Aug 17, 2021 in DIS-TANZ-SOLO

We all like to train to get better at what we do. For some reason, this is something that is in the DNA of all dancers and athletes. Now if we don’t see the expected results even after weeks of training, if our performance stagnates or even declines, it may be because we are undertraining and simply not pushing ourselves hard enough, but it may also be that we are overreaching or overtraining.

Failure to progress in training can usually be traced back to one of these three issues…. the sooner we recognize them, the sooner we can remedy them and get back to performing at our best.

I’m sure most of us can sense most readily when we’re not training hard enough, so I’d like to get right into the topic of overtraining, or what is sometimes called unexplained underperformance syndrome.

Signs of Overtraining

In strength training or other sports where there is a measurable training performance, it becomes apparent that overtraining has occurred at the latest when the results achieved are continuously suboptimal. In dance, it is often more difficult to recognize the first signs of overtraining, as performance fluctuations are often perceived much more subjectively. However, apart from the decline in one's performance in the gym or dance studio, there are a lot of other possible early warning signs.
  • Lack of motivation, energy, and enthusiasm to work out or rehearse
  • Continuously sore and/or weak muscles
  • Excessive fatigue or lethargy outside of the gym or dance studio
  • Increased stress levels, anxiety, and depressive moods
  • Difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, and inability to relax
  • Insomnia
  • Decrease in sex drive
  • Loss of appetite
One should keep in mind that overtraining syndrome is difficult to diagnose because the symptomatology can vary considerably from athlete to athlete and there is still a lack of individualized testing protocols and gold standard markers. If you only notice one or two of the above symptoms, it does not mean that you are necessarily overtrained. However, several symptoms together are indicative of overtraining, and you should take action as soon as possible and consult with a trusted coach or sports physician to avoid a prolonged break from training.

How does overtraining occur?

There are a number of theories as to what ultimately causes overtraining syndrome: there is the glycogen hypothesis, the central fatigue hypothesis, the glutamine hypothesis, the oxidative stress hypothesis, the autonomic nervous system hypothesis, the hypothalamic hypothesis, and the cytokine hypothesis.

But at least on the surface, the answer to why overtraining occurs is a simple one: we want and do too much. We push our body more than it is able to cope with. Combined with insufficient relaxation and regeneration, we eventually reach a point where our performance declines. Some known factors in this process are:

  • Too much high intensity training, typically over too long a period of time
  • Sudden drastic increases in the frequency, length or intensity of the exercise program or rehearsal schedule
  • Insufficient rest between training sessions or while on tour
  • No vacation, no weekend breaks, no off-season
  • High levels of stress and anxiety
  • Insufficient sleep
  • Inadequate nutrition, typically in the form of caloric and carbohydrate/fat restriction
Again, pushing just one of these factors to the limit might not necessarily lead to overtraining, but if several factors are combined and we continue to push ourselves over the edge, then at some point overtraining can no longer be averted.

Strategies against overtraining

The strategies for preventing or curing overtraining syndrome result quite logically from the symptoms described above. Most of these strategies should be followed ahead of time to avoid overtraining before it occurs, and appropriate adjustments should be made to your training plan if necessary. Once you notice serious overtraining symptoms, it may already be too late and require a recovery period of several weeks.
  • If you notice first symptoms of overtraining, stop exercising and take a break for a few days until you feel better. I know that sometimes this is easier said than done. Those who have a tight-knit work and touring schedule cannot always afford to take such breaks. But if you are one of those people who tend to overtrain simply because you are over-motivated, then take a few days, sometimes even up to two weeks, to allow your body and mind to recover. You will then be able to return to a training program even stronger and more focused than before.
  • In strength training, it is common to have a deload week after hard training phases (e.g. every 8-10 weeks). By this you mean reducing the number of sets and repetitions, the duration or the intensity of the training. If you do 3 sets of an exercise with 12 repetitions each, do 2 sets of 8 repetitions instead. Similarly, you could keep the original 3x12 but reduce the weights per exercise by 30 per cent. If instead of being in the weight room you are more likely to join a spinning class where you are hitting 180 beats per minute, try not to let your heart rate go above 160 bpm instead. In dance, of course, these adjustments are again more subjective, but the principle remains the same. Adjust the appropriate variables until your overtraining symptoms subside.
  • Try to relieve tension and stress before it gets out of hand. There are countless ways to relieve muscle tension and mental anxiety, including sports massage, meditation, yoga, sauna, or whatever is good for you. Try to schedule time that includes a relaxation component, even if it's just 10-15 minutes a day.
  • Make sure you get a long and good night's sleep. The body needs recovery periods to react to the training stimuli. If you suffer from poor sleep, try to find the causes and eliminate all influences that negatively affect your sleep.
  • Identify and correct nutrient deficiencies in your diet. Insufficiently meeting the body's energy needs before and after exercise can also lead to an overtraining state. Immediately after exercise, providing the body with an adequate supply of a mixture of proteins and carbohydrates should be a priority. As a fundamental component of the body's hormones, cells and tissues, healthy fat should not be avoided but consumed in moderation. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and be sure to drink water before, during and after exercise.
It is always important to remember that training progress does not happen during the training itself, but through the body's reaction and adaptation to the stress it is exposed to. Rest and recovery outside of exercise allow for the repair of damaged muscle fibres, the restoration of glycogen stores (muscle fuel) and the restoration of hormone levels that are essential for normal body function. The right balance of these components is essential for a healthy body, high metabolism and reduced fat storage. So allow yourself an appropriate amount of recovery when you are challenging your body. By regenerating during the recovery period, you can achieve better training results and avoid injuries, excessive fatigue and lack of motivation.

