Overtraining: When more doesn't really equal better

Most of us are aware that hard work often leads to faster, stronger, quicker athletes, but how much training is considered too much?

Statistics from the American College of Sports Medicine reveal that despite the increased knowledge in athlete wellness, a record number of men and women are pushing themselves to the point of injury today.

"No athlete intentionally overtrains," says Tim Cooney, coach and physiotherapist based in Kelowna, British Columbia. "Outdoor adventure athletes, and all athletes in general, often don't know what signs to look for and typically believe symptoms of extreme tiredness or extended pain they are experiencing are a normal part of training it's not."

There are three basic ingredients that often lead to overtraining enthusiasm, some lack of knowledge and to a certain extent, denial. Often an athlete who is overtraining will suffer from poor performance, but believe they need to train harder to improve performance. Rather than take steps to recover properly from training, experts say by pushing too hard, athletes often add to their fatigue.

The bottom line, says Cooney and training specialists, is that too much training without enough recovery, instead of increasing capacity will cause excess fatigue and decreased stamina. Recovery, they add, is as important to improving capacity to perform as is the physical training.

"What most athletes today often don't realize is the need to create a careful balance between training and resting," Cooney says. "The challenge in any personal training program is finding your own limits that separate overreaching and overtraining. Listen to your body: If it says rest, then rest. Fatigue accumulates, and all it takes is a few days or weeks of symptoms for performance to drop, pushing you back months in your training."

Most training programs, Cooney adds, should include at least one (and sometimes two) rest days per week.

While symptoms and signs of overtraining vary from person to person, in addition to tiredness and fatigue, an athlete who is overtraining typically experiences an increase in illness or injury, loss of strength and coordination and sees performance results drop despite training hard.

Recovery is enhanced by many factors, including the number of hours of sleep you get per night. Depending on age and training level, most experts agree that nine hours of sleep at night is optimal. Conversely, the inability to fall asleep is a telltale sign that you may be overtraining. Irritability and restlessness, say experts, are good indications that a day of rest would do you well.

"Rest is a key part of any training program and may be the toughest training choice you'll have to make," Cooney says.

One of the best ways to avoid overtraining is to vary your workout, both in type of exercise and length. Remember, quality is more important at times than quantity. Different muscle group training can provide a needed change without sacrificing endurance. Work in different cross-training exercises to keep things fresh and alternate between hard and easy days to minimize risk of an overuse injury.

Most importantly, know the difference between a sore muscle and pain from an injury. One good rule of thumb, say experts, is if pain isn't symmetrical that is in both legs or arms then there is a good chance an injury has occurred and rest is necessary.

How much is too much?

Overtraining is easy to avoid if you know what to look for. Check these signs and if you have three or more, do yourself a favor and take a break!

1. Your resting heart rate is normally 50 to 60, but for a week or more, it's 65-75.

2. You catch every flu or bug that comes your way and it tries to take up permanent residence in your body.

3. You normally find it easy to get out the door, but now you feel like not training for days at a time.

4. Your sleeping patterns change. You can't sleep at night, though you're training harder than ever.

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