What Is Overtraining?

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What is Overtraining Syndrome?

Overtraining syndrome is common in nearly every sport and fitness activity. Overtraining happens when an athlete performs more training than his or her body can recover from, to the point where performance declines.

More: 7 Ways to Avoid Overtraining

Many highly motivated runners, including recreational runners, are obsessed with training and afraid to rest. They believe that the harder they train, the faster they'll run, despite evidence to the contrary. Thus, many runners attempt to do more work than they can physically tolerate and their bodies can't fully recover from the standard two to three days of rest. Many runners don't even know they're overtrained until they reach the chronic phase when they grind to a halt and need several weeks of rest to recover.

More: How to Speed Up Your Running Recovery

Causes of Overtraining

The most common causes of overtraining are quick increases in frequency, intensity, or duration of training sessions, or a combination without the necessary recovery. Runners who increase the frequency of their interval training sessions, runners who are simply running too many races, and runners who suddenly increased mileage too quickly are at risk for experiencing signs and symptoms of overtraining.

How to Identify and Diagnose Overtraining

It is difficult to identify and diagnose overtraining because many runners consider excessive ongoing fatigue to be a normal part of training. There is also no simple test such as a blood test or clinical diagnosis to identify overtraining. And it is very individualized, so one runner might exhibit different symptoms than another runner. The best we can do is recognize the general symptoms earlier, then rest and recover.

More: What to Do on Rest and Recovery Days

Symptoms of Overtraining

Overtraining is not simply a physical phenomenon; it also has mental effects on the runner as well. Systems affected by overtraining include the musculoskeletal, immune, endocrine, cardiovascular, nervous, and hormonal systems.

Physiological symptoms of overtraining include:

  • Muscle/joint tenderness
  • Tiredness
  • Tightness
  • Decreased performance
  • Increased rate of overuse injuries
  • Insomnia/disturbed sleep patterns
  • Body weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Allergic reactions
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Head colds/persistent upper respiratory tract infections
  • Training fatigue/lethargy
  • Changes in menstrual patterns
  • Decreased coordination
  • Decreased heart rate at a given level of running intensity (by about five beats/minute)
  • Decreased strength
  • Decreased maximal heart rate     

More: The Power of Pace and Heart Rate Training