Avoiding Overtraining Syndrome and Benefitting from Overreaching


By Dan McCarthy//High Performance Consultant

The best way for coaches to avoid their athletes experiencing Overtraining Syndrome is to recognize when they have begun to overreach. In reality, few athletes are ever over-trained, but all athletes experience overreaching; and they should. Properly recovering from a period of overreaching results in improved fitness and performance, and according to research, monitoring the changes in heart rate and blood-lactate concentration are accurate means of determining if an athlete has overreached.

According to Kreider, overreaching is an accumulation of training and/or non-training related stress resulting in a short-term decrease in performance; additionally, while appearing to be similar to overreaching, overtraining results in a long-term decrease in performance. A few days to a couple of weeks of recovery will benefit an overreached athlete; however, it may take weeks or even months for an athlete to recover from overtraining. An uptick in training yardage and/or intensity towards the end of a training cycle can push an athlete into an overreached state. The failure to recognize the need for a recovery period and continuing to amplify the training could lead to overtraining.

Monitoring changes in heart rate and blood-lactate concentration on an easily repeatable test set appears to be the most valuable tool in assessing if an athlete has begun to overreach. In fact, changes at the metabolic level occur before they become obvious when watching an athlete swim. An athlete’s heart rate and blood-lactate concentration will decrease compared to a baseline test set before their technique crumbles or their stroke-rate becomes inconsistent.

A less reliable method is to monitor only heart rate changes: specifically, waking heart rate or heart rate at rest. Some studies have found an increase in resting/waking heart rate when an athlete has begun to overreach in their training. Many variables like room temperature, hydration and caffeine intake, can affect waking heart rate. When using resting/waking heart rate to identify overreaching, it is recommended an athlete journal their heart rate soon after waking up, but before getting out of bed. It may take some time before an athlete and coach become confident in the data produced using this method.

Once an athlete has been identified as being overreached, it is crucial for them to recover properly in order for them to benefit from their intense training and avoid Overtraining Syndrome. The most important recovery strategies are:

1. Getting enough sleep (naps are good!)
2. Getting enough energy (eat adequate carbohydrates)
3. Staying hydrated (drink water often)

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