This article was written by Marc Barton, who is a 2nd degree Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt under Mauricio Gomes. Marc is the head instructor at Kingston Jiu Jitsu and is also a qualified medical doctor. Marc has also contributed articles for a medical education website. Header image used on license from Shutterstock.
A few years back, when I was a brown belt and pushing hard to try and work towards my black belt, I became chronically overtrained and developed many of the unpleasant features of this condition. I was training too much without giving my body adequate time to recover. Hindsight is 20/20, and it is very easy for me to see now that the 6 or 7-day-a-week regime of training I was undertaking actually slowed my progress considerably. I was persistently tired, sore, sleep deprived and suffered several injuries, including back problems that took me years to recover from fully.
I see the same pattern in some of my students now. While it is admirable to train hard day after day, ultimately, too much training without sufficient recovery will only hinder your progress on the mats and result in a decline in your performance. Jiu jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint, and it is my experience as an instructor that the vast majority of my students that start off trying to train almost every day rarely make it past blue belt unless they dramatically alter their training patterns.
Overreaching vs overtraining
There are signs, however, that overtraining syndrome is imminent, and before it arrives, there are generally features of overreaching present. Overreaching is defined as “an acute (short-term) period in which increased metabolic stress is placed upon the body during certain training phases”.
Overreaching is characterised by fatigue and muscle soreness above and beyond what you typically experience if there is insufficient time to recover between workouts. This usually happens when you have trained hard on too many consecutive days, and your body hasn’t been able to ‘catch up’ and fully recover. Fortunately, overreaching is easily remedied by taking some rest and taking some simple steps, such as hydrating adequately, getting some good quality sleep and doing some mobility and tissue recovery work.
The bad news is, however, that if you continue to overreach with your workouts, you will inevitably reach the point of overtraining. Overtraining is defined as “a maladapted response to excessive exercise without adequate rest, resulting in negative effects on multiple body systems coupled with mood changes”.
Overtraining is a much bigger deal than overreaching and is far more challenging to recover from. It can actually take weeks or sometimes even months to fully recover from this condition, which can be devastating for your jiu jitsu training and have broader implications on a variety of aspects of your everyday life.
The effects of overtraining
The effects of overtraining on your body are usually divided into those that affect your training, your overall health and your lifestyle.
Effects of overtraining on your training:
- Persistent and unusually severe post-workout muscle soreness
- A feeling of heaviness in leg muscles
- Being unable to complete training sessions
- Being unable to train at a previously manageable level
- Recovery from training takes longer than usual and not occurring fully
- Developing a plateau, or even a decline, in performance
Effects of overtraining on your health
- Becoming unwell more frequently, for example, with coughs and colds
- Losing your appetite and losing weight
- Can also sometimes experience weight gain
- Increased resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Decreased heart rate variability
- Bowel problems, such as constipation and diarrhoea
Effects of overtraining on your lifestyle
- Feeling constantly tired and fatigued
- Changes in your mood, for example, feeling depressed or irritable
- Inability to relax
- Reduction in the quality of sleep
- Poor motivation
How to come back from overtraining
Overtraining can take a frustratingly long time to come back from, and patience is required. I like to use the 6 R’s mnemonic for summarising the necessary steps:
The first and most crucial step in your road to recovery from overtraining is recognising that you are overtrained. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of overtraining listed above, talk with your coach or a doctor. Getting back to your usual self and full-time training can be highly personalised, and the help of an experienced professional is always beneficial.
Rest is absolutely vital. Your body needs time off training to recover. It is often necessary to stop training entirely for a short while. Light activities during this rest period, such as walking, are usually fine and will help your body recover. Part of rest is adequate sleep. The vast majority of adults fall short of the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, and you may need even more sleep than this when recovering from overtraining.
It is also essential to examine your eating habits and focus on meeting your body’s nutritional needs. If you are pushing your body hard on the mats, then your body will need fuel to recover from the rigours of training. It may even be worth working with a nutritionist to develop a meal plan.
Unfortunately, injuries are common in jiu jitsu as it is a contact sport. The likelihood of these injuries increases significantly in overtrained athletes. If you have picked up injuries during overtraining, then this is the ideal opportunity to get them looked at by a medical professional so that you can recover from them and return to the mats injury free.
Your return to full-time training should be gradual. Start slowly and build up gently. After an initial period of complete rest, active recovery workouts can be a great way of helping your body recover and get used to exercising again. Trying to get back into full training too quickly will only make things worse and prolong the recovery period. Your doctor or coach should be able to help you determine when you’re ready to get fully back on the mats again.
Don’t make the same mistakes that caused this again! Prevention is definitely better than cure, and the downtime needed to recover is a great time to re-examine your previous training regime. Think about adding in rest days and using tools, such as heart rate variability monitoring, to guide the amount of training you do and highlight when your body needs extra rest.
I hope you found this article helpful, and if you are currently experiencing symptoms of overtraining, then please go and chat with your coach or a doctor and get some rest.