Are you Overtraining?

Exercise is a stress to the body and the goal is for it to be a positive stress. A person’s rate of adaptation and response to training is genetically limited and cannot be forced beyond his or her own body’s capacity for development. Hence, each individual responds differently to the same training stress. When MMA athletes train, they must maintain proper balance between volume and intensity. Too much training can reduce the athlete’s optimal potential for improvement and in some cases can cause a breakdown in the adaptation process, eventually reducing performance. We call this overtraining; a point at which an athlete experiences physiological maladaptations and chronic performance decrements.

With overtraining, an athlete becomes more susceptible to performance decrements and injuries. Overtraining basically stresses the body beyond its capacity to adapt, decreasing an athlete’s performance and physiological capacity. In addition, many injuries occur as a result of overtraining. Sometimes overtraining cannot be remedied by a few days of reduced training, rest, or dietary manipulation

Occasionally athletes might actually be undertrained. Coaches start to notice that performance improves with a subsequent increase in training intensity and volume. However, the concept of “more is better” is not true after a certain point. Since intensity and volume are inversely related, they should not be increased simultaneously. Overtraining is highly individualized and subjective, therefore, both the coach and athlete must pay careful attention to the body’s signs and symptoms. These can be a decline in performance, loss in muscle strength, coordination, and work capacity, changes in appetite, unexplained body weight loss, sleep disturbances, irritability, restlessness, excitability, anxiousness, loss of motivation and vigor, decreased desire to train, lack of mental concentration, feelings of depression, lack of appreciation for things normally enjoyable, muscle tenderness, increased risk for infection, and nausea.

The way MMA coaches and athletes can help prevent overtraining is to balance easy and hard days. Likewise, careful attention should be paid to increases in resting heart rate and blood pressure, and early onset of fatigue. Coaches can use the fighter’s heart rate or lactate response to a standard bout of exercise and observe whether an increase occurs over a period of days. Heart rate response to a standard exercise bout appears to be the easiest and most accurate technique to diagnose overtraining in its early stages. Unusually high, or low, heart rate responses might be suggestive of overtraining. Thresholds are different for each athlete and oftentimes coaches do not realize until too late. Following proper periodization procedures and ensuring adequate caloric intake, in particular carbohydrate intake to meet energy needs, will also help decrease the risk of overtraining. Because recovery might take days, weeks, and sometimes months of rest, overtraining is something that coaches and athletes alike must be careful with and pay very close attention to the body’s signs and symptoms.

Kenney, L. H., J. H. Wilmore, and D. L. Costill. "Physiology of sport and exercise." 5th Edition. Champaign: Human Kinetics (2012).