Overtraining in sports: 8 tips on how to avoid it

fig7In order to enhance an athletes performance, there is the inevitable need for constant progress in training loads. Demands of training sessions can be great and thus it is important to be aware of training intensity, volume and recovery. Every training session, whose goal is skills and abilities improvement, results an overload. During the recovery phase, the athletes’ abilities improve by virtue of their adaptation to previous training stress. In modern periodization, it is normal to have several overload training sessions with insufficient recovery between them, but planned and adequate recovery comes after. That principle is called overreaching. If recovery is not planned in a proper way, together with other important factors (such as the tips below), overtraining can set in and become a serious issue for the athlete and the team.

Several factors can show overtraining syndrome, so if the coach has any doubts, he/she should be analyzing the phenomenon from different perspectives. Physical and physiological markers can be; hormonal levels in the blood (e.g. testosteron- kortizol ratio), urin analysis or greater oscilations in blood pressure. Furthermore, heart rate (especially intra training HR and recovery HR) can be screened, quality of sleep, body mass gain or loss, longer delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) than usual, joint soreness, loss of apetite and of will. Psychological markers are of the same importance and it is thus important to identify any loss of concentration, signs of anxiety or even depression .


1.      Periodization

An acurate plan and program for a full season is a must in today’s sports. Goals and training methods should be noted by macrocycle, mesocycle and microcycle planning. Futhermore, all the material factors (e.g. equipment, diet and supplementation) should be acknowleged. It is very important to state that plan and program have to be flexible for any changes during the training period in realtion to coaches feedback on athlete’s and team’s current status.

2.      Intensity + Volume = The Load

Total training load is presented through intesity and volume. Intesity can be explained as an exercises demand on the cardiopulmonary system (e.g. more related to activities such as running or cycling) or neuromuscular system (e.g. weight lifting exercises). It should be tracked at all times during the training, for example through HR monitoring or Borg’s scale of RPE (i.e. rating of perceived exertion). Volume can be defined as the time duration of the exercises or number of repetitions in sets. The most important factor is a constant variation of both intesity and volume (usually in reverse ratio) during the season.

3.      Tapering

Tapering is peaking of both team’s and athlete’s performance for the most important contest of the season. Usually it is done by continuous or sudden cessation of training load (usually volume) in order to enhance abilities and skills. Furthermore, tapering can be used for overtraining prevention and thus it plays a very important role in periodization.

4.      Recovery = Training

Recovery is not merely a rest time during the practice session but every moment spent away from the training as well. Rest time during the practice depends on training goals and for than reason should be accurately determined. Rest that comes after (and between) practices is of the utmost importance. Adaptation to training stress is the No.1 principle of sports training and thus recovery after the practice has a direct influence on perfomance enhancement. Regular sleep of optimal duration is advised together with power naps if needed. Recovery also covers diet (explained below) and different bio-medical methods which has been presented in one of the previous articles on the blog.

5.      Diet and Hydration

There are thousands of books written about sports nutrition and in this article we just want to stress important role of nutrition and hydration in sports. The reason why people need energy from food is well known- for the replenishment of energy loss caused by physical activity and essential bodily functions such as metabolism and brain activity. In sports, ones diet is planned according to ones sporting demands. Glycogen depletion determines carbohydrate intake and muscle mass maintenance or gain is regulated by protein intake. Futhermore, fat, minerals and vitamins regulate and support different processes within the body which can be of great importance for keeping the body in homeostasis. Supplementation (e.g. creatine monohydrate, whey protein, amino-acids etc.) should be a part of a professional athlete’s diet but needs to be regulated by a nutritionist, strength and conditioning coach and/or physiotherapist. Water or sports drinks should be constantly taken during the practices as well as during the rest of the day. Remember not to drink just when you are thirsty, as this is already a signthat your body is approaching dehydration.

6.      Individualization

Even though team sports follow a group training approach most of the time, it is of crucial importance to look at each athlete individualy. Every human is different and for that reason performance enhancement (i.e. the improvement of skills and abilities) should be considered according to an individuals ability for adaptation. Practices where every athlete has the same exercises with the same load and number of reps and sets cannot bringabout an optimal outcome for each individual.

7.      Avoid monotony

An insistance upon a single,, constant style of warm-up and preparation for practices, cool-down process, same strength and power exercises, same duration of each practice are all factors that can lead to psychological saturation and a possible loss of will. Variation of the previously mentioned factors can succesfully influence avoiding overtraining.

8.      Communication

Last but not least, communication in team sports is an extremly significant factor in an  athletes’ overall improvement as well as the prevention of developing overtraining syndrome. The coach-player relationship provides a good source of feedback to coach about a players psycho-physical state. The relationship among the staff is fundamental, starting from optimal seasonal planning down to the exact planning of specifics for each training session. The head coach needs to be aware of everything that the assistant coach, strength and conditioning coach and physiotherapist do and viceversa; awareness of all roles should be maintained by everyone involved in the team.

In conclusion, I leave you with Vern Gambetta’s famous quote:

„No one session or week of training will make an athlete’s career, but one session or week can break it.“

This entry was posted in exercise physiology, sport medicine and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Overtraining in sports: 8 tips on how to avoid it

  1. You haven’t talked about stretching here, what are your thoughts on stretching both pre and post exercise??

    • Luka Svilar says:

      Dear JP, thanks for your comment. I agree that stretching is a very important part of each practice. At the beginning of practice it is important to perform dynamic stretching but i don’t think it can influence the overtraining appearance that much, except if it follows tip number 7. If we talk about post exercise stretching (I usually use PNF and static methods) I would say it can have great influence on the overtraining prevention. Most important benefits for use of stretching in the end of practice are both muscle and psychological relaxation of course. Do not forget foam rolling as well. Your comment was very useful, from now on I can say I have 9 tips on how to avoid the OT syndrome. 🙂

  2. Your welcome. This was a good piece. I do coaching as well as play so it is always good to read good and useful information.

  3. Luka Svilar says:

    🙂 Much appreciated.

  4. Fern says:

    Thanks for this post. Now i know that in training is not good always.

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