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The Signs of Overtraining

There was a time in my sport where I felt on top of the world. I was the strongest I had ever been, I was the leanest, and I was finishing on the podium. What a great feeling it was, like a drug almost. Little did I know I would be slapped in the face with competition burn out and injury. 

In a span of 6 months I had competed 4 times. Why? Because I was relatively new to the powerlifting competition scene and didn't know better. In the world of powerlifting it takes a long time to peak properly for an event. Trying to prepare four times felt like I was always switched on, not allowing myself to rest and recover. Until of course I reached burn out.  I had all kinds of time to rest then! 

Hitting that low point was like being in a relationship rut.  Before I packed it in I was simply going through the motions, pretending to be on top of my game. I was exhausted, riding that adrenaline wave was doing a number on me. My training suffered, I became careless with my efforts and my technique. My body hurt, I got sick frequently, everything felt heavy, and being at the gym simply sucked the life out of me. I thought I just needed a change, I needed to keep exercising so I ran and swam more frequently.  I really needed rest.

It impacted more than my training, but my life as well.  My attention span dropped, my brain felt foggy, I was moody and I became depressed.  I hated work, I hated where I lived.  There was nothing in my life that wasn't affected. 

And then I got injured. Life came to a stand still.  Suddenly the sport I was despising seemed so appealing.  I had taken for granted a sport that has done so much for me.  I couldn't train even if I wanted to.  I was injured and couldn't keep going in the same direction.

Hindsight, I was battling what some call overtraining syndrome. It often occurs in athletes who are preparing for competition and train beyond their ability to recover. It can lead to hormonal, mental, neurological, and muscular imbalances.

How ironic that someone whose career is based on rest and recovery wouldn't see the signs?  Even as I write this I am shaking my head.  I guess this makes even care givers human.

I asked myself some tough questions:

Why was I doing this?

What are my goals?

What if I can't lift anymore?

More questions were asked, but no answers were forthcoming. These questions would slowly get answered over a period of two years.  Amazing how time flies.  Six months ago, with doctor's approval, I finally felt ready to compete again.  I missed training, I missed the camaraderie at the gym, I missed working towards a goal.  However, I was hesitant.  Would I see the signs if it were to happen again?

My plan was to start from scratch. I started training with no expectations except to complete that training session.  Bit by bit I rebuilt my training foundation, and my psyche.  I was finally ready to pick a competition to get back on the platform.  From there I strategized the rest of my 2017, picking only two competitions for the year.  My focus has changed, no longer am I chasing that adrenaline, but loving the satisfaction of being healthy and strong.  I learned to be gracious to myself, allowing time to recover, and if while training things aren't feeling just right, allowing myself to lower the weight so my training session is successful.  Going home with no failed reps is far better than an incomplete training session.

I am excited for my 2017 competition season.  I'm a little wiser or maybe a little more realistic.  Regardless, it's great to be back in a sport I love so much.

Are you at risk for overtraining syndrome?  The following are some signs that you could be pushing beyond the limits.

  • Lacking energy, tired
  • Sudden drop in performance
  • Moodiness
  • Insomnia
  • Lowered immunity
  • Increased injuries
  • Lowered capacity to train
  • Depression
  • Aches and pains
  • No appetite

If these signs mean something to you, speak to your coach, parent, friend, training partner and take a break.  Don't be afraid to revamp your short term goals, you'll come back better than ever.

Yvonne Sanche is a registered massage therapist and owner of St. Albert Sports Recovery.  She specializes in therapeutic massage and Fascial Stretch Therapy. www.stalbertsportsrecovery.com (780)217-2481

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