The modern footballer faces a plethora of stressors on a daily basis, which can ultimately lead him/her to overtraining. In particular, if the athlete seeks to get into or already is playing at the professional level, it’s quite natural that his/her physiological and psychological load are high. All of these can lead to the physical and mental exhaustion of the individual, both in the short and in the long term. Overtraining in football definitely is a subject of concern for many athletes and coaches!
I’m sure you’ve heard the term “overtraining” and you may have thought that you may have reached this condition in some point of your career. The truth is that few athletes really reach the overtraining syndrome. This syndrome is preceded by some other pathological conditions that act as signs and precursors of the syndrome, which basically is overtraining at its final stage, if you wanna call it so. In this article we will be going through the causes, the symptoms and the treating process of overtraining and finally, prevention strategies and guidelines you can use to avoid overtraining in football.
THE DEFINITION OF OVERTRAINING
Overtraining is a pathological condition in which the athlete / footballer feels acute fatigue and experiences a drop in performance despite continuous and increased training. Overtraining in football or any other sport can lead to mood swings, reduced motivation, frequent injuries and even infections.  There are different types of overtraining which are categorized chronologically and ultimately lead to the overtraining syndrome. So, we have:
- Training fatigue – manifests itself after a demanding, high-intensity, training session and / or a competitive match
- Overreaching – usually occurs when in addition to normal (physical) stress the body also receives psychological stressors (stress, pressure, personal problems etc.)
- Acute overreaching – this is a prolonged training fatigue or overexertion and therefore, a prolonged decrease in performance is experienced
- Overtraining syndrome – this is a chronic condition in which the athlete continues to stress himself with high training and psychological load and the illusion is created that the decrease in performance is due to “inadequate” training (resulting in further increase of the training load)
One condition follows the other and every stage of overtraining is an indication for the transition to the next stage of overtraining. Therefore, the earliest possible diagnosis is really important for the athlete, the doctor and the coach, to avoid/minimize/recover from the syndrome, which I repeat, hardly anyone can reach. Of course, this does not mean that it is impossible!
CAUSES OF OVERTRAINING
The causes of overtraining in football, as we mentioned, are not limited to the body but are also related to the mental health of the trainee. There’s a variety of endogenous and exogenous factors that we mention below:
- High training load and / or intensity for an extended period of time
- Pressure (from exogenous and endogenous sources)
- Imbalanced mentality (personal problems)
- Poor training and recovery planning
- Neglecting recovery
- Unsportsmanlike way of life (habits)
- Health problems (existing)
- Electrolytic imbalances
- Poor nutrition
SYMPTOMS OF OVERTRAINING
The symptoms experienced by an over-trained athlete vary and relate to various systems of his body. Both the body and the psychology of the practitioner are negatively affected. In fact, athletes with the overtraining syndrome face physical and mental problems that drastically decrease not only the quality of their performance but the quality of life. Let’s take a look at a list of symptoms that an over-trained athlete may experience.
- Decrease in athletic performance
- Need for extensive recovery – difficulty reaching peak conditions (feeling of freshness)
- Increased heart rate at rest
- Menstrual disorders (women)
- Decreases in strength and power
- Continuous injuries
- Psychological disorders (increased anxiety, emotional instability, decreased concentration, etc.)
- Behavioral disorders
- Sleep Disorders
- Immune system vulnerable to infections
- Decreased technical quality (consistent mistakes that were once done with ease)
- Digestive disorders
- Constant and / or acute feeling of fatigue
- Intense thirst
- Headaches / migraines
Finally, If you think you’re an overtrained individual and experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it would be wise to consult a health professional. Early diagnosis will save you days, weeks or even months! Don’t run into any assumptions just by reading this or any other article on the internet. Seek medical care and get it coupled with blood and biochemical tests to receive a broad overview of your condition.
TREATING AN OVERTRAINED ATHLETE
The treatment for overtraining in football varies since, as mentioned, there are different types of overtraining, based (mainly) on chronological criteria. So the first step to treat overtraining is to avoid any activity for a while and rest. This off-period mainly depends on the type of overtraining you’re experiencing. It ranges from a week (training fatigue) and can reach up to an entire season (overtraining syndrome).
The Mental Side Of Overtraining
At the same time, attention should be paid to the psychological state of the over-trained athlete. As we said above, overtraining syndrome and all categories of overtraining depend not only on physical exertion but also on psychological. It is therefore necessary to recover the mind and discharge the body. In addition, the over-trained person can work with a sports psychologist-psychiatrist to deal with any mental issues as effectively as possible.
Of course, the symptoms we have mentioned are related to various systems and functions of the human body, so it is necessary to treat any symptoms that arise in whatever way the healthcare pro deems necessary.
Maintaining or acquiring proper, healthy eating habits is an urgent need (even if you are not overtrained). Adequate hydration and a diet high in carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats is a fundamental step in avoiding and tackling the problem of overtraining. At this stage, the athlete’s examinations are also very important. Blood and biochemical tests can give the individual a clear picture of the body’s deficiencies. In other words, medical examinations identify the weak spots of our body so that we can supplement them precisely with our nutrition.
Finally, the phase of reintegration to training is also important. During this phase, the individual that has lost his training consistency, is necessary to reintegrate himself smoothly into the activities of the team. A gradual and progressive increase of training volume and intensity is key.
Over-training, in all its dimensions, is a condition that is relatively easy to avoid, since its main causes are directly controlled by us or by the coaches (training load and programming, diet, habits, recovery etc.). On the other hand, of course, psychological triggers, although not always directly controlled, can also be regulated with proper guidance (sports psychologists and mental experts) and a strong will-power.
In summary, these are the ways you can prevent overtraining in all its forms:
- Appropriate programming (intensity, volume, duration, exercise prescription, etc.)
- Systematic and targeted rest and recovery (learn more)
- High quality nutrition
- Conducting a healthy lifestyle (habits)
- Systematic medical examination for early detection of your body’s weak spots
- Emphasis on the psychological health of the athlete
- Self-awareness (knowing your personal limits and working within them)
Maximizing performance is something that every athlete should strive for. However, both the player and the coach should pay close attention to all areas of performance (training AND recovery). Self-awareness and knowledge are two fundamental elements in the prevention of overtraining in football that we analyzed. A well-structured training program should be followed both on and off the field and should be accompanied by adequate rest and recovery, a balanced diet and a lifestyle appropriate for high performing athletes.
Special importance must be given to the psychological health and development of the individual. The human mind is very strong and can really make a difference in many areas, including overtraining. Psychology is the umbrella of performance and I won’t stop saying this until the day I die.
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 Deligiannis P. Asterios, Sports Medicine (3rd edition), Thessaloniki, University Studio Press, 2016