Brand new start, brand new year - again

Column by Dr. Kenneth Szarka


For many of us it is that time of year, again, to renew our vows to change ourselves in some dramatic way. Lose unwanted pounds and get our bodies into shape. We will march purposefully and dutifully into the gym or our local cross-fit or "boot camp" training class that promises to transform our bodies. In the back of our minds there is an inkling of doubt that we will truly succeed since for the last decade or so we have been here before, with great intentions, but poor follow through. The lack of follow through may not be entirely due to laziness or lack of motivation, but rather an insidious onset of pain, fatigue and a growing number of physical complaints.

In my practice, I will see these effects of new beginnings in my patients. Typically, it will begin halfway through the month of February. They will begin to show up, much like the injury reports in the NFL, as I begin to see the effects of exercise on bodies not quite ready for the battering that we want to put them through so that we can adhere to the "six day a week" boot camps, or the "five days of cross fit." I will see the typical low back pain and stiffness, along with the stiff and sore necks, but along with those typical chiropractic complaints, I will also begin to see the much dreaded overuse injuries and overtraining complaints that will, for the most part, be the deal-breakers for those wanting to succeed in this annual Pilgrimage to the Exercise Mecca. These are often the early signs of a body that has taken on too much, in too short a period of time.

Common Warning Signs or Symptoms of Overtraining

• Feeling tired, drained and poorly rested, even if you are getting adequate sleep.

• Persistent muscle and joint achiness or pain, particularly with exercise

• Headaches, insomnia, moodiness and irritability.

• Decrease in your capacity to exercise, or a drop in performance

• Decreased appetite and bouts of insomnia

• Increase in the frequency of colds, the flu or infections

• Loss of the enthusiasm for continuing your fitness goals

• Increased weight gain despite "burning lots of calories."

How to Prevent Overtraining

It may be difficult to heed the warning signs, especially if they come early in the beginning stages of your exercise or fitness routines. Many people expect to be sore, or feel like they are "out of shape." In which case, their tendency is to push through some of these early warning signs hoping that they will eventually go away once you feel like you are "getting into shape." Here are some tips that may help to prevent an overtraining condition:

Plenty of Rest: Many people who begin to train do not realize that resting your body is every bit as important as the training itself. It is the time for repair of the catabolic breakdown of the tissues you are training (muscles). If you do not allow this to happen, then that catabolic breakdown begins a cycle of inflammation and tissue destruction that leads to overuse injury that is as sign of overtraining. Unfortunately, there is no specific timeline for any one individual. It will vary depending upon several different factors including age, general health, diet, previous injuries etc. Research has shown that a technique called Active Recovery may be very helpful in the recovery of bodies that are being trained with high intensity training. Broadly speaking, it suggests that if you are using a high intensity training platform such as boot camps or cross-fit, that there is a better and faster recovery of the body if the athlete perform low intensity training in the days following the high intensity training. To that end, I encourage patients to learn the discipline of Yoga, and to perform that type of exercise in the days after a high intensity workout.

Adequate Diet: Perhaps the number one reason people will begin to train in the first place is their desire to lose weight. To that end they will inevitably begin to modify their diets. One of the first things to go is the calories. For some that is a necessary thing, simply because they are eating a lot of the things they should not be which are laden with too many calories and not enough nutrition. However, one of the mistakes that I see patients make is that they will cut their calories to a dangerously low amount. They may be making healthier food choices, but they are simply not eating enough for the amount of energy their bodies need. They have been mistakenly told that in order to lose weight "we need to exercise more, and eat less." Our bodies need energy from food not only to perform the work needed to exercise, but also for the work needed to be done by the body in order to repair and recover from the exercise.

Proper Hydration: There are only really two things your body needs in order to hydrate properly: water and minerals. There are some guidelines that suggest that we should all be drinking the equivalent amount of ounces of water to half our body weigh in pounds. For example if you weigh 150 pounds, you should be drinking 75 ounces of water daily. That may be a good start for some, but the loss of water from our bodies may exceed that amount due to dry climates, how much an individual perspires, how much breathing we do, or what other things we may consume such as coffee, soda or alcohol that are naturally dehydrating to the body. Furthermore, expending lots of energy through exercises uses up mineral balance in our body and we may be deficient in minerals. Water cannot make its way into the cells of our body without adequate minerals. My diet recommendations for people are to introduce some sea salt to their food or to replace minerals using a natural mineral dietary supplement.

Utilizing Chiropractic Care and Massage Therapy: One of the signs and symptoms of overtraining are the overuse injuries. They occur in the shoulders (rotator cuff strain), the forearms (tendonitis), hips (bursitis) and lower legs (shin splints, plantar fasciitis). Many times these will develop due to improper techniques in exercise, or a loss of balance and coordination that occurs when the body is not properly conditioned. These injuries are becoming more frequent as people take on new forms of high intensity training such as the boot camps and cross fit. They are simply not prepared to take on that type of training. A proper evaluation by a chiropractor may detect if a loss of proper biomechanical motion may predispose someone to that type of injury. Massage therapy is very good at reducing muscular tension that would begin to put undue stress on the non-contractile tissues such as tendons and ligaments that become inflamed in these overuse injuries.

The key to not letting overtraining prevent you from reaching your exercise goals is to recognize the problem as early as possible. Begin a routine of home care, and have your health care professional help you to correctly diagnose the problem. The quicker you get adequate care the quicker the condition will resolve.


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