What are the main causes of overtraining

Overtraining: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Overtraining: the basics

And suddenly nothing works anymore: You have given everything in training lately - be it to be perfectly prepared for an upcoming competition, such as a marathon, or because the training has not yet achieved the desired results. But instead of getting fitter, you'll lose your shape and just feel limp. The term “overtraining” is often used in such situations.

But what exactly do "overtraining" or "overtraining syndrome" mean?

Definition: what is overtraining?

From a sports medicine point of view, overtraining means one chronic overload reactionthat can arise when athletes train too intensively and / or too often over the long term and / or do not maintain sufficient regeneration phases between training units. The overtraining syndrome manifests itself in one Decline in performance of the athlete, "Which is still detectable even after an extended regeneration phase"as the training scientists explain. There are more or less pronounced subjective complaints on, for it no organic cause gives.

By the way: While laypeople quickly speak of "overtraining", this is not entirely correct from a sports medicine point of view: rather, the term "overtraining syndrome" applies. Dr. Faude therefore makes it clear: “Overtraining is a process. Overtraining is sometimes used deliberately for a limited time in order to induce training adjustments (for example in intensive training camps). If this is followed by a sufficient regeneration phase, this is not a problem and within days to a few weeks the athlete should ideally have reached a higher level. If the overtraining takes too long or the regeneration phases in between are insufficient, then there is a risk of overtraining syndrome (ÜTS; English staleness or overtraining syndrome). "


When does overtraining typically occur?

Which sports especially prone to overtraining is difficult to say, according to Oliver Faude and Lars Donath: Endurance sports are probably more at risk, but overtraining syndrome also occurs in (fast) weight sports. "

Are particularly critical anaerobic exercise such as tempo runs chronically too intensive endurance training and a too much competition activity.

“Often the training units between the individual stress stimuli, which were actually planned as regeneration, are too intense or too long. Or the regeneration in the week after training camps is too short ”, say the experts. "Constant monotonous training is also problematic compared to training that consciously uses high stimulus peaks alternating with consistent recovery."

Consequences of overtraining: This is how the body reacts

But what actually happens in the body when athletes train too much or too intensively? "A chronically high stress load or stress hormone release can lead to a counter-regulatory response of the stress-regulating systems, essentially the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This in turn has an influence on the hormonal and immunological regulation, on the cardiovascular system, the metabolism and the central nervous system as well as the autonomic nervous system ", explain Lars Donath and Oliver Faude.

"Simply put, For its own protection, the organism ensures that people can no longer stress themselves so much. Maximum exertion becomes difficult and submaximal exertion leads to a feeling of fatigue earlier. The pathophysiology behind overtraining syndrome is similar to that behind burnout and other stress syndromes. "

Another episode "If the metabolism is clearly catabolic (but this is not mandatory), there may be an increased breakdown of protein", explains Oliver Faude. Whether weight gain is related to overtraining cannot be said like this: "The data is far too thin for such a statement."

Symptoms of overtraining

Here are some common symptoms of overtraining:

  • Pain (general, in the legs, muscles or joints, headache)
  • Fatigue, exhaustion, lack of energy, weakness
  • insomnia
  • Inability to relax, increased nervousness, restlessness
  • Low stamina
  • High blood pressure
  • Decreased resistance to diseases (e.g. cold, sore throat)
  • Frequent injuries
  • Hormonal disorders: production of too much cortisol and too little testosterone
  • In women: change in the menstrual cycle
  • Just tired or already overtrained?

    Oliver Faude and Lars Donath explain that the transition from acute fatigue to overtraining is fluid: "There is a smooth transition from acute fatigue after an intensive training session to longer lasting fatigue (for example after an intensive training camp) to an overtraining syndrome."

    In connection with overtraining, the term “overreaching” is often used. Here you have to choose between the functional overreaching and non-functional overreaching differentiate, says Oliver Faude.

  • "functional overreaching is the state after adequate overtraining. "
  • "non-functional overreaching indicates an overly intensive training and / or inadequate recovery and is a precursor of the overtraining syndrome. "
  • "If an overtraining syndrome has occurred, then it is usually too late", explain Lars Donath and Oliver Faude.

