Winning the war against overtraining
We have all seen our fellow gym members undertaking workouts that seem almost foolishly intense; completing ten or more sets of the same resistance exercise almost without rest in between each set. Such punishing work used to be the preserve of bodybuilders, but now a hardcore mentality seems to be ever more prevalent in our exercise culture and we are at risk of overtraining with such an extreme schedule.
Accordingly, sports physiologists and physicians such as William Kraemer, a professor of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut are turning their attention to recreational gymnasium users who train beyond their bodies’ limits.
A philosophy of “more is better” seems to cloud the thinking of such exercisers.
They forsake rest days and their training has no concept of periodic cycling, which refers to the natural peaks and troughs on the road to improvement. Muscles need to recover after the stress of lifting heavy weights, Dr. Kraemer explains. This process is called periodization: Rest days and easier days and weeks are interspersed with periods when the weights are increased.
The training frenzy is fuelled by commercial fitness programmes which do not take into account individual’s personal limits and treat all people like elite athletes. Dr John Raglin, a sports psychologist based at Indiana University cautions recreational exercisers about the perils of overtraining:
“Serious athletes recognize these issues … a lot of recreational athletes really have no idea.”
Endurance training exerts different strains on the body to those imposed by heavy weights. In this case, it can take the body of a recreational runner, rower, or cyclist two days to replace the muscle’s energy supply Glycogen which is depleted during stamina-sapping activity.
In fact, endurance activity takes its toll on the body in many other ways. Dr Bengt Saltin of the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center explains that; as the muscles tire and lose elasticity during a marathon, more and more energy is required to propel the athlete forwards. By the closing stretches, the runner needs almost twice the energy stride for stride as he or she did at the start.
So what are the signs of overtraining? Dr Raglin suggests that psychological symptoms are the best indicator; initially a feeling of tiredness and eventually depression. The problem is made worse by the spectre of exercise addiction, we may become conditioned to the routine of training and the psychological experiences we undergo as we work out and recover. In the end we may well develop a “need” to train and this will inevitably affect other areas of our lives- our performance at work, our relationship with others.
The best argument against overtraining is to consider that it actually robs you of physical improvement and also takes the passion and joy out of your training as well as inhibiting other important facets of your life by depriving you of energy and time. It’s time to train smart as well as hard.