The truth about overtraining

As female athletes, we know how important it is to train hard. We attend our practices and give one hundred percent effort in games. But what if we are pushing our bodies to the limit and not allowing ourselves enough rest? Overtraining is a serious problem that is often overlooked. However, there are some obvious signs and simple strategies to prevent it. In order to be the best athletes we can be, we must balance our training, making some necessary room for rest and recovery.

Symptoms of Overtraining
Constant Fatigue
If you are working out and not allowing your body to recover, you will be exhausted. Although this may seem like common sense, many athletes become used to feeling tired all the time. Remember that rest is equally important as working out! If you lack energy to socialize with your friends, or feel that even the smallest tasks are challenging, you may need to take a break from your training.

Decreased Performance
When athletes do not allow enough time for recovery, they cannot perform up to their potential. If you notice that you are not as successful in competition, you may be overtraining. Try to remember when you performed at your best, and then notice what has changed in your training routine. Chances are you are practicing and competing more. While practice makes perfect, overtraining can leave you on the sidelines.

Working the body too hard not only stresses the muscles, but it also affects the mind. When an athlete overtrains, she becomes increasingly sensitive and moody. If you find that you lose your patience with friends and family, cry more often, and become angry easily, you may be suffering the emotional results of over training.

How To Prevent Overtraining

Rest at Least One Full Day a Week

Rest is not a dirty word! Take a complete day off once a week. Every athlete needs at least one day a week without practice or competition. If you are not getting at least one or two days off, you are not giving your body enough time to prepare for the next match or training day.

Alternate Intensities

Pretty Tough athletes want to train at a high intensity. However, alternating a difficult training day with a lighter one will make you a better, healthier athlete. If you have a competition on Monday, use Tuesday as an off day, or complete a very light workout so your body can recover. Try not to train or compete at your full effort on consecutive days.

Eat and Sleep Well

Remember to eat enough to fuel your activity level. If you train hard, you must replace the energy you use during a workout. This means eating regular meals and drinking plenty of water throughout the day (see article on hydration). Also be sure to sleep for 7 or 8 hours a night so you are not lacking energy for a practice or competition.

Pretty Tough Tips
The pressure to excel can lead to some serious medical problems for female athletes (sometimes referred to as the female-athlete triad). Learn how to stay healthy and recognize signs of risk.

Eating Disorders:
The incidence of eating disorders is particulary high in female athletes — especially those involved in track and gymnastics. Often, girls feel that the thinner they are, the quicker they’ll be. In the quest to be lean, some girls deprive themselves of vital nutrients.

Performance athletes can develop eating disorders ranging from use of diet pills or laxatives to bulimia (self-induced vomiting) and anorexia (withholding food excessively).

Many young female athletes experience absent menstrual cycles. Some girls think that when they stop having a period, it’s a sign they’re in better shape. This absence of menses (or infrequent menstruation) is really a warning from the body. It means that too much energy is being expended with not enough energy replenished through adequate nutrition and rest.

Menstrual dysfunction can increase the risk of premature osteoporosis and bone fractures and may also increase the risk of scoliosis.

It’s important (and normal) for females to have higher body fat than men. When girls push themselves to low body fat levels, normal hormone levels decline which creates low calcium absorption. Bones can become fragile and prone to fracture — especially stress fracture.

Gymnasts are especially prone to this and they have a high recurring injury rate. This is due to pushing beyond the injury, causing the injury to eventually become chronic.

Not surprisingly, diet and exercise throughout life are important ways to head off osteoporosis. In fact, regular weight-bearing exercise such as jogging, walking, weight training or skiing (in moderation) may minimize bone-mass loss.

Girls never outgrow their need for calcium. Drinking milk and eating calcium-rich foods (like yogurt, nonfat milk, lowfat cottage cheese) assures that you’ll become a strong, healthy woman with a lower liklihood of osteoporosis.

Consequences of competitive sports training include overtraining injuries and psychological harm. The best advice is to take responsibility for your health and learn how to develop peak performance without causing long-term damage to your body.

Play on.
by Jasmine Obhrai, CSCS

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