Athletic Training column

Avoid overtraining injuries

By Jenn Mroz | Jun 01, 2014
Photo by: File Jenn Mroz

In the world of athletics, it’s been said that there is no “off-season”.  Athletes aren’t taking much time off after their competitive sports season has ended before they begin working out in the weight room or in skill development.  This type of behavior can lead to chronic overuse injuries or predispose an athlete to a more serious acute injury if a rest period isn’t in place to allow the body to recover.  Both types of injuries can compromise performance, limit abilities and lessen the enjoyment of participating in their sport.
Overtraining can result in physical as well as emotional or psychological symptoms.  A physical result of doing the same exercises or movements repetitively over time is chronic inflammation.  Over the course of the competitive season, swelling can develop in muscles and tendons.  It may not be visible, but anyone who has felt “crackling” and “popping” in their tendons has experienced it.  This chronic inflammation can make the tendons more brittle and puts them at risk for tears.
Another physical effect is muscle imbalance, when the same muscles are being used over and over in the same way, while other muscles are neglected.  If an athlete only performs weight lifting exercises that strengthen the chest muscles (like bench press) and don’t do any upper back exercises (like pull-downs), then the shoulder joint is at risk for dislocation.  At the knee joint, only performing squats, and not including any hamstring strengthening, will predispose the athlete to ACL tears.  It is essential that exercises are done in proper balance to the muscles surrounding the joints.
There are some other general, non-descript physical symptoms, too.  These include joint soreness or mild body aches without a definitive injury, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and a decrease in performance.
The psychological result of overtraining is burnout.  Having been an athletic trainer for 19 years, I’ve seen it at different levels of competition and experienced it myself.  One of the reasons I enjoy working with high school athletics is the fact that the athletes are playing their sports because they love the game.  At the collegiate level, burnout is much more common.  These athletes have been playing their sport their entire life, and some may only be playing because they got a scholarship and need it to get a college education.  Some, not all, begin to enjoy it less and less, until it becomes tedious.  It can also occur after a long season, especially if the athlete plays one sport year-round.  Symptoms of burnout include mental fatigue, lack of physical energy, moodiness or irritability, a sense of being overwhelmed, and a loss of enthusiasm.
There is good news, though.  Overtraining and burnout can be prevented.  Become a multi-sport athlete.  Cross train with a variety of exercises and activities so that you’re using different muscle groups in different ways.  Cross training also keeps you interested in your workouts so you don’t get bored.  Allow for a rest period after a competitive season has ended before starting workouts.  If you’re lifting weights, make sure you don’t lift the same muscle groups in successive days.  Remember that more is not always better. Take care of your body, physically and mentally, so that you can always be at your best.
Next time I’ll discuss common shoulder injuries. Until then, stay healthy.

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