Safety / Injuries | Training Tips

Overtraining - Roadblock from Meeting Fitness Goals

Although we lost Fred Hatfield not that long ago, he still had an important message to share. This article was rewritten a short time before his passing. Thanks for your passion and dedication, Dr. Fred Hatfield! May this and your millions of other inspirational words impact the lives of many to come!
Please check out Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Frederick C. Hatfield (1942-2017) website honoring his life and legacy.

Every trainer knows that there is no such thing as a program that proceeds completely free of difficulty or challenges. We have all been there, trainers and clients alike, encountering roadblocks to progress.

There are several possible training problems that anyone may encounter, and that we should all be on the lookout for because I fully believe this:

Understanding and recognizing a training problem is half the solution.

It's discouraging to lose your forward momentum when you're already well into a serious lifting program, for instance, but figuring out what the training problem is puts you on the path to correcting it.

Too often, that problem is overtraining. An injury or a miscalculation in the amount of training you need to do can hurt you in more ways than one.

Young, strong, enthusiastic athletes tend to overdo it once in a while. They want to train hard and give it their all. They want to be the best they can be.  

But, sometimes they don't know when to stop.  They don't know when enough is enough.  

Or, they're just not willing to admit that their training system is really no system at all, but a hodge-podge of loosely connected concepts—they never learned how to periodize their training.  

Conditioning yourself to respond in an optimal manner to every test of fitness and strength thrown at you can be extremely rewarding...for a while.  

And then, as you continue to live up to your own expectations, you hit a stale period, a state of poor performance, and skid into a slump. So what’s going on?

A Slump Could Mean Overtraining

If three or four workouts in a row seem to be sub-par, you may be in a state of overtraining. You may have let other factors, along with your leveling out of limit strength, influence the way you feel, react, and train.

While the main culprit causing overtraining is overuse—called cumulative microtrauma—often there is no single, identifiable factor. It’s not necessarily as simple as spending too much time at the gym.

Overtraining can often be attributed to several factors that converge at the same time. You must be able to respond well to stress, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too in order to train optimally.

There are other, non-training related, factors that may negatively impact your training, some in ways that you don't even perceive as shown in the image below:
Non-training related factors that may negatively impact your training

These factors can impact your training and cause a slump, but the most significant factor is the last one on the list:  Inflicting severe eccentric exercise stress on your body or 'overtraining'. 

What Causes Overtraining?

So, what is the underlying cause of overtraining?  

Two words: Cumulative microtrauma

This is a fancy-sounding name for something that is pretty simple: a whole lot of tiny—microscopic really—tears in your muscles and connective tissues caused by high frequency, severe movements (especially eccentric movements) or improper training technique.          

It used to be believed that there were two different types of physical overtraining:

1. Addisonic overtraining

Named after Addison's disease that causes the adrenal and pituitary glands to malfunction. Some of the symptoms of this form of training resemble those of the disease, hence the name.  

Symptoms include a minor feeling of being overly tired, yet no increase in sleep needs, no weight loss, an unusually low resting pulse rate, a normal metabolic rate, higher blood pressure, and normal temperature with no psychological changes.

Addisonic overtraining usually affects older or more advanced athletes.         

2. Basedowic overtraining is derived from a disease—Basedow's Disease—which causes thyroid function to be too high.

Symptoms include becoming easily tired, a reduced appetite and weight loss, a greater need for sleep, a fast resting pulse rate, higher temperature and blood pressure, a slower reaction time, and difficulty with skill movements.  

This type is more commonly seen in strength athletes and explosive athletes such as sprinters, jumpers and lifters. It also occurs in young athletes, and less advanced athletes.

Most experts now agree that both types stem from the same cause, cumulative microtraumac, and that it is the different symptoms that distinguish the two types.

How to Avoid Overtraining      

When you or a client is eager and ready to push your body to the limits, that’s great, but the potential downside is over training. There are some smart ways to stay passionate and dedicated while also avoiding overtraining:

  1. Develop a schedule that minimizes stress.
  2. Develop a rational training program that makes sense.
  3. Conform your workouts to cycle training principles.
  4. Vary your training methods.
  5. Sleep eight hours every night and eat a healthy, well-rounded diet.
  6. Work with a coach, because it's tough being objective with your own training.
  7. Take a couple of naps during the day. A 20-minute nap is all it takes to re-energize.
  8. Find a sports medicine clinic that can help you monitor symptoms of overtraining.
  9. Let logic rule your training, not ego.
  10. After workouts, whirlpool affected muscles and massage them vigorously for one minute

Which is the Bigger Problem, Overtraining or Style of Training?

Most of the coaches of elite athletes in the U.S. will tell you that the single biggest problem with their athletes is not that they don't train enough, but that they train too much. I also used to believe that overtraining was a big problem.  

Now, after years in the trenches as a coach and trainer, I disagree. I think the biggest problem is that most athletes have not "periodized" their training. All progress must be gradual and orderly. What you do must be predicated upon what you've just accomplished.

The truth is that no system of training is perfect or right for everyone.  No training program will give you immediate success in your sport, and may in fact hamper your progress if you push too hard too soon.  

Take your time, be scientific and thorough, and—above all—stick to the cycle training program. It's the best way to avoid overtraining.

Dr. Fred Hatfield

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