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How to prevent overtraining

How to prevent overtraining | UPMC Health PlanAs the weather gets warmer and you can spend more time outdoors, you may find yourself setting new physical activity goals. In the summer I often see many people dedicating themselves to training for a race, playing a sport, or trying new activity. This is also the start of what many consider “race season” for cyclists, runners, triathletes, and many others. Spring and summer can be an exciting time for seasoned athletes and beginners alike, leading us to spend more time training for the activities we love. As we increase our activity, we need to be cautious about overtraining.

Overtraining syndrome is a condition that occurs when the body is repeatedly exposed to high levels of physical activity without adequate rest.  It is common in every type of fitness and sporting activity, with many cases going unnoticed.

  • Overtraining can occur on a short term basis; this is called overreaching. Overreaching can cause poor performance in training and competition.
  • Overtraining syndrome is a result of untreated overreaching. Overtraining can lead to long term decreased performance, inability to train, chronic fatigue, or other problems that require medical attention.

Most commonly, overtraining and overreaching are caused by increases in frequency, intensity, or duration of exercise without adequate rest periods. Any type of physical activity that occurs over a long period of time (such as training for a marathon or sport) needs to be evaluated to ensure overtraining is prevented.

Overtraining syndrome is often ignored because the signs and symptoms are mistaken for normal fatigue. It can also be hard to spot because it affects behaviors and emotions — not just the body.  Common symptoms include:

  • Decline in performance and early onset of fatigue
  • Loss of muscle strength, coordination, and maximal working capacity
  • Presence of soreness and tenderness in muscles and joints
  • Overuse injuries
  • Loss of appetite and body weight
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Altered resting heart rate and blood pressure

Overtraining can be difficult to diagnose without the assistance of a trained professional and substantial testing. It can also be hard to predict; everyone responds differently to various loads of physical activity.

The main thing you should know about overtraining: It can be prevented. Here’s what you can do:

  • Focus on rest and recovery before signs and symptoms ever start to appear.
  • Stay informed on common causes of overtraining.
  • Recognize symptoms early.  I suggest keeping a log of your diet, sleep and activity. This can be extremely helpful in noticing patterns or a decline in wellbeing.

As an athlete, I know what it’s like to be excited about training. Sometimes I don’t want to rest even when I need to because I want to continue getting faster and stronger. In reality, without rest the body doesn’t have time to repair itself and prepare for the next hard workout. If you suspect you may be overtraining, talk to your medical professional and focus on rest and recovery.

How do you make sure you get enough rest and recovery for the amount of physical activity you are performing?