Cumulative microtrauma is the cellular damage that occurs and gets worse and worse over time and results in overtraining symptoms. The best way to deal with overtraining is to avoid it all together with a combination of optimal nutrition, getting enough sleep, taking rest days and focusing on other restorative modalities.
Overtraining is defined as an increase in training volume and/or intensity of exercise resulting in performance decrements. A shorter or less severe variation of overtraining is referred to as overreaching, which is easily recovered from in just a few days. However, if you continue training through the symptoms it can worsen, and recovery takes longer. Overreaching becomes overtraining when an added stressor is combined with extreme training (remember, stress is additive).
Overreaching is achieved through progressive overload in your lifts and is often seen in body builders. Overload has benefits, we want to surprise our muscles and have them adapt properly. Although, these benefits only occur with the appropriate amount of rest, restoration and recovery. Overreaching is the cumulative microtrauma that occurs overtime. If it continues, overreaching leads to overtraining which has more problematic symptoms.
What does overreaching look like?
Overreaching is accomplished through excessive exercise frequency at high intensity. Physical symptoms include low sleep quality, increased blood pressure, anxiousness, decreased interest in training, and even loss of appetite. If these are not treated through recovery methods, symptoms like depression, low blood pressure, easy onset of fatigue, and depressed immune system may start to come into play.
When overreaching is left untreated, you experience overtraining symptoms which are more severe and can take weeks and even months to fully recover. This is because of inflammation in the body and its effects on the Central Nervous System (CNS). When your CNS is disrupted you may experience a depressed mood, fatigue and neurohormonal changes on top of all the other symptoms of overreaching.
Your brain produces serotonin which is one of the neurotransmitters that controls mood, sleep, and behavior (the 3 things that overtraining disrupts).
Serotonin comes from the amino acid called tryptophan.
When you exercise, there is an increase in unbound tryptophan which has been known to be associated with fatigue.
Exercising decreases levels of branched chain amino acids due to an increase in oxygen consumption thus favoring the unbound tryptophan entry into the brain which then begins the process of serotonin synthesis.
Did I lose you yet?
An increased sensitivity to serotonin or increased supplementation of serotonin may lead to symptoms of overtraining. The more you exercise and allow that tryptophan to enter the brain, the more likely you may experience mood swings, fatigue, and disrupted sleep. However, mood changes and fatigue are subjective and are influenced by other factors as well.
Excessive training volume and intensity that can decrease performance levels like decrements in strength, speed, power, endurance and reactiveness. Using a training program with variations in exercises, proper ordering of exercises and rest-to-work ratio, good nutritional habits, and focuses on rest, restoration and recovery can all prevent symptoms of overreaching.
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