As a Physiotherapist, I have the privilege of working across many different disciplines in my practice, which means I have a unique perspective across the community. This includes young, middle aged, elderly. Athletes, professional, amateur and weekend warriors. Healthy, unhealthy, ill, well, and everything in between.
I have also had the opportunity to compete in demanding sports across many different levels, whilst attending to demanding work and the usual life demands we all come across. Unfortunately for me, in recent times (but fortunately for you 🙂 ) I have suffered a few unusual injuries myself in the past 12 months.
I have now become one of the guilty many who feel like they have the ability to jump up and do what they did 10 years ago, without thinking about it. As we know, this often leads to injury. Now there is no one cause for this. This covers the physical and psychological realms of the way we view ourselves, our desires and our lifestyles. And as I learn constantly, these factors and contributors change regularly for each of us, and can be varied even in brief amounts of time.
When my primary goals and priorities were to train, compete and recover, it was easy for me to see life in blocks of time related to events and competition. I could designate blocks of time and energy to the elements that were most important to those goals. It is a natural and rewarding way to perform. And it is a habit that is needed to get the most out of performance.
I see a lot of my patients thinking like this throughout life with competition and sports. There is an incredible drive and motivation within us that if tapped into in the right way can be the secret to success throughout life, in many other areas other than sporting endeavours. However, for a lot of us, sport is where we love to apply this drive, often to the detrament of ourselves when we fail to recognise the myriad other elements in life that need the same attention.
It is generally not unitl something breaks – injuries, viruses, painful conditions, fatigue, mood disruption, that we stop and recognise we have maybe gone too hard. Hands up if this is you (**author sheepishly raises hand**).
So how do we limit overtraining in our lifestyles? Here are a few tips to help curb the risk of a downfall.
- Determine what is is you are actually trying to achieve. Is it for money, is it for competition, is it for qualification for something more, is it for the love, is it for the challenge, is it to get a release, is it to be healthy. It is important to clearly define your motivation. Then taking logical steps to assessing and modifying your training load is easier.
- Align your exercise and training to your goals. Once you know where your goals sit in the hierarchy of your lifestyle priorities, rational decisions need to be made. For example, if you are on your way to the Olympics, or a professional sporting contract, naturally your priorities lay differently to someone who wants nothing more than to reduce their risk of Heart Disease. Likewise, if you are a business owner or highly career driven and also want to compete at high levels, the priorities and decision making around training loads will be different again.
- Ensure your training is appropriate for your physical capacity. Easier said than done. This is where we are likely to meet the most risk. Don’t forget that physical capacity is affected by many different things – fatigue, stress, mood, illness, how your boss treated you today, how unwell a loved one is, ineffectively managed injuries…the list goes on, and can be as obscure as it needs to be. You would be amazed to hear some of the things I have managed to draw out of people when determining a cause of injury.
- Learn to be OK with turning the volume down. Particularly as we get older and learn more about ourselves and our bodies, there needs to be more responsibility put on ourselves to make decisions about our training load. We can not only trust the training spreadsheet or the coach’s guidance. In the upper echelons of sport, constant review and communication and decision making occurs between athletes and their support, but in the lower levels, this will often lack, but it is where it is needed most. So we need to be good at having that discussion with ourselves and adjusting accordingly. Even better if it can be with an experienced professional or support person.
So what are the signs? Based on my experience, I look for elements away from the sporting track as much as on the sporting track. I use these as points to review the plan for an athlete or non-athletes, and talk about where the problem is coming from and reducing or modifying the load temporarily to reduce injury risk.
Some examples are;
- General fatigue. It’s common and it’s important to pay attention to. Not only can it affect physical performance and recovery, but is often a flag to indicate there is something amiss.
- Slow recovery. If there is any delay in your normal routine recovery from training or exercise, this may be a sign to analyse further. My rule of thumb is 48-72 hours for majority recovery which keeps with what we understand about normal physiological timeframes.
- Mood disruption. Grumpy? Irritable? Sad? Angry? Different? This can be an indication that your system is dealing with business. That could be any number of things physical or emotional or otherwise. All are just as critical to performance as one another.
- Sleep disturbance. Sleep is critical for resetting the system. If this is lacking, your performance will be affected. If it is lacking or disturbed, why? This can be easily monitored with phone applications or watches readily available. Then decisions can be made round modifying training and lifestyle as needed.
- Reduced or fluctuating performance. Even in the absence of pain or injury, altered performance (times, distances etc) can be an indication there is a limitation somewhere. This can be an early warning that deserves attention.
After all, let’s face it, would you rather back off training for a week at your own will, or miss 6 weeks or more with an injury you can’t control?