In sports, especially those that demand a high degree of multi-disciplinary skill (like, say, gymnastics, track and field, or sport-fighting), overtraining can be almost impossible to avoid. Almost, but not entirely. The purpose of this post is to help you migrate toward avoiding it completely.
To avoid overtraining, the first step is to learn how your body responds to training. The second is to learn how to recognize the symptoms of overtraining.
Paying Attention to (and Keeping Track of) How Your Body Responds to Training
Not everyone responds to training the same way. For you, it's important to learn how you respond. One of the best ways to do this is to keep a training journal.
I've been keeping a training journal since high school (I'm now 53). For me, my training journal consists of (1) My Training Plan and (2) My Assessment Log. For me, I always have a training plan, which I up-date and tweak constantly. I also maintain an assessment log, but it tends to be fairly fluid and, at times, largely subjective. For example, sometimes (perhaps for several months) I'll focus a lot on my numbers (weight, water content, lean muscle mass, body-fat percentage, resting heart rate, blood pressure, resting respiration rate, etc.). At other times, I'll spend more time assessing my strength, explosivity, and stamina. And yet at other times, I'll focus more on my general feelings of well-being: my energy levels, sleep habits, stamina, enthusiasm, pain levels, stiffness, ranges of motion, etc. The most important thing for me is writing-out a plan, sticking with it (through it's many modifications and morphologies), and paying attention to specific body and performance measures as well as how I'm feeling overall. This practice is crucial for long-term health and success in any training endeavor. It also provides a baseline of self-knowledge that can help you stave off overtraining issues.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Overtraining
There are two types of overtraining. The first is called sympathetic overtraining; the second, parasympathetic overtraining. Generally, sympathetic overtraining occurs first and is characterized by an increase in sympathetic activity during rest, activity, and exercise.
The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system activates what is often termed the fight-or-flight response. In response to stimulus, neurons within the body release noradrenaline (norepinephrine). Prolonged activation can elicit the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands. At that point, the effects of fight-or-flight become acutely apparent. These include pupil dilation, increased sweating, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure. With sympathetic overtraining, the most common signs and symptoms to watch for are as follows:
Elevated resting heart rate.
Longer than "normal" heart rate recovery times after physical exertion.
Decreased body mass.
Disturbed sleep patterns.
Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic nervous system (which is also a part of the autonomic nervous system) conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and glandular activity, and relaxes the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. Often, parasympathetic overtraining occurs after sympathetic overtraining. Characterized (usually) by a decrease in sympathetic activity and an increase in parasympathetic activity, the most common signs and symptoms of parasympathetic overtraining to watch for are as follows:
Lower resting heart rate.
Lower heart rates during light to moderate activity.
Early onset of fatigue during moderate activity.
Increased incidents of illness (or an illness that just seems to linger for weeks on end).
If you notice yourself exhibiting two or more of any of the above sympathetic or parasympathetic symptoms, it's time to back things off a bit, get some rest, and reevaluate your training regimens. Treat the symptoms of overtraining seriously. Overtraining can lead to injury and can cause long-lasting health issues.
To mitigate against overtraining, create and maintain a training journal and pay attention to your numbers, your training performance, and how you're feeling. Do these things, and, with the self-knowledge you acquire, perhaps you'll avoid overtraining all together.
Happy training, and God's peace!
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Mondays: Meditative Prayer
Wednesdays: Holistic Discipline
Fridays: Martial Arts Practice