Overtraining vs Training Hard
By Dan Schuck
Let’s be clear about something right out of the gate. If you want to be successful in sport (or anything) you have to work hard, push yourself, and be willing to do what others may not. What’s most important is how the athlete, their coaches, and their parents approach this.
Working hard is a must, strength training is a must, conditioning is a must, recovery is a must, nutrition is a must, sleep is a must.
So what is overtraining:
There is actually something called overtraining syndrome: when an athlete fails to recover adequately from training and competition. The symptoms are due to a combination of changes in hormones, suppression of the immune system (which decreases the athlete’s ability to fight infection), physical fatigue and psychological changes.
Warning signs of burnout include:
- The young athlete is no longer enjoying playing the sport.
- The sport is dominating the family’s life.
- The only topic of conversation is the child’s sport.
- Rewards are based on performance in the sport.
- The young athlete has missed 10 percent of the season, but has not seen a doctor.
- The female athlete is older than 16 and still not menstruating or is dieting just to become a better athlete.
Symptoms of burnout include:
- Chronic muscle and joint pain
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Increased heart rate at rest
- Decreased sports performance
- Prolonged recovery time
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Frequent illnesses
- Difficulty completing usual routines
- Decreased school performance
- Personality or mood changes
- Increased anger or irritability
- Sleep disturbances (difficulty sleeping or sleeping without feeling refreshed)
Now that we have an idea of what it is, warning signs and symptoms, lets discuss how we prevent it:
In most cases, overtraining syndrome is not an acute onset issue. It takes time to build, and over repeated bouts of work without enough recovery we see the signs and symptoms emerge. As we said, hard work is necessary in sport. So, the remedy isn’t “don’t work hard”. The solution is to PRIORITIZE RECOVERY and PREPARATION. It has been reported that NBA superstar Lebron James spends over $1 million for his training and recovery each year to allow him to perform consistently at the highest levels. We are not suggesting you spend your way to recovery. What we want to show is how much importance people place on the idea of preparation and recovery.
So what are the things I need to do, so that I don’t find myself dealing with overtraining? We will consider 3 primary areas to address where most athletes and families struggle.
Your nutrition is vital to good immune system, healthy brain function, hydration, and muscle recovery. Missing out on healthy foods robs you of many of these things…over time, our bodies struggle to keep up.
BUT,…IT IS HARD TO EAT WELL WHEN I HAVE PRACTICE AT ________. Usually this blank is an evening time like 6, 7, or 8pm. We understand that practices and field/court availability makes training times less than ideal. But that isn’t an excuse to eat “fast food” after practice for dinner 2 – 4 nights a week. Let’s get super simple with easy tools:
- Eat a good breakfast (we don’t mean cereal). Something that provides good nutrients and energy to start the day. Look to eating foods with WHOLE INGREDIENTS.
- Make meals easy. It is in the prep! If you have a good dinner already made, you don’t have to stop at fast food on the way home. All the grease, poor quality ingredients, sugars and additives in fast food make that food really low in nutrients aren’t good for recovery. Prepare a meal beforehand… JUST REHEAT AND VIOLA!
- Drink water! Sports drinks, energy drinks, etc. all filled with sugars. Your body doesn’t need that all day, but it NEEDS WATER. Stay hydrated!!!!!!!!
This is an underrated tool for not only preventing overtraining, but improving performance in virtually every area of your life…school, work, sport, you name it, this one is critical. However, it can be one of the toughest to adjust.
Recommended hours of sleep:
6 – 13 years 9 to 11 hours 14-17 years 8 to 10 hours
Most adolescents get 7 hours of sleep on average.
Shift in sleep schedule: After puberty, there is a biological shift in an adolescent’s internal clock of about 2 hours, meaning that a teenager who used to fall asleep at 9:00 PM will now not be able to fall asleep until 11:00PM. It also means waking 2 hours later in the morning.
I get home from practice late, like 10pm, and I have to be up for school by 6:30am. How do I get the sleep I need?
We get the challenge, and the first thought is to do the best you can with the schedule you have.
- STOP LOOKING AT YOUR PHONE/TV AT NIGHT. It stimulates the brain and inhibits release of Melatonin. Falling asleep becomes tougher and you end up with less total sleep. Put it away, put your head on the pillow and get some rest!
- Don’t snack or eat right before bed, it spikes your blood sugars and makes your sleep more restless or may cause you to wake up during the night.
- Be consistent, it teaches the body a natural rhythm and makes falling asleep and waking easier, which leads to increased time in good sleep.
- Naps are ok. A 20-45 minute nap can do wonders
This last one is about what you do in between seasons or in the off seasons. Far too often, athletes take the off season as “do nothing season”. The problem with this is that your body gets deconditioned: you lose strength, muscle and cardiovascular fitness. Yes, you are giving your body a rest, but when you decide to start back up, what you WANT YOUR BODY TO DO, and WHAT YOU HAVE PREPARED YOUR BODY TO DO are very different!
What happens to the unfit person who didn’t do work over the summer? They have to run more! Unfortunately, their body isn’t ready for that. The consistent overload can come at a high price…the body can’t keep up with the demand. Injury risks go up and overtraining becomes a real threat.
What can I do?
- Off season is not sit on the couch season. Give yourself a mental and physical break, then get back to doing things…your body is made to move, make sure it does.
- Cross-train: It can be playing other sports for a mental break, it can be strength and conditioning training to work on all the things your body doesn’t get during season, or just being active daily.
- Make sure to be progressive as you approach your next season, build up your strength, intensity, and volume as you get ready for season, don’t wait until the week before…at that point it is too late.
In closing, it’s important to work hard, train hard and push yourself. But if you are going to WORK HARD you have to RECOVER HARD. Get good nutrients, prioritize sleep, and prepare your body in the offseason. Your body is good at letting you know when things aren’t right. While much of the time as an athlete you push away those feelings of pain and discomfort, it is important to recognize when you are consistently feeling off. If you are experiencing symptoms of overtraining it’s important to see your doctor. Remember, you are playing this sport because it is fun and you love it.