Overtraining, Overeaching and all the Rest Part 5

Having finally worked through my rather tedious definition of overtraining in Overtraining and Overeaching Part 1, Part 2 Part 3 and Part 4, I want to get into a few more details and some actually applied information.  Today I want to look at some more issues revolving around overtraining, specifically the idea of different ‘types’ of overtraining along with looking at a bit more physiological level to what ’causes’ it to occur.  On Friday in what should be the final part, I’ll talk about some monitoring methods and tools along with some strategies to help prevent overtraining in the first place.

.Types of Overtraining Part 1: A-type and B-type

At some point in the early days of overtraining research, there was made a distinction between what was called at the time Addisonic (or A-type) and Basedowic (B-type) overtraining.  These were meant to draw similarities to, respectively, Addison’s disease (where the body has overactive parasympathetic dominance) and Basedow’s disease (where it has overactive sympathetic dominance).

I sort of alluded to this in an earlier part of the series where I mentioned that, while, typically overtraining is marked by higher heart rates at the same workload, sometimes it’s marked by lower (and this can look like the athlete is getting fitter).  The first example would represent the old sympathetic/Basedowic overtraining; the second parasympathetic/Addisonic overtraining.

The essential idea is that, in the case of A-type overtraining, the body has become parasympathetic dominant; that is the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system is sending out too strong of a signal.  As one of the consequences of this you often see a lowered resting heart rate, lowered blood pressure and some other stuff.

As I mentioned, this can actually look like the athlete is improving their fitness although their performance still usually sucks (especially when they try to generate near maximal efforts).  In contrast, with B-type overtraining, the sympathetic nervous system is dominant, leading to increased resting (and training) heart rates, raised blood pressure, etc.

Originally, it was thought that different types of training caused the different types of overtraining.  The idea being that high volume training (as seen in endurance sports) would cause parasympathetic dominance and high intensity training (as seen in strength/power sports) caused sympathetic dominance.

But it doesn’t seem to work out that well in practice. As I’ll talk about in, I dunno, Part 7 or something, you tend to see sympathetic dominance in both types of sports when overtraining starts, regardless of type.  A more current idea is that the early stages of overtraining are marked by sympathetic dominance and if you keep pounding on the athlete, they move into parasympathetic dominance.  It’s also possible that different athlete simply show different responses although I’m unaware of data to support that idea.

If there is anything to the idea of ‘adrenal fatigue’, this is probably the closest you’ll ever see me to acknowledging it; A-type/Addisonic/Parasympathetic overtraining is thought to be a failure of the adrenal glands to keep up with demands of constant/chronic stress.  Basically, the system just shuts down (after having previously been ramped up for an extended period).

I’d note that some research on this topic suggest that, contrary to the idea that this is a bad thing, it is actually the body’s adaptation to limit damage from stress.  But I’m not saying anything more about it than that and I have no intention of discussing the topic (at least not as it relates specifically to overtraining) in the comments.

Simply, overtraining can get complicated by the fact that different responses are possible. Certainly, sympathetic overtraining seems to be the more common form, and may be the earlier form.  But it’s also possible for responses that look like a training effect (e.g. lowered resting and training HR’s) to occur, that’s parasympathetic overtraining.  Which can make real diagnosis a problem.

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Symptoms of Overtraining

Over the years, researchers and coaches have identified a number of common symptoms that tend to occur with or sometimes prior to true overtraining/underperformance and I want to look at a few of them below.

I’m not going to discuss them in detail but having them handy not only gives athletes and coaches one gross tool to use for monitoring things, it’s necessary for something I’m going to talk about on Friday .

And I call it a gross indicator for a reason I’ll get into more detail later: the various signs and symptoms of overtraining are never universal, don’t occur in all situations or in all athletes. So they aren’t perfect. But they are common.  I’d note that this list is not meant to be even remotely comprehensive, it’s just a few of the more common symptoms when overtraining has or is about to occur.

  1. Constant muscular fatigue and/or soreness (both muscle and joints).
  2. Lack of motivation to train/lethargy/overall fatigue.
  3. Higher incidence of illness.
  4. Depression in susceptible athletes.  Hostility in others.
  5. Sleep disruptions.
  6. Impaired appetite.
  7. Increased resting heart rate and blood pressure (except in the case of B-type overtraining).

As you can sort of see it’s a rather mixed bag of symptoms, and again, that’s only a handful of them.  What may stand out to you, and I deliberately sort of randomly ordered them in the list is that some seem to be related solely to muscles and such while others seem to be more brain (or at least centrally) related.  I did this for a reason.

But to keep this a bit shorter on a day to day basis, I’m going to make you wait until Part 6 on Friday to find out that reason.  See you then.

Read Overtraining, Overeaching and all the Rest Part 6.

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