Overtraining vs. Overreaching

While overtraining is defined as an increase in training volume and/or intensity that leads to performance degradation and where recovery from this condition often requires many weeks or even months, a shorter or less severe variant of overtraining is called overreaching. Overreaching is the far more common manifestation of the two and, unlike true overtraining syndrome, overreaching can be recovered from within a few days and is used periodically in many structured training programs to diversify the training stimulus.

A distinction is sometimes made between functional and non-functional overreaching in this context. Let us therefore quickly recap how we make progress in performance in the first place:

Depending on the training goal (e.g. hypertrophy, strength, local muscular endurance or cardiorespiratory endurance of the musculoskeletal system), we adjust the training variables and exercise selection in our training program. This forces our body to adapt through neurological, structural and hormonal changes. However, these changes are only achieved when we are challenged beyond our comfort level (progressive overload principle).

By providing overload in the training program, we can ensure that we are functionally overreaching and progressing as anticipated. This creates a staircase effect. We experience acute fatigue and a temporary drop in performance, but quickly return to normal or even slightly increased function. With long-term overreaching, the body's functional abilities may be suppressed for several days. However, they rebound dramatically (i.e. they rise above pre-exercise levels) when the overload stimulus is removed (supercompensation theory).

Now, if we don't make sure that we get enough rest periods, sufficient sleep and adequate nutrition, and we continue to push ourselves to or beyond our limits, then the body will be unable to adapt positively. Our performance will slowly start to decline and some training adaptations we had already gained may be lost again. In other words, we are in the midst of non-functional overreaching, which if left unaddressed will ultimately lead to overtraining.

So while overreaching, used correctly, can be an effective way to improve performance, it requires a certain amount of experience and sensitivity to avoid achieving the opposite of what is intended. You have to know how far you can push yourself and at what frequency you should schedule recovery phases. In any case, make sure to track your progress, listen to your body, look for early warning signs and react thoughtfully and promptly if something feels off.


RBME Journal Cover


by Fellipe Pinheiro Savioli, Thairon Mesquita Medeiros, Sergio Luiz Camara Jr., Elizabeth Peres Biruel & Carlos Vicente Andreoli
(Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte 24/5, September/October 2018)

Overtraining syndrome (OTS) is a condition associated with diminished sports performance due to an increase in the volume and/or intensity of physical activity without adequate rest, and/or due to an inadequate diet. The condition often involves hormonal, nutritional, emotional, muscle, immune and neurological imbalances. Epidemiology varies considerably, affecting both sexes in different age groups. Diagnosis is still a challenge, as the syndrome resembles different diseases. The lack of specific symptoms requires a meticulous investigation in all athletes, which is often multidisciplinary. OTS can have an important repercussion on sports performance and on the quality of life of athletes. This is a mapping of scientific literature along the lines of the Systemic Review. The databases investigated were: MEDLINE and Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature – LILACS and EMBASE, in addition to printed documents. Studies describing OTS were included, prioritizing articles that report the efficacy of the different diagnostic methods, be they clinical, laboratory, or imaging. We found 83 articles, of which 30 were selected. The only symptom present in all the different forms of manifestation of OTS is loss of performance. However, some tests assessing oxidative stress levels seem promising, even though they are not specific.

