You’ve been training for two years since the last World Championship. The competition is finally on the horizon. In 3 months you and your teammates will be facing off against the World’s best ball hockey players from around the globe. You’ve been careful with your training progression, your nutrition, your rest and your vices. All of these, in an effort to decrease your risk of injury and increase your strength & conditioning gains. Everything seems to be falling into place…with the exception of your motivation and a few concerning aches and pains. What are your options? Push through the pain as you only have a few weeks left, ignoring the discomfort and continuing on your strict training regimen? Or take a few weeks off to recover? This is the decision that has gone through every single athlete’s mind. “How can I be getting hurt now? Is this the early stages of injury?! I haven’t played a game in weeks, I’ve been eating clean. I haven’t had a (dozen) beer in days; I’ve been very rigorous with my attention to detail in the gym, for the past 18 months”.

Well, the answer lies in the last words of the last comment. You’ve been training for 18 months! You have become a victim of overtraining. Signs & symptoms of overtraining, with their effects, include:
• Decreased immunity – more susceptible to illness & infection
• Aches & pains in muscles and joints (sometimes without explanation) – uncomfortable to train, slows gains
• Insomnia – resulting in decreased energy
• Depression – lack of motivation, enjoyable things no longed bring pleasure, anti-social
• Irritability – withdraw from social contact, easy to anger
• Decreased appetite – decreased energy to train
• Decrease in performance – can’t lift as much or run as fast
• Decreased motivation – to train, work, be active, social etc.
• Increased lethargy – increased desire to stay in bed/on couch, crave naps
• Physiological changes – hormonal, hematological (blood), neuroendocrine (nervous system) and blood lactate (lactic acid) threshold changes will present after consistent overtraining.

These mild symptoms often cause the athlete to work harder to overcome up any perceived deficits in performance, strength and stamina. This increased workload exacerbates the symptoms and often culminates with an injury. As you can see, each and every symptom of overtraining works directly in opposition to the athletes’ training goals.

How do you know if you’re overtraining? The most accurate way to determine if you are overtraining is to note the onset of any of the symptoms listed above. However, if you’d like an objective way of determining the onset of overtraining, you can try the orthostatic heart rate test, developed by Finnish exercise scientist, Heikki Rusko:
1) Lay flat and rest for 10 minutes at the same time each day (morning is best).
2) After 10 minutes, record your heart rate in beats per minute.
3) Stand up.
4) Take your heart rate after 15, 90 and 120 seconds respectively.
Rested athletes should have relatively uniform heart rates. Athletes at risk of overtraining may show heart rates that differ 10 beats per minute (or more) from rest to 120 seconds after standing up.

How can you avoid overtraining? To answer this we have to delve deeper into the cause. Without getting too deep into the physiology, training needs to involve periods of overload followed by periods of rest. The rest periods are just as important as the work periods. During these rest periods, the body repairs all the micro traumas that have been inflicted during training, and these repairs result in stronger muscles, bones and joints. Without the rest/repair phase, your body is constantly trying to play catch up, but never really catching up to the demands placed on it. On a small scale, most athletes will not strength train the same muscle group two days in a row. They know you should only strength train the same muscle group twice a week to allow regeneration. On a larger scale, athletes should schedule breaks in their training every few weeks to allow overall recovery. This period of time away from the usual workout will give the athlete a physical rest to heal any minor aches and pains. Further it will give the athlete a mental break from their rigorous time in the gym, leaving the athlete with a remaining desire to “get back in there” and get back to work.

How can I treat overtraining if I failed to identify and avoid it?
Allow ample time to rest & recover. This may be days or even weeks and can be determined by using Heikki Rusko’s test, outlined previously. This includes rest days during the week and may require rest weeks every few months.
Eat and drink appropriately. This could be an entire article on it’s own (stay tuned); but to summarize, you should be eating whole, unprocessed foods while limiting sugars, especially refined; and you should be drinking lots of water while limiting alcohol, sugar and excessive caffeine.
Get treatment – get physical therapy (AT, PT, RMT) before you need it. Massage, whether done by a professional or self (with a foam roller or lacrosse ball) will certainly help you physically and possibly mentally.
Supplement your training with cross-training, to keep activity new and interesting. Yoga is a great way to increase strength and flexibility while decreasing stress. Cross-training/playing other sports like basketball, ultimate, lacrosse, soccer (football to all my non-North American friends) will keep you in shape while giving you a mental/physical break from ball hockey. As well it is fun, social and a great way to de-stress while staying active.

It can take weeks and occasionally months to recover from overtraining. This makes it crucial to identify it’s onset early, before it manifests in long-term complications or injury. Periodization, which involves progressing workouts over many months, including phases of overload and rest, is the best tool to ensure you are getting appropriate rest and recovery.

About the author:

Ryan Bennett has been the Athletic Therapist for Team Canada Ball Hockey at The World Championships at various levels for 5 of the past 6 years; for the U18 team in 2014, U20 team in 2016 & 2018 and Men’s team in 2017 & 2019.

He is the Head Athletic Therapist & Manager of Q Sports Medicine at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. He has a passion of manual therapy and rehabilitating motivated, elite athletes at Q Sports Medicine. Ryan graduated from Brock University with a Physical & Health Education Degree and Sheridan College with a Diploma in Sports Injury Management. He is a certified Athletic Therapist- CAT(C), Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist- CSCS, and Registered Kinesiologist- R.Kin.

Ryan worked in Professional hockey for 4 years after certification, and in Major Junior (Ontario Hockey League) hockey for the following 13 years, most recently with the Kingston Frontenacs. Some of his ice hockey highlights include being the OHL East All-Star Team Athletic Therapist, an appearance in the Memorial Cup, an American Hockey League run to game 7 of the Calder Cup finals and being the Athletic Therapist for Men’s Team Canada at the IIHF U-18 World Hockey Championships.

When not working, he loves spending time at the cottage and socializing with family and friends. Ryan lives in Kingston with his wife Sarah, daughter Shelby, son Kallan and their dog Charlie.