    Consequences and treatment of overtraining

    The immediate consequence of overtraining is "A long-term break, usually the end of the season"the scientists said. In high-performance sport, repeated overtraining could also mean the end of a career.

    If you suspect you might be affected by overtraining, get one Consult sports medicine practitioner.

    Identifying overtraining syndrome is not that easy, however: "At the moment there is no single clinical marker that can reliably indicate overtraining syndrome and, in particular, the overuse that precedes overtraining syndrome."

    Whether an athlete suffers from overtraining syndrome can only be determined by excluding other (medical) factors: "The overtraining syndrome diagnosis is a clinical diagnosis of exclusion, which means that there must be no other explanation (for example chronic infections, iron deficiency, metabolic diseases) that can explain the symptoms."

    If your suspicions are confirmed, your doctor will probably give you the same recommendation as Lars Donath and Oliver Faude: take sufficient breaks and regenerate. It usually takes several weeks or months for the body to recover from overtraining.

    The two experts strongly advise against drug or pharmacological treatment; Food supplements are also not useful. Your body needs a phase of regeneration that you should definitely allow it to do.

    Changes in your personal everyday life can also help with overtraining: for example, targeted reduction of stress, adequate sleep or use of relaxation techniques.

    Of course, it is even better if you do not let it come to overtraining.


    How to avoid overtraining

    Oliver Faude and Lars Donath advise prevention to avoid overtraining:

    1. Adequate stress monitoring

    It is important that you pay attention to a balanced relationship between stress and recovery during your training.

    "Monitoring means documentation of the training"says Dr. Faude and gives examples: "For the ambitious amateur athlete this can be, for example, to precisely document the training: How many kilometers did I run / drive? What speed / performance? What was the heart rate and the subjective feeling of strain (Borg value)? written down in a training diary, you quickly notice when something is getting out of hand. In top-level sport, of course, this is even more differentiated (see the Regman project).

    2. Periodization of training

    Plan your sports training systematically, that is, divide it into phases: a particularly intensive training phase is followed by a less intensive phase with a reduced amount of training.

    For example, if you are training for a competition such as a cycling marathon, you should use the principle of periodization and divide your training into the following sections: preparation period, competition period and transition period. In this way, you can effectively increase your performance without putting too much pressure on your body and getting into overtraining.

    3. Regeneration measures

    After training, regeneration measures such as cooling down, stretching exercises, cold and warm showers or a visit to the sauna are often recommended. But Dr. Faude advises against: "The measures mentioned are proven to be ineffective or even counterproductive."

    By the way: Leaving out after training is not a regenerative measure. The scientist explains: “Leaking out means that the body continues to burn carbohydrates. Rapid replenishment of glycogen stores (nutrition in the first 1-2 hours after exercise) is a primary goal when rapid regeneration is required. "

    The aforementioned is currently researching which measures are really useful Regman project of the Universities of Saarbrücken, Mainz and Bochum, which is funded by the Federal Institute for Sports Science. You can find information on regeneration on the project's website.

    A healthy, balanced diet, adequate sleep and breaks between training units are also important for athletes.

    Reading tip:The right sports nutrition for your training. Powerful and healthy thanks to the right diet

    4. Cure illnesses and infections

    Only exercise when you are feeling adequately fit.

    5. Include stress factors in training planning

    When planning your training, also consider the external circumstances: be it private or professional stress, travel, climate and time zone changes, stays at high altitude or other aspects that bring you physically and / or mentally off balance.

    The experts

    Two people who should know: our interview partners work and research at the German Sport University Cologne and at the University of Basel in the field of training science.

    Prof. Dr. Lars Donath Heads the Training Intervention Research Department at the Institute for Training Science and Sports Informatics at the German Sport University (DSHS) in Cologne.

    PD Dr. Oliver Faude is deputy head of the Training and Movement Science department at the Department for Sport, Exercise and Health at the University of Basel.

    We would like to thank our interview partners very much for the interesting information!

    Reading tips

    If you are a cyclist, you can read in our article on compensatory training in cycling how you can avoid one-sided stress and which sports are the ideal complement to your cycling training.

    Runners aiming to take part in a marathon will do well with the Hahner Twins' marathon tips.

    Exercise Safely and Stay Healthy!

    Your owayo team

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