Overtraining: How Much is Too Much?

Effects of Overtraining can be clear. The workout that seemed to energize you now just makes you more fatigued. The soreness that faded the day after training now persists from one session to the next. But the identification of what’s going on, associating the cause of the fatigue and soreness with Overtraining, are not as obvious.

Overtraining can be described as the point where training has stressed an athlete’s body to the extent rest no longer is enough to recover. Common in weight lifting as well as endurance sports, Overtraining affects runners and all athletes.

Physiologically, individual muscles are injured too quickly for the body to recover the way it normally would. That means you’ve reached the zone of pain without gain. Overtraining might seem like a problem for the uber-serious athlete, but Men’s Fitness magazine puts the workout tipping point at about five hours per week. Beyond that lurks the specter of Overtraining as well as addiction and other harms. It can lead to well-known injuries such as Tendonitis and Tendinopathy.

Rice University’s SportsMedWeb site notes Overtraining can become a syndrome and specifies two forms: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic. Athletes in sprint-type sports are more prone to Sympathetic injuries while endurance athletes are more likely to experience the Parasympathetic form. A wide range of research shows both forms result in a decrease in performance and higher incidence of fatigue. Consider general Overtraining and its lingering pain as the first of three stages. Sympathetic Overtraining is Stage 2, with more obvious signs and the beginning of specific physiological problems. Parasympathetic Overtraining then is Stage 3, the end stage, carrying potentially severe exhaustion along with serious physical, chemical or psychological issues.

Men’s Fitness offers a list of 12 symptoms of Overtraining:

  • Altered Resting Heart Rate
  • Insatiable Thirst
  • Muscle Soreness (for more than a few days)
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Personality Changes
  • Often Sick
  • Loss of Concentration
  • Increase in Injuries
  • Decreased Motivation
  • Lower Self-Esteem
  • Halted Progress

The best way to avoid Overtraining, of course, is prevention. But how much is enough? Remember, every training session in any activity costs. It costs your muscles as you break them down. They rebuild through rest. So, when in doubt, less is best. Don’t try to get too close to your breaking point in any workout and don’t string together consecutive days of achieving maximum amounts. Give your body some time off, time to heal and recover.

Doctors at Southwest Spine & Sports advise anyone uncertain about whether they have Overtraining injuries or, especially, Overtraining Syndrome to seek help. Our staff is available for consultation. Our doctors and staff will help determine the best treatment.

In general, keeping a log of training activities is wise. Track vital elements such as the volume, intensity, and frequency of exercises. Cross-training, too, can lessen problems since injuries or the Syndrome most often result from single-sport pursuits. Limiting workouts to two or three muscle groups each day, instead of a maxed-out whole-body session can help. Known as Split Training, such workouts exhaust those individual muscle groups, but not others. After Split Training, give the worked-out muscles time to rest and rebuild and focus on other groups.