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      Overtraining Syndrome : A Practical Guide


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          Fatigue and underperformance are common in athletes. Understanding overtraining syndrome (OTS) is helpful in the evaluation, management, and education of athletes.

          Evidence Acquisition:

          Relevant articles in English were searched with OVID (1948-2011) and PubMed using the following keywords: overtraining syndrome, overtraining, overreaching, unexplained underperformance, staleness, pathophysiology, management, treatment, evaluation. Bibliographies were reviewed for additional resources.


          OTS appears to be a maladapted response to excessive exercise without adequate rest, resulting in perturbations of multiple body systems (neurologic, endocrinologic, immunologic) coupled with mood changes. Many hypotheses of OTS pathogenesis are reviewed, and a clinical approach to athletes with possible OTS (including history, testing, and prevention) is presented.


          OTS remains a clinical diagnosis with arbitrary definitions per the European College of Sports Science’s position statement. History and, in most situations, limited serologies are helpful. However, much remains to be learned given that most past research has been on athletes with overreaching rather than OTS.

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          Most cited references49

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          Cytokine hypothesis of overtraining: a physiological adaptation to excessive stress?

          Overtraining syndrome (OTS) is a condition wherein an athlete is training excessively, yet performance deteriorates. This is usually accompanied by mood/behavior changes and a variety of biochemical and physiological alterations. Presently, there is no global hypothesis to account for OTS. The present paper will attempt to provide a unifying paradigm that will integrate previous research under the rubric of the cytokine hypothesis of overtraining. It is argued that high volume/intensity training, with insufficient rest, will produce muscle and/or skeletal and/or joint trauma. Circulating monocytes are then activated by injury-related cytokines, and in turn produce large quantities of proinflammatory IL-1beta, and/or IL-6, and/or TNF-alpha, producing systemic inflammation. Elevated circulating cytokines then co-ordinate the whole-body response by: a) communicating with the CNS and inducing a set of behaviors referred to as "sickness" behavior, which involves mood and behavior changes that support resolution of systemic inflammation: b) adjusting liver function, to support the up-regulation of gluconeogenesis, as well as de novo synthesis of acute phase proteins, and a concomitant hypercatabolic state; and c) impacting on immune function. Theoretically, OTS is viewed as the third stage of Selye's general adaptation syndrome, with the focus being on recovery/survival, and not adaptation, and is deemed to be "protective," occurring in response to excessive physical/physiological stress. Recommendations are made for potential markers of OTS, based on a systemic inflammatory condition.
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            Psychological monitoring of overtraining and staleness.

            It is widely agreed that overtraining should be employed in order to achieve peak performance but it is also recognised that overtraining can actually produce decrements in performance. The challenge appears to be one of monitoring stress indicators in the athlete in order to titrate the training stimulus and prevent the onset of staleness. The present paper summarises a ten-year research effort in which the mood states of competitive swimmers have been monitored at intervals ranging from 2-4 weeks during individual seasons for the period 1975-1986. The training cycle has always involved the indoor season which extends from September to March and the athletes who served as subjects were 200 female and 200 male competitive swimmers. The results indicate that mood state disturbances increased in a dose-response manner as the training stimulus increased and that these mood disturbances fell to baseline levels with reduction of the training load. Whilst these results have been obtained in a realistic setting devoid of experimental manipulation, it is apparent that monitoring of mood state provides a potential method of preventing staleness.
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              Overtraining and recovery. A conceptual model.

              Fiercer competition between athletes and a wider knowledge of optimal training regimens dramatically influence current training methods. A single training bout per day was previously considered sufficient, whereas today athletes regularly train twice a day or more. Consequently, the number of athletes who are overtraining and have insufficient rest is increasing. Positive overtraining can be regarded as a natural process when the end result is adaptation and improved performance: the supercompensation principle--which includes the breakdown process (training) followed by the recovery process (rest)--is well known in sports. However, negative overtraining, causing maladaptation and other negative consequences such as staleness, can occur. Physiological, psychological, biochemical and immunological symptoms must be considered, both independently and together, to fully understand the 'staleness' syndrome. However, psychological testing may reveal early-warning signs more readily than the various physiological or immunological markers. The time frame of training and recovery is also important since the consequences of negative overtraining comprise an overtraining-response continuum from short to long term effects. An athlete failing to recover within 72 hours has presumably negatively overtrained and is in an overreached state. For an elite athlete to refrain from training for > 72 hours is extremely undesirable, highlighting the importance of a carefully monitored recovery process. There are many methods used to measure the training process but few with which to match the recovery process against it. One such framework for this is referred to as the total quality recovery (TQR) process. By using a TQR scale, structured around the scale developed for ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), the recovery process can be monitored and matched against the breakdown (training) process (TQR versus RPE). The TQR scale emphasises both the athlete's perception of recovery and the importance of active measures to improve the recovery process. Furthermore, directing attention to psychophysiological cues serves the same purpose as in RPE, i.e. increasing self-awareness. This article reviews and conceptualises the whole overtraining process. In doing so, it (i) aims to differentiate between the types of stress affecting an athlete's performance: (ii) identifies factors influencing an athlete's ability to adapt to physical training: (iii) structures the recovery process. The TQR method to facilitate monitoring of the recovery process is then suggested and a conceptual model that incorporates all of the important parameters for performance gain (adaptation) and loss (maladaptation).

                Author and article information

                Sports Health
                Sports Health
                Sports Health
                SAGE Publications (Sage CA: Los Angeles, CA )
                March 2012
                March 2012
                : 4
                : 2
                : 128-138
                []Department of Orthopaedic Surgery–Pediatric Orthopaedics, Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, Boston, Massachusetts
                []Department of Family Medicine, Tufts University Family Medicine Residency at Cambridge Health Alliance, Malden, Massachusetts
                Author notes
                [*] [* ]Address correspondence to Jeffrey B. Kreher, MD, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery–Pediatric Orthopaedics, Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care, Suite 3400, 55 Fruit Street, Boston, MA 02114 (e-mail: jkreher@ 123456partners.org ).
                © 2012 The Author(s)
                Athletic Training
                Custom metadata
                March/April 2012

                Sports medicine
                overtraining syndrome,overtraining,overreaching,unexplained underperformance,staleness,pathophysiology,management,treatment,evaluation


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