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Overtraining is a common problem in weight training, but it can also be experienced by runners and other athletes. It occurs when the volume and intensity of the exercise exceeds an individual's recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness.
Overtraining may be accompanied by one or more concomitant symptoms:
- Persistent muscle soreness
- Persistent fatigue
- Elevated resting heart rate
- Increased susceptibility to infections
- Increased incidence of injuries
- Loss of motivation
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
Improvements in strength and fitness occur only during the rest period following hard training. This process takes at least 36 hours to complete. If sufficient rest is not available then complete regeneration cannot occur. If this imbalance between excess training and inadequate rest persists then the individual's performance will eventually plateau and decline.
Overtraining occurs more readily if the individual is simultaneously exposed to other physical and psychological stressors, such as jet lag, ongoing illness, overwork, menstruation, poor nutrition etc. It is a particular problem for bodybuilders and other dieters who engage in intense exercise while limiting their food intake.
A number of possible mechanisms for overtraining have been proposed:
- Microtrauma to the muscles are created faster than the body can heal them.
- Amino acids are used up faster than they are supplied in the diet. This is sometimes called "nitrogen deficiency".
- The body becomes calorie-deficient and begins to break down muscle tissue.
- Levels of cortisol (the "stress" hormone) are elevated for long periods of time.
- The body spends more time in a catabolic state than an anabolic state (perhaps as a result of elevated cortisol levels).
There are a number of solutions that may be effective, depending upon the individual's circumstances:
- Taking a break from training to allow time for recovery.
- Reducing the volume and/or the intensity of the training.
- Massaging the affected muscles.
- Eating more protein-rich foods.
- Eating more calorie-dense foods.
- Addressing vitamin deficiencies with nutritional supplements.
- Periodization of the training.
- Splitting the training program so that different sets of muscles are worked on different days.
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