Stop yourself overtraining

Fail to spot the signs and it could take months to recover from overtraining - get to know the signs and the repurcussions that could follow...

How to spot it

When preparing for a challenge, it’s tempting to ramp up training, but overdoing things can detrimentally affect performance and health. Fatigue is the most common symptom and is associated with irritability, low mood, poor sleep, appetite loss, lack of enthusiasm and a drop-off in performance. Signs of overtraining include a raised resting heart rate, increased susceptibility to infections, muscle soreness and weight loss.

What causes it?

Athletes with overtraining syndrome have increased cortisol levels – the body’s ‘stress’ hormone. In men, there is a decrease in testosterone, which reduces the ability to build muscle. In women, oestrogen levels fall, causing periods to stop. Overall, the body has a decreased ability to repair itself during rest. Continuing to train hard only worsens the situation. Psychological effects include sleep disturbance and can lead to depression, anxiety, loss of self-confidence and eating disorders.

What to do about it

As with most things, prevention is better than cure. Increases in training should be done gradually, with periods of rest built in. If you recognise overtraining early (after three to four weeks), a three to five day rest is usually sufficient. After that, resume training at the usual intensity – but only on alternate days for a few weeks – before gradually increasing total volume. In more severe cases, you may have to stop training for weeks, and it may take months to recover. An underlying illness may be to blame – if so, medical help may be needed.

– Andy Ward, GP and cyclist @awkwardcyclist

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