Are You Training Hard or Doing Too Much? The Signs of Overtraining

By Sabina Skala

Overtraining is a term used most often by… the weekend warriors, who very seldom (if at all) experience a true overtraining.

Overtraining is a result of imbalance of three factors:

  1. Training
  2. Recovery
  3. Nutrition

If you train fighters or are a combat athlete yourself, you know how hard it is especially in this sport to keep a healthy relationship between all the three above. It is not unusual for a fighter to train 3 x a day 6 – 7 days a week, at the same time keep a part time job and due to lack of time not be able to get enough calories during the day to support recovery. Sleep also suffers as the dinner is pushed to a later hour due to an evening training, all that plus the work, family responsibilities, commuting (which is a huge factor if you live in a big city such as London) etc are not very “recovery friendly”.

Being able to recognize the symptoms that tell you to go lighter for a couple of days/weeks is crucial for any athlete serious about performance gains. All that said - acute overtraining as such is actually very rare and a lot of folk confuse the overtraining with overreaching.

Lets look at the difference between the two.

Overreaching is a PLANNED, LONG TERM OVERLOAD, when you INTENTIONALLY stress your body intensely and then take a period off for recovery. Think about the last weeks before a fight, when you increase the training frequency and intensity, but then have a taper week that allows you to recover. You are focused on the fight, eat clean, make sure you get enough hours of sleep, etc. This is overreaching. The goal is to come back with higher fitness levels. Overreaching takes a couple of days or max 2 weeks to recover and come back BETTER. If the athlete’s strength / fitness levels don’t improve after recovery – overreaching was not planned and/or applied correctly. Important: The GOAL of overreaching is IMPROVEMENT in performance.

However if you make a mistake in periodizing the training applying overreaching too often or train /are an athlete with type A personality, who when the performance suffers due to fatigue session after session, will not only want to add more volume but also more intensity and will want to train even harder. Type A personality athletes are very emotional about the training, they see the fatigue and a crap performance a challenge they need to overcome and their natural reaction will be to train more, where in reality they need to train less and focus more on recovery in order to get better. I know this problem very well, as I used to be every coaches nightmare – type A athlete, who can be stopped only by injury. Couple of years and injuries later I finally admit that as Mark Twight once said to me when I was visiting his facility in SLC – “Sometimes it takes more balls not to train than to go to gym”. Same applies to coaches, sometimes we need to build the fighter back up not to break him/her down further.

True overtraining parallels with the symptoms of clinical depression, meaning low testosterone vs cortisol levels (reduced testosterone to cortisol ratio), trouble sleeping (poor sleeping patterns), lower body temperature upon waking. An athlete may also notice chronic fatigue and headaches, moodiness, irritability and loss of enthusiasm for the sport. Colds, sore throat, respiratory problems – due to the immune system not coping , excessive thirst, elevated resting heart rate (greater than 5 beats per minute over normal) for a longer period than it would be in case of overreaching, what also comes is increase in soft tissue injuries, muscle or joint pains, and for female athletes absent or irregular periods.

Monitoring the RHR is a good way to avoid overtraining, however there can be a trap there.  If the athlete remains in the state of overtraining for a long time the resting heart rate may actually decrease, which in this case is a very bad sign. If your RHR decreases but so does your sport performance, and all that is paired with unemotional behavior – there is a chance you took the training too far. Another sign is decreased blood lactate concentrations during sub maximal and maximal exercise, however not everyone has got an ability to have it tested.

All in all – Overtraining is bad, it takes months or even years to overcome and unlike overreaching it results in severe DECREASE in performance and also health.  It is not worth going there, the cost is too big, especially for pro-athletes.

I am a strong believer in not attaching any emotions to the training process. Numbers don’t lie and if they are not getting better, then it is a sign that something needs to change in the training process. If taking a couple of days off or taking it easy for a week or 2 means that you are going to come back stronger, faster and more powerful – then it is a thing to do.

Training = Load & Recover

Recovery is a part of your training and is as important as loading.

If your training is well planned, the sleep and nutrition sound, here are our top 5 supplements that we use ourselves to aid the recovery and get better quality sessions

  1. Magnesium oil (this is my favorite supplement) - the brand we use is Mike Mahler's Aggressive Strength Recovery Oil - great for recovery, reduces muscle soreness and improves sleep quality.
  2. Krauterhof horse balm - we use both heating, extra strong and also cooling gel. Both are great for recovery and reducing muscle soreness. In winter, we also use the extra strong heating gel to warm up the muscles before the training and for sports massage.
  3. Kräuterhof horse cooling ointment 500ml - This preparation, which has fast refreshing and affects blood circulation, accelerate the process of recovery.
  4. Systemic Enzymes - excellent for lowering inflammation and dealing with aches and pains.
  5. BCAAs - very useful for muscle recovery, especially with high volume of training. We use a variety of brands.

As a former competitive athlete Sabina believes that each is truly responsible for the performance potential and that we all are capable of limitless possibilities when we put our mind and hard work to it. Contact info: [email protected] or via contact form