Overtrained Athlete Syndrome, really?

September 8, 2010
by Justin

Houston Texans and former USC’s linebacker Brian Cushing recently announced that he is the victim of “Overtrained Athlete Syndrome”. Yes he is the first athlete to ever suffer from such a syndrome and certainly deserves creative points for formulating this ridiculous excuse for PED usage it still doesn’t make it right. We are not interested in even attempting to bother to waste your time or ours by writing about make believe syndromes. Lets assume for this conversation that ESPN’s Tim Keown’s definition says it best: “It allegedly means that a guy who works out a lot and then stops can build up testosterone and pixies can walk onto the field from the magical forest and wave their magic wands and hCG can inexplicably appear in urine”. Agree to disagree! But this does raise an issue, overtraining. Is there such a thing and if so what does that mean to you the student athlete?

Cushing has denied wrongdoing and claimed the “Overtrained Athlete Syndrome” produced naturally higher levels of hCG, which can be a masking agent for steroids. Now I don’t think anybody really bought the overtraining excuse let alone that there is such a syndrome associated with it. But there is such thing as overtraining and there are issues that do coincide with it. And that’s what I want to focus on.

If your anything like me when I was in college, my focus was training training and more training. I would train in the morning in the middle of the day and at night. I never wanted fitness to be an excuse for not being able to perform. But what I didn’t realize was there was such a thing as too much. And this is called “overtraining”. So how do you know your overtraining? What are the symptoms you ask, well If your workouts suddenly feel harder than usual, or you’re regressing despite your efforts, you may be experiencing overtraining. And what happens is your body becomes run down leaving you vulnerable to injuries and sickness. Some of the most common signs of overtraining are:

* Insomnia

* Achiness or pain in the muscles and/or joints

* Fatigue

* Headaches

* Elevated morning pulse

* Sudden inability to complete workouts

* Feeling unmotivated and lacking energy

* Increased susceptibility to colds, sore throats and other illnesses

* Loss in appetite

* Decrease in performance

Now obviously before we move on, if you are experiencing any of these it might be a good idea to consult a doctor first.

The cause of overtraining is as cut and dry as it gets, your not allowing enough time for your body to recover in between workouts and/or too much of the same workout over which can cause a plateau effect as well. Making sure your workouts differ day to day and you allow enough recovery between workouts will allow your muscles to grow and reach optimal performance.

I learned this from personal experience. When I was in college, I was a two-sport athlete and during the Track & Field season I would lift weights in the morning, have track practice in the afternoon and play in three separate indoor soccer leagues at night. Nearly a third into the Track season I noticed my times began to plateau and at times getting worse. I was also a long jumper and could really never reach my potential and eventually pulled my hamstring. While I “sat on the sidelines” recovering from my injury I had a lot of time to reflect and noticed that I had overloaded my schedule of workouts and never gave my body proper recovery time, the result was missing the majority of the season and never performing at 100% at the conference finals.

The moral of the story is, Rest. It is clearly the best way to cure overtraining. Your body needs rest after lifting weights, running, swimming, biking or what ever it is you do for exercise. You need to allow your muscles to recover and grow. Try to avoid working the same muscle groups two days in a row. Allow at least one day of rest before working the same muscle group again. For cardio, you may be wondering if it’s okay to do it every day. That will depend on your intensity and the activity you’re doing. It’s not a great idea to do the same workout everyday as that can lead to both overtraining and repetitive stress injuries. You also shouldn’t do intense and difficult workouts every day of the week, since that will also eventually cause problems. If you want to exercise every day, go for it. Just make sure you schedule low-intensity workouts as well. For example, if you usually run and bike every day, try to take a couple of days to go for a walk or do a light swim. These ‘recovery’ workouts will help you stay fresh and the cross training will help you avoid injuries. Here are a few additional tips you can do to avoid overtraining:

* Warm up properly before your workouts.

* Fuel up after exercise. Your body needs energy to recover and that comes from food. A balance diet is one of the most important components to reaching optimal performance.

* Stretch. Tight muscles can often cause other muscles of your body to overcompensate, which can cause injury over time.

* Schedule recovery days into your weekly routine. Listen to your body. If you’re 10 minutes into your workout and you’re feeling tired and unmotivated, go back home and rest or do a light yoga workout.

* Get adequate sleep.

The most important thing you can do for yourself when you experience overtraining symptoms is to hydrate and rest. It’s better to take a week or so off from exercise and come back fresh than to permanently injure yourself!

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