Overtraining Athletes – A Silent Problem
After winning the NCAA Championships title in the 400 meter hurdles and being the youngest participant to make it to the semifinals in the 1996 Olympics, I became the second fastest Jamaican ever in the event behind Winthrop Graham. The next year, determined to surpass Winthrop’s achievements, I trained like never before. The day before the 1997 NCAA championships, only 2 weeks before our National Trials for the World Championships, I got the flu and was unable to successfully defend my title and still recovering also failed to make the team. Why did I get sick at such a critical time? – Overtraining.
Not only will overtraining cause you to underperform, but it also increases your risk of injuries and illnesses. On the heels of 30th Olympiad in London we recall that too many of our athletes were injured and that the French sprinter, Christophe Lemaitre was fighting the flu during the Games. Athletes push their bodies to the limit in order to optimize their athletic potential and sometimes may train too hard.
Unfortunately when performance is below par, most coaches assume that the athlete is unfit and are therefore given harder workouts. Some coaches resort to putting their athletes through 2 or worse 3 training sessions per day. If you increase training intensity without also increasing the amount of rest and sleep that the athlete gets, then the result will be overtraining. Instead of improving, the athletes get worse faster because you cannot beat overtraining with more work.
How can you know if you are overtraining?
The first sign is an increase in waking heart rate of 8 beats per minute greater than the average level of the preceding week. A drop in waking body weight of 3 lbs. on any day from a previously stable body weight is another sign. If there is an inability to fall asleep, waking up too early, restlessness or if you are having abnormal mood swings or loss of motivation, cut back. Illnesses or infections indicate a depressed immune function, which may mean overtraining.
If overtraining syndrome is suspected, then,
1. Stop regular training entirely for one week. Jog lightly for 1 or 2 miles and stretch for 30 minutes each day.
2. Reduce protein intake to 15% and increase carbohydrates to 70% total calories.
3. Increase sleep to 9 hours solid per night with a 1 hour midafternoon nap.
Avoid overtraining: monitor signs, reduce intensity and increase sleep at the first indication.
The Gleaner , Monday | August 27, 2012