October 26, 2017
As youth sports become more competitive, young athletes are training longer and harder than they have in the past. This leads to higher levels of athletic performance, but has the potential to bring on symptoms of overreaching or overtraining. Overreaching can be caused by increased workloads, decreased ability to recover or a combination of both.
Imagine a kitchen sink, with a faucet and a drain. The faucet is filling the sink up with water, which represents training fatigue that the athlete accumulates through practicing and training. The drain is the body’s ability to recover and compensate for that additional stress. As long as the drain is large enough, or the sink is filling slowly enough, the athlete is able to fully recover from session to session and they are at peak performance. If the drain is too small, or the water is coming out of the faucet too quickly, then the sink will overflow, and the athlete will have more fatigue than they are able to recover from. This leads to overreaching, and if it continues, eventually overtraining.
The interplay between stressors and recovery is complex, as the body’s central nervous system and endocrine system respond to most stressors in a similar manner. Whether a basketball practice, weight lifting, exams at school or relationships at home, an athletes body uses similar fight or flight mechanisms to recover from them. While an athlete’s training load may be appropriate, the combination of all of life’s stressors may accumulate and add up to more than they can recover from.
Symptoms of overreaching include:
- Increased resting heart rate or decreased blood pressure
- Persistent soreness, often with light activity, and the feeling of heavy and stiff muscles
- Feelings of fatigue, frustration or lack of motivation
- Nagging or chronic injuries
- Decreased immune function
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Inability to keep up with athletic, scholastic and social activities
- Loss of appetite
Treatment of overreaching and prevention of overtraining mainly involve resting from activity. Recommendations include:
- Break from all activity for two days, followed by light activity <50 minutes for three days
- Sleeping >8 hours a day
- Good nutritional habits and not missing meals
- Planning out training sessions and practices to decrease fatigue and increase recovery
The main goals for treating overreaching are to prevent symptoms from progressing to overtraining. Overtraining occurs when the athlete has been overreaching for greater than six months, and symptoms can linger for months to years after that, often resulting in the athlete quitting their sport altogether.
In conclusion, we need to ensure our youth athletes are not training more than they can recover. This is often difficult to judge, as younger athletes seem to have endless energy and drive to play their sports. Through proper training and rest protocols, our youth athletes should have long, healthy and successful athletic careers.