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  • Overtraining Syndrome: When “Pushing Through It” Just Isn’t Possible

    by Guest Blogger | Aug 22, 2016

    By: Matt Tenan, Ph.D. ATC

    From August 5 through August 22, the ACSM Sports Performance Blog is featuring a special content series in celebration of the achievements of elite athletes participating in international competition. Be sure to follow the blog as well as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (acsm1954) and share using #ScienceofSport.

    With closing ceremonies now behind us, one question to ask is “Did some athletes over-train?” Elite athletes are skilled individuals, but they weren’t born that way.  It takes months and years of hard work and training.  Any of these athletes will tell you that their training regimen is critical, but they may not mention that their recovery and rest days are the secret sauce to their training regimen.

    In the short term, rest enables your muscles and bones to recover and adapt, increasing strength and decreasing injuries, such as stress fractures. If an athlete trains heavily for a long time (think many months) and doesn’t allow enough time for recovery, they may develop Overtraining Syndrome. Unlike a stress fracture, which is generally located on a specific body part and can be seen on an MRI, Overtraining Syndrome is a whole body condition and doesn’t have a clear diagnostic test. The athlete may notice that their performance has dropped off,  they’ll often feel lethargic, have trouble sleeping and may feel depressed or anxious. In short, they can’t perform well and they simply feel awful. Scientists have shown that Overtraining Syndrome results in a decreased ability to use oxygen in aerobic exercise and that the balance of hormones is disturbed, but we still don’t know why Overtraining Syndrome occurs. 

    I’ve spoken to a number of physicians who work with elite athletes like those competing the last two weeks, and they actually say that their best diagnosis criteria is to check for depression along with decreases in athletic performance.  The only treatment for Overtraining Syndrome is long-term rest, and we aren’t talking just a couple of days!  Overtraining Syndrome can occur in recreational or collegiate athletes, so if you’re training hard, performance has dropped off and you’ve had other associated symptoms, it may be time to see a sports medicine physician.


    Matt Tenan, Ph.D. ATC is a Certified Athletic Trainer and Research Scientist with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. 

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