The Trap of Overtraining

Training = Good, so more training = Better? Not always. Know when to spot the signs that you’re overdoing it

Elites and age-groupers walk a fine line between optimum performance and overtraining, with symptoms including altered mood, sore muscles, disrupted sleep and an increased sense of effort during exercise. But are there any biological measurements – oxidative stress, variability in heart rate, lactate measurements – that you can monitor to prevent you from overstepping the mark in the first place?

“Unfortunately, a gold-standard marker of overtraining doesn’t exist,” says Gatorade’s Dr James Carter. “And many such markers require invasive techniques, sophisticated equipment and/or skilled interpretation, all of which count against them being used by the athlete on a day-to-day basis.”

The complexity of identifying a single overtraining marker was highlighted in a recent review by the American College of Sports Medicine, led by Belgium’s Romain Meeusen. Their exhaustive assessment of global research on the topic focused on several elements: heart rate (sub-maximal, maximal and heart-rate variability), biochemistry (glutamine, lactate…), psychology (mood states and psychometric tests), performance tests, hormones (cortisol, growth hormone) and immune function.

They concluded that “the mechanism of overtraining is difficult to examine in detail because stress caused by excessive training load, in combination with other stressors, might trigger defence mechanisms such as the immunological, neuroendocrine and other physiological systems that all interact.”