Being an athlete in today’s modern world has it’s pros and cons. Given the technological and performance gains, it’s a new era of human performance no matter how you look at it. But these gains don’t come without a cost to your body, mind, and wallet. I’m talking about overtraining, resulting in a chronic fatigue ridden metabolic malfunctioning hormonally dis-functioning mess of a human body. And the related symptoms are far less than obvious, as they are coupled with disbelief and denial, which further complicates diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

Dr. Phil Maffetone, a well known sports medicine specialist and author of the definitive guide to endurance training, The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, defines Overtraining as follows: “The full spectrum of overtraining can result in hormonal, nutritional, mental/emotional, muscular, neurological and others imbalances. These, in turn, can cause fatigue, depression, injuries and poor performance to name a few problems.”

What is Overtraining Syndrome?

Overtraining syndrome is not to be confused with an overuse injury, such as the one I suffered, as the two really share no relation. An overuse injury is isolated to the respective site of injury, where the overtraining syndrome effects multiple metabolic and hormonal systems, leading to decreased performance, fatigue, and illness.

Overtraining, described as a “non-functional over reach problem,” is difficult to diagnose as it is “multifactorial” in both origin and symptoms. It has been noted that issues such as infections, training stress, and life/work stress, as well as medical issues (auto-immune) all can contribute to the overtraining syndrome.  The chief complaints, or symptoms, typically are centered around fatigue, which after 6 months is deemed chronic. Burn out typically accompanies this stage of overtraining development.

Meet With An Overtraining Specialist

I recently met with renowned sports medicine physician and local expert in the field, Dr. Jason Glowney, to better understand this syndrome and it’s causes and cures.  Dr. Glowney see’s a relatively high percentage of patients with overtraining syndrome as the underlying cause of their problems.

I first was introduced to Dr. Glowney when dealing with an overuse injury of my right elbow. After a few months of physical therapy it hadn’t healed so I was directed to Dr. Glowney who suggested a Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment, a relatively new and very successful option for stubborn soft tissue injuries. PRP involves a patient blood draw, a centrifuge of the blood to collect all platelets at one end, and this platelet rich plasma is then injected into the injury site. With proper preparation (rest, physical therapy), this can be a miracle cure, which it was for me.

It’s worthy to mention that Dr. Glowney references Dr. David Luce as the local “guru” in this area. The Boulder/Denver community is lucky to have two specialists available to assist with understanding and healing overtraining syndrome.

What Should You Do?

Ultimately, each individual needs to recognize the onset of symptoms and seek guidance before more serious repercussions are experienced. Serious athletes are often in denial and that makes the situation even more dire.

Here are five easily identifiable signs that you are suffering from overtraining:

  1. Elevated resting heart rate:
    • You would need to know what your “normal” resting HR is in order to ascertain this change. Fitness monitors make this easier than ever to track and can really help identify any changes.
  2. Insomnia:
    • If you’re not sleeping at night, there’s no way that your body can heal itself from the effects of training, leading to overtraining.
  3. Emotional changes:
    • Due to the effect on your hormones and the overall impact on your system, it’s not uncommon to experience emotional changes such as a decrease in motivation and depressed self esteem. In some advanced cases, depression has been observed.
  4.  Extended muscle soreness:
    • If your muscular soreness lasts 3-4 days, this is a clear sign that you are overtrained.  This soreness may or may not be the result of actual training, and could be a sign that you are overtrained.
  5. Poor performance:
    • This is easiest sign to identify overtraining, and can be facilitated by a training log or diary that you can use to assess performance.