What is Overtraining?

Highly motivated athletes are extremely susceptible to overtraining which can lead to physical, mental and emotional burnout. Overtraining can be defined as placing the body under a level of work or stress that it is unable to adapt to. The athlete experiences stress and physical trauma from training at a higher rate than their body can repair the damage.

There are three phases of overtraining which are characterised by the body’s level of fatigue and ability to recover. These phases include:

Operative Overtraining

This first stage of overtraining involves training hard where fatigue builds to a level that the body is able to adapt and become faster and stronger if effective recovery strategies are put in place. In this first stage of overtraining, extensive gains in performance can be made if the athlete manages their training effectively. This stage of overtraining takes 7-14 days to recover and adapt. Symptoms include an elevated heart rate, mental stress, changes in hormone levels, niggles or small injuries, increased irritability, and a decline in motivation.

Non-operative Overtraining

This stage occurs when an athlete pushes their body to a higher level of fatigue causing symptoms to increase and remain for more than two weeks. It is characterised by decreased power output, increased irritability, increased perceived exertion, weight loss or weight gain, changes in sleep patterns, increased cortisol levels, altered immune function, changes in hormone levels, decreased bone density, loss of appetite, increased risk of injury, decreased motivation, increased heart rate at rest and difficulty in raising heart rate during exercise.

The Overtrained Phase

This occurs when fatigue levels hit a critically dangerous level and last for more than a month and sometimes several years. These athletes typically fail to find any motivation to train or race and some athletes will retire from their chosen sport completely. Chronic overtraining can lead to serious brain, muscle and metabolic imbalances along with depression, anxiety and chronic diseases of the heart, blood vessels and other major organs.

It is important for athletes to understand that performance does not improve while training. It is only once the body has had optimal time to recover and adapt to the training stimulus that improvements in performance will be achieved.

Want to learn more? Make sure to read our blog ‘5 Tips to Prevent Overtraining’.