Written by Guest Blogger: Angela Hanlon, ND
For some of us, exercise is a highly effective stress management technique. That’s great…right? The neuroendocrine hormones produced during rigorous exercise have a powerful influence on us. A body that regularly produces high levels of these substances will regulate its body systems accordingly. If the body stops producing regular doses of these neuroendocrine hormones, balance within the body systems is thrown off. This may be why many athletes experience anxiety or depression when an injury puts them out of commission for a long period of time.
Knowledge about overtraining syndrome is still lacking, but it appears that between 20% and 30% of North American amateur athletes experience it. Incidence rates are thought to be higher in individual sport athletes and females1. Overtraining syndrome produces a variety of imbalances in the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. This means that its effects on the body are far reaching2, 4. The endocrine system regulates our male and female hormones, blood sugar, stress hormones, circadian rhythm, and thyroid hormones. The nervous system is in charge of pain perception, moods, and response to stressful situations. The autonomic part of the nervous system is in charge of heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate. It also determines where blood flow is directed in the body.
Why Do We Overtrain?
In theory, the late stages of overtraining syndrome should never be reached. There are plenty of warning signs in the early stages, and they aren’t exactly subtle. However despite all signs and symptoms, we push ourselves into injury and burnout even though we know better. Some say it’s for the glory of overcoming obstacles to achieve success. In my experience it’s usually more complicated than that. Many of us push ourselves into burnout because we don’t know how to thrive without our regular workouts.
In addition to physical wellbeing, overtraining syndrome affects mental and emotional wellbeing including self-esteem. It can affect resilience in many aspects of life, such as professional growth and the ability to handle disappointment or failure. An article published in a 2011 issue of Medical Sport Science stated this phenomenon best; “Of particular relevance to the issue of overtraining in the elite young athlete are the development of a unidimensional identity, the lack of autonomy, disempowerment, perfectionist traits, conditional love, and unrealistic expectations”1.
However, in my opinion, overtraining syndrome is not the cause; it is the consequence. Proper recovery from an overtraining state may require guidance and mentorship to develop alternative stress management techniques, adaptability, and psychological resilience.
A Reminder of What Overtraining Syndrome Looks Like
For a detailed illustration of overtraining syndrome. refer to Part 1
and Part 2
of this blog series. The main signs you should be looking for are increased effort during familiar workouts, frequent respiratory infections, muscle soreness, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, mood disturbances, shortness of temper, decreased interest in training and competition, decreased self-confidence, and inability to concentrate1
. Resting heart rate should be monitored by tracking beats per minute every morning upon waking.
Early detection of overtraining syndrome can significantly decrease the risk of overuse injuries3, 5. This is particularly true in young athletes3.
*Stay tuned for Part 4 which discusses how to stay resilient during heavy training times.
1 Winsley R, Matos N. Overtraining and Elite Young Athletes. The Elite Young Athlete Medicine and Sport Science. December 2010:97-105. doi:10.1159/000320636.
2 Lehmann MJ1, Lormes W, Opitz-Gress A, Steinacker JM, Netzer N, Foster C, Gastmann U. Training and overtraining: an overview and experimental results in endurance sports. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. March 1997: 7-17 http://bit.ly/2JF9YmC
3Walters BK1, Read CR2, Estes AR3. Effects of resistance training, overtraining, and early specialization on youth athletes. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. June 2017 Jun 8. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.07409-6
4Cadegiani FA1, Kater CE2 Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis Functioning in Overtraining Syndrome: Findings from Endocrine and Metabolic Responses on Overtraining Syndrome (EROS)-EROS-HPA Axis. Sports Med Open. Dec 8 2017 doi: 10.1186/s40798-017-0113-0
5 Vetter RE, Symonds ML. Correlations Between Injury, Training Intensity, and Physical and Mental Exhaustion Among College Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010;24(3):587-596. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181c7c2eb.
Dr. Angela Hanlon, ND
Holistic Healing Arts Centre
274 King George Road, Brantford, Ontario