As I have been perusing training websites lately, overtraining seems to be a hot topic. I know it’s hard to believe but the internet has wildly different opinions on the subject. Several authors argue that there is no such thing as overtraining, only under recovery. Some argue that overtraining is a badge of honor. So, what is the truth?
Many of these articles are confusing the issue of overtraining and overreaching. Training and life stress exists on a continuum.
Overreaching and overtraining are not the same thing. Functional overreaching is a short-term increase in the intensity/volume of training leading to a short-term decrease in performance. This decrease in performance lasts only a few days to a few weeks and if performed correctly (proper recovery is allowed), will result in a new, higher level of performance for the athlete, or supercompensation.
In contrast, the decrease in performance in overtraining syndrome can last for months and is serious enough that it may signal an end to an athletic career. Its symptoms affect multiple body systems: immune, neural, endocrine and others and are unlikely to resolve without professional intervention.
Endurance sport athletes more commonly display symptoms of the parasympathetic (rest and digest) system including fatigue, depression, abnormally low heart rate and loss of motivation. Anaerobic/power athletes more commonly display alterations in their sympathetic (fight or flight system) including insomnia, irritability, agitation, elevated heart rate, high blood pressure and restlessness. Both groups may also display disordered eating, weight loss, lack of mental concertation, anxiety and awakening unrefreshed (European College of Sports Science Position Statement on OTS, 2006).