how to recognize the signs of overtraining

You follow sports sessions and you have the feeling that you are no longer progressing. You feel increasingly tired and irritable. Be careful, the risk of overtraining awaits you. What are the causes ? How to prevent it? Before pulling too hard on the rope, take stock!

What is overtraining?

Overtraining corresponds to an accumulation of physical and psychological fatigue that leads to a drop, or even a drop in performance in the athlete. This state can be accompanied by behavioral changes (anxiety, stress, insomnia, etc.) and joint and muscle pain that can cause injury. Overtraining could also harm the brain according to a recent Inserm study.

The diagnosis is tricky: fatigue is an integral part of training. However, the French Society of Exercise and Sports Medicine (SFMES) has set up a questionnaire to find out if you are concerned.

This “overheating” affects all disciplines, but endurance sports are the most affected. Cycling, running, trail… require large volumes of training. 65% of long-distance runners would know it at one time or another in their career. High-level athletes are not the only ones to suffer from it, amateurs can also be affected because they are less followed, if at all, and can neglect their recovery.

To note. Overtraining differs from burn-out which is similar, in the athlete, to severe depression associated with a disgust for the practice until it stops. This phenomenon was brought to light recently through the cases of footballer Adil Rami and tennis player Lucas Pouille.

What is “overtraining syndrome”?

This is the most severe form of overtraining. This name is used when the state of fatigue is chronic and lasts several months. “An endless spiral” experienced by cross-country skier Candide Pralong, victim of extreme overtraining syndrome in the fall of 2018. The Swiss called in a sports psychologist and had to give up his season .

What causes overtraining?

Running sessions close together on the eve of a marathon, repeating high-level competitions… Excessive training volume is the main cause of overtraining. Often, it also results from a poor balance between training loads and recovery periods, which are too short or even neglected. The muscles, overstretched, can no longer produce effort, for lack of sufficient rest to replenish energy. Overtraining does not happen suddenly, it takes several weeks to feel the first symptoms.

To note. The intensity of training is not the only culprit. The monotony of sessions, overwork, stress, a poor lifestyle, an unbalanced diet and an unusual environment (heat, cold, humidity) can contribute to overtraining.

How to detect overtraining?

Identifying overtraining is complicated. Knowing your limits and knowing how to listen to your body is not easy, especially when you are just starting out.

Beyond a marked drop in your sports performance, several signs should alert you:

  • weight loss and lack of appetite;
  • difficulty falling asleep;
  • mood disorders (irritability, anxiety, stress, etc.);
  • increased heart rate and high blood pressure;
  • frequent joint and muscle pain (cramps, tetany);
  • heavier legs than usual;
  • recurrent infections or inflammations;
  • a noticeable loss of motivation.

Do not take the appearance of these symptoms lightly. Beginner athletes who taste the effort want to exceed their limits, even if it means exhausting themselves.

What to do in case of overtraining?

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, consult a doctor without delay. The latter will establish a precise diagnosis and set up a suitable recovery program if necessary.

Choose a period of total rest to repair the damaged joint and muscle system, rebalance your metabolism and reduce stress. As the fatigue disappears, you will gradually regain motivation.

How long should this rest period last?

It all depends on how tired your body is. The recovery time should be proportional to the period of overtraining. It will last from a few days to several weeks or even several months, in case of extreme fatigue. At the same time, make sure you have a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet.

Good to know. Alternate a day of physical exercise with a day of rest. Resume gently with a lighter program, before increasing the intensity of your sessions, taking the necessary time.

How to avoid overtraining?

A few simple rules should allow you to reduce this risk:

  • favor a healthy and balanced diet;
  • get regular check-ups with your doctor;
  • periodically take stock of your psychological state: sleep, behavior, stress, etc. ;
  • plan your season with a detailed training program (volume, intensity, recovery phases), planning appropriate workloads;
  • keep your physiological data (heart rate when stopped and in action, weight variation, etc.), as well as your performance (distance, speed, etc.) to facilitate comparisons;
  • never neglect the recovery periods and do not hesitate to slow down when you are tired.