Tuesday, 19 February 2013


Overtraining or burnout refer to a condition where athletes or dancers note a marked decrease in physical performance for no apparent physical or medical reason, suffer from prolonged fatigue and display behavioral and emotional changes. Symptoms of overtraining will vary from individual to individual, the most common symptoms include:
  • Increased perception of effort during exercise
  • Excessive sweating
  • Frequent upper respiratory tract infections
  • Breakdown of technique
  • Muscle soreness
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood disturbances
  • Signs of depression
  • Decreased interest in training and performance
  • Decreased self-confidence
Overtraining displays similar symptoms to conditions such as ME, chronic fatigue and post-viral syndrome, and so the route of the symptoms must be identified before a diagnosis can be made. Medical practitioners should discuss the workload of athletes or dancers presenting these symptoms to assess whether a medical condition or overtraining is at the route of the problem. Overtraining itself can develop due to a combination of different factors including increased physical workload; lack of recovery; fitness level; external factors (social, personal, financial, professional stresses); and personality factors including perfectionism and over-achievement.  

Overtraining causes physical changes, as well as the symptoms mentioned above. Physical signs of overtraining include:
  • Increased resting heart rate
  • Increased resting blood pressure
  • Increased resting lactic acid concentrations
  • Following exertion, heart rate will take longer to return to resting level
  • Muscle damage
  • Decreased ability to efficiently utilise oxygen
  • Menstrual irregularities (chronic OT)
  • Lowered immunity, specifically to upper respiratory and skin infections (chronic OT)
  • Increased allergies (chronic OT)
  • Decreased maximal voluntary strength (chronic OT)

Acute vs Chronic Overtraining

Acute overtraining refers to overtraining that occurs in a relatively short space of time, for example when there is an imbalance between workload and recovery that lasts between a few days and a few weeks.  This could be due to performance schedules, understudies having to step up, audition season, last minute cast changes or students in the build up to exams or performances. More often than not the increase in physical stress will be coupled with an increase in emotional and psychological stress. In cases of acute overtraining, once the cause has been removed, recovery will normally occur quickly. 

Chronic overtraining refers to a long-term imbalance between physical workload and recovery, lasting weeks to months in duration. Chronic overtraining tends to occur in individuals that fall into the following categories: overachievers (individuals who are highly motivated and reluctant to allow time off); those with inadequate fitness levels (where the physical workload is poorly matched to their physical fitness); those involved in individual activities (dancers, swimmers, runners etc., as opposed to those involved in team activities).

Prevention and Recovery from Overtraining

There are no specific ways of assessing which dancers are more at risk of overtraining than others, and so prevention is best done through training management and monitoring. This enables any warning signs of excessive fatigue to be quickly acknowledged and addressed. Meeting nutritional and hydration needs are essential, as both affect fatigue, physical performance and the immune system. Cycle training schedules so that days of heavy physical workload are interspersed with days of lighter physical workload, introduce non-dance physical training that will complement dance workload while offering some variety and allow 1-2 days off of physical training per week.

Adequate physical rest as well as adequate sleep are crucial in allowing recovery from physical work. The prospect of missing training or performance will often overshadow the dancer's concern for their own physical health; as is often seen in dancers (and athletes) who push themselves to continue when injured or unwell. It is important that dance educators, choreographers and directors help dancers see beyond the immediate, and that by allowing time off, if necessary, they will be prolonging their time dancing and therefore increasing performance opportunities in the future. Any promotion of "no pain no gain" mentalities should be avoided; dancers are notorious for pushing themselves and not knowing when to stop and it is the responsibility of everyone involved in professional dance to promote a healthier attitude to training. Long-term investment in dancer health is more important than one performance, or even a whole season of performances.

Overtraining is a significant issue in dance, and may contribute substantially to the high number of injuries, early retirements and frequent illnesses we see in professional dancers. The stress of increased physical workload combined with emotional and psychological stress can overload the body and result in hormonal, neural and immunological changes that render the body unable to fully recover or make positive adaptations following physical work. Physical training, both intensity and duration; diet; sleep; physical rest and hydration all must be addressed in order to reverse the effects of overtraining. 

Recovery time is crucial for the physical and psychological well-being of the dancer. Effective recovery can vastly improve performance, whereas ineffective recovery not only negatively effects dance performance but hinder physical ability in general and increases likelihood of injury. Effective recovery is an essential tool in the avoidance and the reversal of overtraining. A 1999 study showed that in professional dancers displaying signs of burnout, a 6-week summer break from physical work was sufficient to restore physical fitness parameters and allowed the continuation of positive physical adaptations.

Kellmann M. (2010) Preventing overtraining in athletes in high-intensity sports and stress/recovery monitoring. Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 20, pp. 95-102. 
Koutedakis and Sharp (1999) The Fit and Healthy Dancer; Wiley.
Koutedakis Y, Myszkewycz L, Soulas D, Papapostolou V, Sullivan I, Sharp NC (1999) The effects of rest and subsequent training on selected physiological parameters in professional female classical dancers. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 20(6), pp. 379-383.
Vetter RE, Symonds ML (2010) Correlations between injury, training intensity and physical and mental exhaustion among college athletes. Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(3), pp. 587-96.
Winsley R, Matos N. (2011) Overtraining and elite young athletes. Sports Science, 56, pp. 97-105. 

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