By John Hand —
Balance is everything in life, especially when going off-kilter threatens a person’s mental and physical well-being.
It makes sense for most people when the threat is obvious. But it can be trickier to identify potential problems when people are overdoing something that is a good thing, like exercise.
For many people, exercise is a part of their daily routine. It might involve lifting weights, going for a run, working on aerobic equipment or doing yoga. It’s tough to argue against the benefits of keeping a body fit. However, there is a lurking danger in overtraining.
One reason people overtrain is the notion that pushing through the pain during their workout is a great way to get stronger. Training is good. Training through the pain too much is not wise. The problem comes when people work out excessively without giving their bodies time to rest and recuperate, according to Jeffrey B. Kreher, who identified the issue in a sports medicine research project.
The potential dangers are significant and include physical damage to the body and the brain, stress, and in a counterintuitive twist, a decline in general fitness. Fortunately, overtraining is easy to detect and cure.
Not surprisingly, competitive athletes train too hard, those few who want to reach the pinnacle of their respective sport. One study found up to 60 percent of competitive athletes overtrain at some point in their careers. The pressure to succeed drives them to excesses.
“You can avoid overtraining by undertraining,” Bob Larsen, co-coach of Team Running USA, told the New York Times. “But then you don’t win medals.”
One study disputes Larsen’s take, at least in part. A 2019 report published in Current Biology found that overtraining decreased activity in the area of athletes’ brains that make decisions. It led athletes to seek immediate gratification instead of aiming for long-term goals. Some athletes may be seeing the drawbacks of sweating too much as they start to attribute a decline in their careers to overtraining.
Overtraining, of course, isn’t the exclusive reserve of elite athletes. The average person that continuously pushes too far in the gym or runs a few extra miles is also at risk. Men’s Journal warned recently that normal and elite athletes face muscle soreness, depression, reduced performance and increased illness from overtraining.
Thankfully, getting a handle on overtraining is easy. Monitoring heart rates and muscle soreness are two places to start.
The average heart rate is 60 to 100 beats a minute. Overtraining raises that level by another 10 to 15 beats per minute. Muscle soreness that lingers for 72 hours or longer is another clue. It means that the body does not have enough time to rest between workouts, which creates an imbalance of cytokines. This protein creates both inflammation and cortisone, a hormone that reduces inflammation.
Rest is the cure for overtraining. Days off need to be in a workout program. Property nutrition, adequate sleep and keeping workout sessions to 45 to 75 minutes are also important.
There is a limited understanding the consequences of overtraining as the condition has only been known for the last fifteen years. Sports medicine research on its impact and treatment is just taking hold. But it is not only dangerous but is counterproductive.