For many serious athletes, preventing overtraining is a bigger training obstacle than under-training. It’s easy to fall into the habit of thinking that more training is better. However, if you break your body down faster than it can repair itself, you’ll feel chronically tired and you’ll likely get injured.
Overtraining might be more aptly called under-recovering. Unless you’re a professional, it’s difficult to find time for proper sleep, nutrition, and athletic therapy. Even lifestyle factors like stress at work or financial worry can slow your body’s ability to repair itself.
What are the effects of overtraining?
Signs of overtraining include the following:
Muscle soreness after exercise
Lack of motivation
Difficulty falling or staying asleep
If you’re suffering from the consequences of overtraining, the first step is to stop training and rest. The second step is to change your training and lifestyle habits to make sure overtraining doesn’t happen again.
Here are six ways you can speed up your recovery and reduce built-up stress from training.
1. Include Rest Days and Active Recovery into Your Program
In the same way the weekend gives you time to unwind after a hard work week, recovery days should be built into your training plan. Your body doesn’t get stronger when you train, your body gets stronger when you rest after training hard.
However, resting doesn’t always mean lying on the couch all day. A study published in 2017 examined the effect of various methods of recovery after intense exercise. The researchers found that contrast water therapy and active recovery methods such as easy jogging improved recovery speed in non-elite athletes. (1)
What type of exercise makes the best active recovery? Research shows that light exercise that uses the same muscles used during the training session is the most effective form of active recovery. (2)
2. Break the Eight Hour Sleep Rule
Making room in your life for proper sleep is probably one of the most critical habits that any athlete can adapt. The truth is, athletes need a lot more sleep than the average person and eight hours might not be enough to fully recover.
How much sleep do you need?
The amount of sleep athletes need varies between individuals. However, a good way to find your sleep need is to let your body naturally wake up without an alarm for about ten days. Record how much you sleep each night and calculate the average.
Overtraining and overreaching (a milder form of overtraining) are known to cause sleep disturbances. In an article published in Frontiers in Physiology, the researchers explain that during periods of high training volume, many athletes report restlessness and feelings of heavy legs during sleep. (3)
If you notice your sleep quality declining, it may be an early sign that you need to back off on your training load.
3. Step Away from Your Sport
If you notice that your performance is dropping mid-season, you may benefit from a short break from your sport. Many athletes worry that they’ll detrain if they’ll take too much time off. However, research shows that detraining doesn’t happen quickly in established athletes.
A study published in 2018 by researchers in Spain examined the effect of a two-week mid-season break on the performance of elite soccer players. (4) The researchers found that there were no noticeable detraining effects during the two weeks of the study.
4. Schedule Regular Massages
Scheduling time for activities that relax your muscles like massage can have a profound effect on balancing training stress.
A meta-analysis published in 2018 reviewed published research on the effect of massage on recovery. (5) The researchers concluded that several recovery methods could reduce muscle soreness 24 hours after exercise including the following: active recovery, massage, compression garments, contrast water therapy, and cryotherapy.
5. Pay Attention to Your Nutrition
Along with sleep, nutrition plays a critical role in recovery. Every cell in your body is made from the food you put in your body. Many athletes use supplements to aid their athletic performance. Certain foods, like Turmeric, have significant benefits for athletes including:
Supporting inflammatory reactions that may occur after exercise
Promoting the natural muscle reparation process
Increasing performance and endurance
Supporting joint health and circulation
Stress that athletes put on their bodies from overtraining may contribute to suboptimal immune system function over time. Research published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that switching athletes to an antioxidant diet can boost their immune system. (6)
Reductions in alcohol, sugar, and omega 6 fatty acids can all help support a healthy inflammatory response. Taking a turmeric supplement is another way to support the body's natural reparation process.
In an article titled Athletes: Fit but Unhealthy? published in 2016, the lead author, Philip B. Maffetone, distinguishes between health and fitness. (7) Athletes are incredibly physically fit specifically to their sport; however, they might not be healthy.
He goes on to pose that physical and mental-emotion injuries are relatively high among athletes because of poor diet and lifestyle habits.
6. Spend Time with Other Athletes
It has been said that the people you spend the most time with influence you the most. For athletes, your social network can positively or negatively affect your training.
If you spend time around other athletes who take their sport seriously, hopefully, their good habits will rub off on you. Unfortunately, if you spend time with athletes with bad habits, you’re at risk of developing those habits as well.
In a study published in the Journal of American College Health, researchers examined the effects of social influences on the alcohol consumption of student athletes. (8)
The study concluded that leadership figures and upper-year athletes on sports team could have an influence on the alcohol consumption of younger team members.
In another study published in 2017, researchers examined athletes’ perception of recovery strategies as it related to their social environment. (9) They found that athletes who weren’t taught about proper recovery methods by their coaches or teammates were less likely to incorporate these recover methods into their training.
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