Overreaching & Overtraining: What They Are & How To Avoid Them

How relevant is overreaching and overtraining for athletes?

Overreaching and overtraining are a regularly occurring problem in the world of sports. An athlete in the state of overreaching or overtraining cannot achieve optimal performance, and is more susceptible to illness and injury. In the state of overreaching, the adaptation capacity to training load is decreased. If the overreaching is not addressed properly, the result would be failure to adapt to training, which could lead to true overtraining. To recognize and correct the conditions of overreaching and overtraining, one should understand the exact difference between them and their particular signs and causes.

What are overreaching and overtraining? What are the main differences between them?

Overreaching is a temporary condition that occurs in response to heavy or intense loads. The symptoms of overreaching are generally feeling unwell, disrupted sleep, and mood fluctuations. It does not have any significant impact on athletic performance. If an athlete recognizes the condition of overreaching in the early stages and allows their body to regenerate properly, their condition will return to normal. If an athlete does not allow their body to recover completely, and continues to train hard, that would lead to overtraining.

Overtraining is a chronic condition of extreme fatigue. It is a serious condition that is induced by prolonged, high volume, high intensity, repeated, and reoccurring monotonous training sessions. That type of training can result in serious disorders, primarily in the nervous and hormonal systems.

Overreaching and overtraining can be compared to yellow and red traffic lights. If you see the yellow light, be alert; if you see the red light, stop and help your body recover without delay.

What are the main signs of overreaching and overtraining?

The main signs of overreaching and overtraining are increased tiredness, loss of performance, and slow recovery. In spite of intensified training, athletic performance will continue to decrease. It is a signal that the body can no longer adapt to training sessions and the athlete requires immediate rest!

The first symptoms of overreaching and overtraining are related to prevailing excitation processes:

  • Slow heart rate recovery after training and a very high resting heart rate
  • Increased arterial blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations (abnormal heart beat)
  • Nervousness and emotional instability
  • Unrestful sleep and low sleep quality
  • Decreased concentration
  • High anxiety and unreasoned fear
  • Excessive sweating under load
  • Low interest in training
  • Loss of appetite and body weight

If the athlete does not pay attention to the body alarms and continues training intensely, new signs of overreaching and overtraining may appear. They are related to prevailing inhibition processes and slow down regeneration:

  • Low resting heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Increased tiredness
  • Easy onset of fatigue
  • Sleepiness and drowsiness
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and depressed immune system

Such a condition requires urgent changes to the training process–otherwise, it may result in more serious disorders of other organs and body systems.

What are the main causes of overreaching and overtraining?

There are many causes that may produce overreaching and overtraining. The most notable are:

 1.    Methodological

  • Inadequate balance between workout and rest: too much or too intense load exceeding the recovery capacity of the body
  • No periodization or unsuitable periodization of training
  • Monotonous, too long, or too frequent training that is lacking variety
  • A training process that is not adapted to the individual
  • No rehabilitation or inadequate rehabilitation
  • Taking part in too many competitions

2.    Physiological

  • Insufficient sleep and low sleep quality
  • Unbalanced nutrition or irregular eating
  • Low resistance to physical and mental stress
  • Individual load adaptation capacity

3.    Psychological and sociocultural

  • Too much psychological stress or chronic stress at work or at home
  • Unrealistic goals and objectives
  • Excessive fear of failure
  • Conflicts with the coach or other athletes
  • Irregular way of life

4.    Medical

  • Illnesses (chronic, infection, etc.)
  • Allergic reactions
  • Excessive training after traumas

 5.    Climatic

  • Time or climatic zone changes
  • Bad ecology
  • Training in mountains

How can overreaching and overtraining be avoided? What are the most efficient ways to prevent these conditions?

The most widely used measures to prevent overreaching and overtraining are: optimal combination of training and recovery, positive sleep hygiene, a healthy diet, active regeneration, massage, sauna, pharmacological treatment, etc. However, these measures alone will not be sufficient if the athlete does not monitor their functional state using objective scientific methods, as overreaching and overtraining symptoms depend on the individual and are not the same for all athletes. Because of that, the functional Readiness and state of the athlete before each training session should be assessed on individual basis. Personalized monitoring of their state before and after training allows athletes to optimize their training process and avoid overreaching and overtraining. Objective data about the condition of the nervous, cardiac, respiratory, and other body functional systems allow for optimizing the training process and controlling it in a more efficient way.

It is commonly known that fatigue can be either positive or negative; everything depends on the scale. On one hand, with more training and exercise, the more trained the athlete will be. On the other hand, if the level of fatigue is not monitored, the athlete may receive an “overdose” of fatigue, will not recover sufficiently between training sessions, and their results will decrease. So, monitoring the fatigue/recovery ratio is the key to great athletic performance!

The portable Omegawave system is an efficient, easy to use technology for monitoring athletes’ functional Readiness in a way that will prevent overreaching and overtraining. The system allows to coaches and athletes to make a comprehensive assessment of stress, fatigue, and adaptive reserves. That information enables the athlete to apply proper training loads. By analyzing the body’s response to training sessions, athletes can customize and optimize the training process in a quick and efficient way and enhance their athletic performance.

Dr. Roman Fomin is a senior research scientist at Omegawave. He holds a Ph.D. Degree in Physiology, is a Associated Professor of Physiology, a Regular Member of the American Physiological Society (APS) and a Regular Member of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN).