Issue 051

June 2009

I’m training for a fight at the moment. One of my coaches said I was doing too much and was in danger of overtraining. How can I tell?  

Overtraining is both a mental and physical state. It happens when an athlete is unable to recover enough between training sessions to keep up with the demands placed on them. It can lead to a loss of performance and an increased number of illnesses and injuries. There may be a feeling of ‘going backwards’, and even a decrease in technical ability despite all the training.  

Some common symptoms of overtraining are persistent muscle soreness and tiredness, a higher than normal resting heart rate (you can monitor this first thing in the morning), irritability and a lack of motivation. Colds and chest infections are common in overtrained athletes.  

Is it true that I should take at least one complete day off from training every week to recover?  

This is commonly recommended, and is a good general rule of thumb.  

I’m starting to feel like I might be overtraining, but I’m sure most fighters train more than I do. How can I be overtraining when people who are doing more than I am are fine?  

Everybody is different, and each fighter will respond differently to the same training program. What is just right for one fighter may be overtraining for another.  

It also depends on what you do between training sessions. Some people argue that instead of overtraining, we should be talking about ‘under-recovery’. Getting enough sleep and correct nutrition are especially important.  

What else can I do to prevent overtraining? 

Planning your training program well is the first step. If you don’t have a coach to do this with you, then try and get advice from someone who knows what they are doing. Make sure you write down both what you plan to do on each day, and then afterwards what you have done. This gives you a record of exactly how hard you are working.  

Always make sure that you warm up and cool down well before and after every training session. Cool-downs are often neglected, but they help the recovery process by getting the body quickly into a more relaxed state. This is important, especially if you are training several times a day.  

When you increase your training, do it gradually instead of making sudden changes to the amount you are doing or the intensity. You may feel at the beginning that you want to do more, but by taking it more slowly you are less likely to run into problems later. Stretching, contrast showers, foam roller work, massage and taking a nap during the day have all been suggested as ways of improving recovery.  

I burnt out quite badly training for my last fight, and I still don’t feel right now a few weeks later. How long will it be before I get back to normal?  

True overtraining can take weeks to months to recover from, and sometimes even more. This is one reason why it is important to spot it early, and to prevent it before it becomes a problem. If it does seem to be taking a long time to return to normal, then see your doctor to rule out any medical conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms.  

Professional fighter Dr Rosi Sexton PhD is a sports therapist and osteopath-in-training based in Manchester, England. She has fought in in her native England as well as in countries such as Russia, Canada, and the USA, and is ranked as one of the top competitors in her weight class.