Overtraining and Overuse Injuries (II)
Identifying and Handling Overuse Injuries
Overuse injuries tend to be easier to identify than overtraining syndrome. There comes a point when a person simply has to admit to him or herself that not only is that tweak or twinge or sore muscle not going away but also, it’s worsening every time it’s used. As touched upon in an earlier entry discussing muscle imbalances, often the appropriate course of treatment isn’t to merely sit on one’s butt and wait for the pain to go away, thinking, “Well, I’ll just avoid whatever movement/motion caused pain in the first place as much as possible in the future.” A more proactive approach involves setting up an appointment with a physician or physical therapist to determine whether an imbalance or other structural deficit is in play and contributing to the injury. If so, such injuries can often be actively rehabbed and prevented in the future through corrective exercises. Of course, resting of the overused part may be a key part of the recovery prescription, too, but it’s worth getting some professional insight in order to understand how to hasten recovery and to potentially prevent reinjury.
Identifying and Handling Overtraining Syndrome
Overtraining happens when the body just can’t keep up with the pace of physical activity that a person is placing on it. It tends to happen in people who enjoy training/climbing hard, who feel more and more energized and motivated the harder they train/climb in any given session, who have the mental drive to push themselves through the pain and past their limits, who would train or climb all day every day at their peak potential if this were possible and who are frustrated that this can’t happen, who have unrealistic expectations about their bodies’ capabilities but try to meet them anyhow, and who fear rest as the mortal enemy instead of the welcome friend who will integrate the efforts of hard training if given a chance.
Overtrainers tend to not be as cued into the signs and signals of tiredness or soreness marking the end of the quality workout or climbing time. They think more is always better and harder is always better. They don’t like to rest and feel lazy and bad if they rest. If they learn about a new training technique they’re likely to seize upon it and try to implement it so thoroughly and immediately that they incur overuse injuries and overtraining as a result.
(Hint: I know all of this because I fit this description/mentality exactly. Untraining myself from thinking and acting this way has been way harder than training and climbing too hard/too much. Way harder.)
You increase your risk of overtraining if you suddenly and dramatically increase the volume (frequency plus duration) or intensity (difficulty) of your workouts or climbing days instead of gradually moving into a new training program or style of climbing or difficulty level. This risk increases even more if you frequently and regularly reject signals from your body telling you you are too tired or sore to perform a workout or climb hard on a given day; every time you do this, you dig your overtraining hole a little deeper, detracting from your body’s ability to recover that much more.
In climbers – even those who don’t train, but just are climbing too much – overtraining can manifest psychologically as “not feeling the love,” just a sense of all-around burnout and apathy about climbing hard or climbing at all. Overtraining can impact you systemically on multiple levels, not just impacting your climbing and performance but also, your overall mental state (increased depression and anxiety), your appetite (or lack thereof), your sleep quality/quantity, resting heart rate (increased or decreased), and your susceptibility to illness and overuse injuries, to name just a few areas.
Unfortunately, avid trainers and participants (from all sports) often interpret waning energy levels and lower performance outputs as indicators that training “isn’t working anymore,” meaning that they should increase the volume or intensity of the training, when what the body needs more than anything in order to rebound and continue making progress is the exact opposite – more rest. Rest is the cure for overtraining; how much rest depends on how severe the overtraining is and whether any overuse injuries have occurred in tandem with the overtraining. Minor overtraining takes less rest for recovery than major overtraining, obviously – but exactly how much rest is needed will be individual.
Overtraining & Overuse Together: Double-Whammy
Of course, overuse injuries can occur in conjunction with overtraining, and to confound this matter even more, you don’t even have to avidly “train” for climbing in order to be overtrained and receive an overuse injury for your troubles as a part of the overtraining manifesting itself. Overworked bodies are more susceptible to injuries, meaning that if you stubbornly continue to crimp like your life depends on it on the hardest project you’ve ever tried long after your climbing day should end, day in and day out without ever taking enough rest days to allow for full recovery, you may be inviting an overuse injury in one or more of your fingers as well as just generally becoming overtrained on a whole-being level. This is not fun at all, of course – you’ll already feel bad enough from the overtraining by itself, but adding an actual overuse injury or more than one on top of the general malaise felt from overtraining makes it much more difficult to cope with, I promise.
This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.
One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!