Are You at Risk of Over-training?
Are You at Risk of Over-training?
Athletes in certain endurance sports are at risk of certain types of overuse injuries, but these injuries are not the only problems that can develop as a result of a heavy training schedule. Over-training is itself a common problem for people in endurance sports, but it’s not always one that’s easy to recognize. If you have an event coming up it’s tempting to train as hard as you can to avoid the possibility of under-training, but the problem is, over-training can actually be even more detrimental to your performance on event day.
It’s impossible to prevent injuries altogether, but in cycling, as in all sports, there’s a lot you can do to minimize the risk. Cyclists do have an increased risk of certain types of overuse injuries—such as Achilles or patellar tendonitis, and neck or back pain, for example—as well as other problems, like wrist or forearm pain, that can result from improper cycling posture. These types of injuries are definitely a risk, but they’re not the same thing as over-training syndrome, which is a collection of symptoms that develop in response to a too-heavy training schedule.
As well as over-training syndrome itself, people who exercise heavily are also at risk of developing a related disorder called exercise addiction. The symptoms of this disorder are similar to those of over-training, although in each case the reasons why people over-exercise are quite different. In general over-training is much more common than exercise addiction, and while addictive behavior is compulsive in nature, over-training is usually the result of having unrealistic ideas of what a good training schedule looks like. Alternatively, people who feel unprepared for an event may respond by over-training.
Signs and Symptoms of Over-training
People who start exercise routines, or who start training for their first event, are likely to over-train because they’re not experienced enough to know what a suitable training program looks like; however, experienced athletes are at risk too. Over-training can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which can be mistaken for injuries or problems that result from poor technique or other issues. Over-training is what’s called a syndrome, which means there’s a specific set of symptoms that tend to develop together; having several of the following symptoms is a good indication that over-training may be a problem.
Feeling physically weak, despite regular training sessions
Frequent illness or injury, and slow recovery
Unintentional weight loss
Sleep disturbance, trouble getting to sleep, or difficulty relaxing
Feeling fatigued or sluggish, even on rest days
Higher level of pain than normal
People can over-train in one of two ways: either by scheduling too many training sessions without rest days, or by training for too long at each session. The problem is, training causes muscle injury, and rest periods are needed to give the body time to repair those muscles. Without adequate rest time, your body’s ability to repair itself can’t keep up with the damage that’s being done. A short period of over-training is relatively easy to recover from, but the longer it continues, the longer the recovery period that’s needed. Someone who has been over-training for a long time may need to rest for several months to recover properly.
Are you Over-training, or Under-fueling?
The symptoms of over-training can sometimes develop for other reasons—while over-training can increase the risk of illness, sometimes an illness can itself cause symptoms like fatigue, sluggishness, and sleep problems. If your symptoms are short-lived, or turn into an actual illness like flu within a few days, over-training might not necessarily be the problem. As well as this, the symptoms of over-training are sometimes linked not to excessive exercise, but to inadequate food consumption. If it’s not your training schedule that’s at fault, it might be time to investigate your diet—perhaps it’s too high in processed foods or alcohol, or your hydration is inadequate, or you’re simply not getting enough fuel before, during, or after training sessions. If inadequate nutrition is a potential issue it can be useful to use a food and activity tracking program to make sure you’re getting the balance right in terms of what you’re eating and when.