MDPI Sports Journal Cover

“Is It Overtraining or Just Work Ethic?”: Coaches’ Perceptions of Overtraining in High-Performance Strength Sports

by Lee Bell, Alan Ruddock, Tom Maden-Wilkinson, Dave Hembrough & David Rogerson
(Sports 9/6, June 2021)

Optimal physical performance is achieved through the careful manipulation of training and recovery. Short-term increases in training demand can induce functional overreaching (FOR) that can lead to improved physical capabilities, whereas nonfunctional overreaching (NFOR) or the overtraining syndrome (OTS) occur when high training-demand is applied for extensive periods with limited recovery. To date, little is known about the OTS in strength sports, particularly from the perspective of the strength sport coach. Fourteen high-performance strength sport coaches from a range of strength sports (weightlifting; n = 5, powerlifting; n = 4, sprinting; n = 2, throws; n = 2, jumps; n = 1) participated in semistructured interviews (mean duration 57; SD = 10 min) to discuss their experiences of the OTS. Reflexive thematic analysis resulted in the identification of four higher order themes: definitions, symptoms, recovery and experiences and observations. Additional subthemes were created to facilitate organisation and presentation of data, and to aid both cohesiveness of reporting and publicising of results. Participants provided varied and sometimes dichotomous perceptions of the OTS and proposed a multifactorial profile of diagnostic symptoms. Prevalence of OTS within strength sports was considered low, with the majority of participants not observing or experiencing long-term reductions in performance with their athletes.

Monitoring the athlete training response: subjective self-reported measures trump commonly used objective measures: a systematic review

by Anna E. Saw, Luana C. Main & Paul B. Gastin
(British Journal of Sports Medicine 50/5,March 2016)

Monitoring athlete well-being is essential to guide training and to detect any progression towards negative health outcomes and associated poor performance. Objective (performance, physiological, biochemical) and subjective measures are all options for athlete monitoring. We systematically reviewed objective and subjective measures of athlete well-being. Objective measures, including those taken at rest (eg, blood markers, heart rate) and during exercise (eg, oxygen consumption, heart rate response), were compared against subjective measures (eg, mood, perceived stress). All measures were also evaluated for their response to acute and chronic training load. The databases Academic search complete, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, SPORTDiscus and PubMed were searched in May 2014. Fifty-six original studies reported concurrent subjective and objective measures of athlete well-being. The quality and strength of findings of each study were evaluated to determine overall levels of evidence. Subjective and objective measures of athlete well-being generally did not correlate. Subjective measures reflected acute and chronic training loads with superior sensitivity and consistency than objective measures. Subjective well-being was typically impaired with an acute increase in training load, and also with chronic training, while an acute decrease in training load improved subjective well-being. This review provides further support for practitioners to use subjective measures to monitor changes in athlete well-being in response to training. Subjective measures may stand alone, or be incorporated into a mixed methods approach to athlete monitoring, as is current practice in many sport settings.

Sports Health Journal Cover

Overtraining Syndrome: A Practical Guide

by Jeffrey B. Kreher & Jennifer B. Schwartz
(Sports Health 4/2, March/April 2012)

Fatigue and underperformance are common in athletes. Understanding overtraining syndrome (OTS) is helpful in the evaluation, management, and education of athletes. Relevant articles in English were searched with OVID (1948-2011) and PubMed using the following keywords: overtraining syndrome, overtraining, overreaching, unexplained underperformance, staleness, pathophysiology, management, treatment, evaluation. Bibliographies were reviewed for additional resources. OTS appears to be a maladapted response to excessive exercise without adequate rest, resulting in perturbations of multiple body systems (neurologic, endocrinologic, immunologic) coupled with mood changes. Many hypotheses of OTS pathogenesis are reviewed, and a clinical approach to athletes with possible OTS (including history, testing, and prevention) is presented. OTS remains a clinical diagnosis with arbitrary definitions per the European College of Sports Science’s position statement. History and, in most situations, limited serologies are helpful. However, much remains to be learned given that most past research has been on athletes with overreaching rather than OTS.

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Cover


by Brad J. Schoenfeld
(Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24/10, October 2010)

The quest to increase lean body mass is widely pursued by those who lift weights. Research is lacking, however, as to the best approach for maximizing exercise-induced muscle growth. Bodybuilders generally train with moderate loads and fairly short rest intervals that induce high amounts of metabolic stress. Powerlifters, on the other hand, routinely train with high-intensity loads and lengthy rest periods between sets. Although both groups are known to display impressive muscularity, it is not clear which method is superior for hypertrophic gains. It has been shown that many factors mediate the hypertrophic process and that mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress all can play a role in exercise-induced muscle growth. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is twofold: (a) to extensively review the literature as to the mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to exercise training and (b) to draw conclusions from the research as to the optimal protocol for maximizing muscle growth.

Header photo by BLACKDAY on Shutterstock
Some text passages were adapted from Ben Greenfield's text ALL ABOUT OVERTRAINING


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Gefördert durch die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Programm NEUSTART KULTUR, Hilfsprogramm DIS-TANZEN des Dachverband Tanz Deutschland.

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