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Overtraining Syndrome

Over-training Syndrome in runners – How much is too much?

Rosemary Marchese – Physiotherapist

Running, generally, is a healthy physical activity that can lead to many health benefits. But even the elite athlete can push themselves too far. I often see athletes in the clinic who take their running super seriously, but don’t seem to take their rest and recovery seriously enough. Even the body of an elite athlete or an ultra marathon runner can be pushed too far. Injuries and illness are far more common in the over-trained state.

What is Over-training Syndrome?

Overtraining Syndrome is an advanced state, and it happens when the body fails to adapt to the training it is being pushed through. The body starts to become stressed all the time not just when it is exercising. In fact, in an overtrained athlete, their body will start to see exercise as being too stressful. In between training sessions, when the body needs to relax and recover, the person’s body stays in a more stressed state. They find it harder to make some more muscle glycogen for energy, lactate levels remain too high and breathing rate and body temperatures are elevated. This is not a good recovery state!

Athletes who experience Over-training Syndrome have lost their ability to recover and self-regulate.

During Overtraining Syndrome, the body has high levels of circulating cortisol, known as the body’s stress hormone. So, even though the person thinks they are not stressed, their body is thinking otherwise! Then, when they do more training, fatigue and lethargy will set in very quickly, upping the chances of injury.

What are the signs and symptoms of Over-training Syndrome?

  1. Drop in performance – it takes more effort to achieve the same result. Athletes will feel like they are putting in 100% effort yet their results will diminish.
  2. Weaker immune system – these athletes will notice that they keep getting sick because their immune system is stressed.
  3. A change in mood – while not conclusively proven, it’s quite common for these athletes to report an increase in depression, anger, fatigue and confusion. Generally, they are more cranky than happy!

Is it hard to come back from Over-training Syndrome?

In extreme circumstances, it can take years to recover from this. Finding the cause of the problem is imperative. Was there a nutritious diet for the amount of training? Was there enough recovery in the program? Were injuries starting to take their toll? Seeing professionals who understand the syndrome is important. If there is a history of injury, working with a physio who understands running and training programs can help you sort out the cause of those injuries. Sometimes it’s technique and bio-mechanical issues. These can be worked on by physiotherapists and coaches collaborating together. Overall, it’s important to look carefully at the plan being followed and find the root of the problem. Patience and the right team around you can aid in recovery. The consequences of ignoring Over training Syndrome can be huge.