Do you train every day? Twice per day? Training jiu jitsu is fun, and can get you to the point where you train more than you ever did before. The more you train, the better you get? True, to some extent. Read here what encompasses the so-called “overtraining syndrome”, and why more is not always better.
Harder, better, faster, stronger
Let’s start off right away by drawing the picture for you. When you have a good training session (red line), you’ll be tired afterwards. Your body needs to recover from the training session. When you give it enough time to do so, it will adapt and get stronger. This adaptation is called “super compensation”. If you do another training session (green line) at the peak of this super compensation point, you will feel tired, but will once again emerge as an even more stronger version of yourself. With this knowledge, it’s imaginable that if you time your training sessions strategically with the right amount of rest in between, you’ll get stronger and better each time you train.
When the timing is off…
A problem arises when you give your body not enough rest in between your training sessions. If your body is still in recovery state, but you push it with a tough training session (blue line), your body gets tired and needs to recover – while it was still actually recovering from the training session you did before that! If you keep going like this – training with inadequate rest – your body won’t be able to keep up with what you’re doing. You’re recovery is always two steps behind and will never be able to catch up. This initial state of not being able to recover is called “overreaching”. As much as 5-60%1 of all athletes encounter this state, and research has found an increased risk in individual sports, females and elite athletes.2 It is still possible to bounce back from this state, given the condition that you take adequate rest. A prolonged state of overreaching can lead to “overtraining” (purple line). This is a much less prevalent, but specific syndrome with performance decrements and mood disturbances, that may last up to 2-3 months, if not longer.
Am I overtrained?
There is a lot of research looking into the overtraining syndrome. To this date, there are many hypotheses, but no exact cause or mechanism identified. Following that, there are no validated tests that can give you a yes or no answer to the question whether you’re overtrained or not.1 Also note that the symptoms of overtraining syndrome are non-specific and could be symptoms of many, much more common diseases. However, if you feel like you’re not enjoying training as much as usual, are tired to the bone, have trouble focusing, and might even feel down, then – regardless of the cause – it’s for sure time to re-evaluate your training program.
How do I prevent getting overtrained?
One word: balance.
How much load is there, and how much can you carry? Write down all the things you do, and all the things that enable you to do it. Keep in mind that “load” is not only determined by your training sessions. It contains other physical factors (e.g. training sessions, nutritional status, hours of sleep, being fit or ill), and also psychological factors (e.g. work, mental stress, relationships).
Then, realise that a heavy load can be carried by you some time, but not all the time: you periodize. Some weeks are busy, you might have a competition and peak. Other weeks you take a rest and train less. Make a schedule for yourself to plan in the busy weeks, and make sure to plan in the light weeks as well. Lastly: a less obvious thing to some, but very important one, is that other life stressors should be periodized as well. After all, you can’t be busy with everything, all the time.
- Kreher, J.B. (2016). Diagnosis and prevention of overtraining syndrome: an opinion on education strategies. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, July, 115-122.
- Kreher, J.B., Schwartz, J.B. (2012). Overtraining syndrome: a practical guide. Sports Health, 4 (2) : 128-138.