There’s a thin line between working hard enough and working too hard. Pushing your body to reach new levels of fitness requires commitment, effort and a willingness to put yourself through intense, challenging workouts on a regular basis.
But more isn’t always better. Without the right balance of rest and recovery you could end up spiralling into a long-term fatigue condition called overtraining syndrome. The condition results in long-term reduced physical performance, and may be accompanied by other physiological and psychological symptoms (such as low mood or poor sleep) – though this isn’t always the case. It can take weeks, months and even years to recover from this condition.
Though mainly caused by excessive amounts of exercise, it can be accelerated by other life stress, such as working long hours, difficult social relationships, dieting and not getting enough sleep. Recent research has shown that up to 93% of athletes suffering from unexplained performance decline also report the presence of non-training stressors, so managing those stressors is important.
The frustrating thing about overtraining syndrome is that there’s no single measure or test that you can use to identify it. Research tells us that symptoms can vary wildly from one person to the next, meaning it can be a condition that’s hard to pinpoint. In fact, the only current, reliable method to assess if you have overtraining syndrome is to track how long it takes you to recover.
However, common symptoms include:
- Long-term decrease in sports performance,
- Less motivation to exercise,
- Low mood,
- Muscle soreness, aches and pain,
- Loss of good quality sleep,
- General tiredness or fatigue.
In reality, it’s very difficult to work hard enough to spiral into overtraining syndrome if you aren’t hitting the gym for hours each day. If you’ve ever felt tired or burned out but bounced back after a week or two, you probably weren’t overtraining, you probably just went a little too hard for a spell.