF-I (Insulin Growth factor I), impaired pituitary gland response, as well as seeing Cortisol and Adrenaline increases within the body. These changes can have a devastating effect on the body, leading to a number of negative signs and symptoms of overtraining.

As the body reaches an overtrained state, it effects not just the training one is doing, but also ones sleep patterns, mental status/mood, and can really mess with one's social life as well (due to energy level changes and moods).

Sometimes we don't recognize the symptoms of overtraining until it's too late, and we've already smashed through the wall...
Picture CopyWrite and property of Menachem Brodie

What happens to our immune system when we are in an overtrained state?
For both Basedowic and Addisonic overtraining our immune system tends to be compromised, and leads to one of our main concerns, which is a systemic infection of the body leading to sepsis. This can start as a low-grade bacterial infection as simple/common as something such as Strep throat, that can develop to be much more catastrophic from there, due to the overtraining state of the body and the immense strain it places on the immune system, the body and its other regulatory systems.

I can tell that I'm overtrained by looking at my heart rate, right?
Not all the time!
Depending on which type of overtraining one has fallen into there are different responses in Heart Rate, thus making identifying the overtraining a little tricky at times.

For those whom have overtrained via the Addisonic route, they may experience a LOWER resting Heart Rate & a rapid drop of the heart rate to their resting levels after an effort, as well as a lower Lactate threshold heart rate, and even a DECREASE in their maximum heart rate by up to 8-10 beats per minute (all of which are commonly seen as a GOOD response to training). 
However, when the coach, trainer, or athlete sees these physical responses, but the athlete feels like theres nothing in the tank/no energy/no "power" to go when they try to practice or train, then we begin to take a step back and look at the athlete on a more global scale to figure out where they are.

Those suffering from Basedowic overtraining, tend to have the signs of overtraining that most of us have come to expect- They generally don’t feel well, they look tired, as well as have a delay in their heart rate dropping back to resting levels after an effort, as well as a higher resting heart rate. 

Because basedowic overtraining involves higher intensities, the body becomes “wound up” and responds with a what some amy call a “stress response”, even though the response from Addisonic overtraining is also a stress response, it just doesn’t “jive” with what we as a society have come to think of as overtraining.

What about my nervous system and my muscular system, what kinds of signs would I see there?

When we overtrain, we can expect a few different musculoskeletal responses such as:

  • Longer complex-skill response time (such as a tennis pro being “a step slow” on their service return)
  • Worsened coordination, especially at higher intensities (**This applies for both addisonic and basedowic overtraining)
  • Increased time needed for the soft tissue to recover between sessions
  • Increase in muscle pain or stiffness the day after a hard workout, that just don’t seem to go away quite as quick as “they should” 
  • An increase risk of injury (due in large part to the aforementioned)

Is there a limit to how much exercise I should do per week?

In general, it is incredibly important to have a realistic idea of where you currently stand with your fitness. 

While high school or college may not be that far in the past, if you’ve been working at a desk in a sedentary job for most of your week and took a break from regular exercises, chances are that you need to start low, and slowly build.

In general high intensity exercise may lead to a faster burnout or overtraining (as well as higher risk for injury), but as we see from the two different types of overtraining “getting into a routine" and not varying it can also lead to overtraining.

One can and should follow the general periodization that so many beginning endurance coaches use, and that is have a 4 week cycle and slowly buid yourself up.

First week start low (volume or intensity) second week medium (volume or intensity), last week high (volume or intensity), and then the 4th week return to low volume AND intensity. This allows the body time to adapt and recover.

If you’re not sure where you are in your fitness, or you'd like to have professional guidance on your way to your fitness goals, seek out an NSCA certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (NSCA-CSCS) or NSCA-Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT), an ACSM certified Healthy & Fitness Specialist (ACSM-HFS), or a Coach who is Certified to coach your chosen sport, to help assess you and develop a program that fits your needs and lifestyle.

If you think you may be in an overtrained state, make an appointment to see your family physician for an assessment, and in the mean time ease back on your training, and focus on your recovery and nutrition- making sure to get adequate sleep, and eating healthy foods in correct proportions to your energy needs.

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