Many people live their lives in pursuit of better fitness. While this quest is largely a positive one, it can also have an unexpected side effect: overtraining syndrome (OTS). This phenomenon strikes members as well as fitness business professionals. Here’s a closer look at OTS, along with tips for preventing, detecting, and caring for people suffering from the condition.

What Is Overtraining Syndrome?

“Burnout, or overtraining syndrome, is a condition in which an athlete experiences fatigue and declining performance in sport despite continuing or increased training. Overtraining can result in mood changes, decreased motivation, frequent injuries, and even infections.  Burnout is thought to be a result of the physical and emotional stress of training,” says Rady Children’s Hospital.

Simply put, OTS occurs when someone fails to recover properly from training and/or competition. Caused by too much exercise, chronic underfueling, or a combination of the two, it can lead to changes in hormones, decreased immune system function, fatigue, and psychological changes. 

While we often think of OTS in the context of elite athletes who specialize in a single sport, it can also be caused by sudden increases in training, endurance sports, low self-esteem, and pressure to perform.  OTS affects men and women equally.

OTS Signs and Symptoms 

Understanding the early signs of OTS is an invaluable preventative measure. According to the American Council on Exercise, these include the following:

  • Lack of improved performance and/or decreased agility, strength, and endurance despite increased training intensity
  • Increased perceived effort during exercise, such as an abnormally elevated heart rate either while working out or throughout the day
  • Excessive fatigue beyond the usual “heavy legs” resulting in “low energy availability” in which the body starts to consistently rely on its own energy stores
  • Agitation and moodiness caused by changes in the stress hormones, cortisol, and epinephrine
  • Insomnia, restless sleep, and the inability to wind down and completely relax
  • Appetite suppression, as opposed to the typical appetite stimulation, caused 
  • Chronic or nagging aches, joint pain, and injuries caused by overuse
  • Metabolic imbalance and medical complications, such as iron deficiency anemia 
  • Psychological stress and depression

Preventing and Treating OTS in Clients

If left unaddressed, OTS can actually result in a decreased fitness level. It has also been associated with injuries. The good news? It is avoidable. The first step is to design training programs which incorporate both active recovery and complete rest. Educating members about the importance of rest, as well as other healthy lifestyle habits, is also critical. 

If you do recognize these signs of overtraining in a client, rest is the first line of defense against bigger problems. Some clients may need additional recovery days added to their workout plan; others may need a decrease in exercise volume and/or intensity. Emphasizing lower-intensity physical activities including everything from walking and stretching to mind-body programs can also be useful. If clients continue to exhibit OTS symptoms despite meaningful changes to the exercise program, an appointment with a physician may be appropriate. 

Two women looking at a document in a gym.

Preventing and Treating OTS in Trainers

It’s also important for fitness professionals to remember that they’re not immune to OTS. In fact, if they repeatedly demonstrate the same exercise while fitting in their own training, they may be especially susceptible to the condition. Preventative strategies for personal trainers, instructors, and other fitness professionals include the following: 

  • Limiting the number of classes taught
  • Holding back from participating at your highest intensity
  • Counting your personal workouts into your weekly workout tally
  • Choosing lighter weights when teaching classes and demonstrating exercises than you would in your own workout
  • Alternating the side of the body you demonstrate exercise on
  • Scheduling at least one day a week away from the gym and at least one week of rest every three months or so
  • Eating right and getting plenty of sleep
  • Seeing a doctor or other healthcare professional at the first sign of an injury or OTS

One last thing to keep in mind? While taking time off can be frustrating, it’s an investment in long-term health and wellbeing. A few days off now leads to better production and fewer missed training in the future. Wearable technology can play a vital role in helping to understand key metrics pertaining to OTS. Request a demo today to learn what Accurofit can do for your fitness business community.