Overtraining Syndrome in Young Female Athletes

I’ve titled this specifying young female athletes, but honestly this can occur in women of all ages.  Men, too, of course, but many times men exhibit different symptoms.

I have had the privilege of working with two high school female swimmers recently- both exhibiting the EXACT same symptoms: decreased athletic performance, anxiety, dizziness, light-headedness, elevated resting heart rate to name a few.  The girls had seen their pediatricians, pediatric cardiologists, neurologists, and ENTs- none of whom were able to pinpoint any problems.  Their bloodwork was in clinical “normal” ranges.  The problem is clinical normal ranges doesn’t necessarily mean there are no issues.  One of the athletes had borderline deficiencies in many vitamins and minerals that, combined, could have been contributing to these issues.  Iron and/or ferritin levels are two place you will commonly see female deficiencies.

Additionally, the stresses of training were taking a toll.  Both of these athletes are swimmers, training 2 a days in addition to normal schoolwork and life.  Both girls were doing mostly sprint and anaerobic work, and their central nervous systems were completely over-stimulated.  This can cause elevated heart rate and a general feeling of being “on edge”.

Working to restore an aerobic base by implementing more endurance, slower training days as well as nutrient supplementation and rest can help to restore performance.  It’s a long process so you have to be patient.  Even though I have only mentioned these two athletes, I have worked with many women in this situation.  If you want more information or assistance, please contact me.

Weekend Update: Florida 70.3

hank caroline  A tough weekend for my athletes in Florida, but they did great!  Extreme heat on a tough course proved a challenge.  Carolina rocked it out and PR’ed by 30 minutes!  Hank conquered his fear of hills and had a great bike split.  He felt strong and crushed it.

Jason used the day as training for Brazil IM. He’s feeling super-ready to get there and kick a lot of butt!


Next weekend is big again, with many of my athletes racing TryCharleston.  Good luck all!

Weekend Update: Parris Island Triathlon and Flannagans St Pats Day 5k

I asked for a couple of PRs this weekend and I got them!

Hank crushes the competition and his previous best time!

Hank crushes the competition and his previous best time!

Let’s start with Hank, triathlete and blogger extraordinaire .  He went to Parris Island this weekend and CRUSHED it!  Not only did he place 1st in the Clydesdale division and take home his first tri trophy ever- he took almost 10 minutes of his 2013 time.  A 10 minute PR would make anyone happy in any event, but for a sprint triathlon that is a HUGE improvement.  So very happy for him and can’t wait to see what happens at the Florida 70.3 in a few weeks.



Eric looking festive while kicking his old 5k times to the curb.

Then there’s Eric.  He’s been working hard on shaving off 5k time and today he did!  Really happy for him, too. And looking forward to making his interval splits more miserable now :-)

Interval Training: Are you getting anything out of yours?

Following up on the heels of my last post regarding endurance training and long slow distance, I want to spend a minute talking about interval training itself.  As a quick recap, in order to get faster you must provide the body with a training stress large enough to disrupt your body’s homeostatic balance. Running the same long distance over and over and expecting improvement in speed will not suffice as the body adapts to this distance (and this speed).  Therefore, interval training is required to give the body the disruption that it needs in order to initiate a response and create an adaption via improving your VO2 Max.  VO2 Max can be simply defined as the rate of exercise where the heart and lungs have their maximum ability to deliver oxygen to working muscle. Improving this then allows for you to go faster for longer.

But here’s the catch, and I would be willing to bet that a lot of you reading this right now fall into this trap.  These intervals have to be efforts ABOVE your current VO2 Max in order to initiate the homeostatic disruption response.  Which means you likely aren’t doing them fast enough right now. AND, once you adapt to THAT effort you have to take your intervals even FASTER.

The quick and dirty scientific explanation:
When someone becomes “winded” in exercise it is because their heart and lungs are not able to keep up with the oxygen demand of the muscles.  Not only do the heart and lungs need to deliver this oxygen , the muscle cells must extract the oxygen from the blood and use it in a conversion process to produce usable energy. All this must occur in a rate and time dictated by the intensity of exercise.  Oxygen molecules bind to hemoglobin in the blood as a delivery mechanism.  In a normal, healthy resting person, oxygen saturation of the blood is between 97-99%.  During exercise we lower our oxygen saturation of the blood. During efforts above delivery capacity (above VO2Max) we lower our oxygen saturation to very low levels (94% or below).  When our levels drop these very low levels we have to slow down significantly or stop.  The good news is this creates a homeostatic disruption in the body which means we adapt to the effort that caused this disruption and thus get stronger.  But, again, the catch is: these efforts MUST be intense enough to drop oxygen levels enough to trigger an adaptive response.

Taking your intervals PAST the edge of discomfort to create complete body distress is the only way to see significant gains in speed and fitness.  It’s not up for debate- it’s science.

Long, Slow Distance (LSD): It will only take you so far

Wanting to become an endurance athlete? Wanting to become a better endurance athlete? There is still a widely practiced belief that the best way to build and improve endurance are to just go out there and do it- long and slow, then a little longer and slow, then maybe even longer and perhaps a little slower.  This is true for people starting a journey on running anything from a 10k to a marathon, cycling events, and triathlon.  The problem is that learning to build endurance and learning to improve endurance are two very different things.

In order to explain this you must first understand a few basic concepts in building fitness.  In the early 1900s a Hungarian endocrinolgist Hans Selye developed the concept of General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).  While originally determined in stresses such as disease, the syndrome has also been proven to relate to training and fitness. After all, exercise/training IS a stress on the body.  Seyle basically said that when exposed to stress an organism creates a short-term response to deal with the stress, and then a long-term adaptation to the stress, should the organism live through the initial stress. Essentially, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

The explanation of GAS as it relates to exercise is simply explained as follows:

Our bodies like to remain in a normal biological functioning state known as homeostasis.  This is where we function the best, and our organ systems are constantly monitoring our internal and external environments and adjust their functioning to maintain homeostasis.  From a fitness standpoint, this is our normal working capacity.

The second phase of GAS refers to the body being exposed to a stress (exercise) that sets off an alarm. This alarm creates a cascade of events that disrupt homeostasis and actually reduce normal working capacity.  The catch in this phase is important: in order to set off the alarm the magnitude of the stress MUST be greater than levels previously experienced.  If it is not, then the alarm phase is not reached.

The third phase is resistance.  In this stage, once the stress has been removed (recovery) the body works rapidly to return itself to homeostasis.  In doing so, however, the body actually creates an INCREASED work capacity, thus making us stronger.

So, what’s the take home message here?  In newer or untrained athletes, just increasing your distance each training period IS enough to set off the alarm- because you’ve never done it before. But once we have adapted to certain distances, just going the distance alone will not set off the alarm, and therefore no improvement in fitness will occur.  In these instances increases in intensity must be introduced in order to set off the alarm and improve performance.  And, in fact, these intensities need to be extremely intense.  Very high intensity exercise works the lactate threshold and VO2 max systems of the body which allow you to sustain harder efforts longer. In other words, allow you to kick your endurance speed up a notch (or two, or three).

So, is there any place for long and slow distance? Yes.  In this type of training we can completely deplete our glycogen stores and teach the body to tap into fat stores more efficiently.  Using all of your stored sugar is most certainly a homeostatic stress, and thus sets off an alarm. However, only if the depletion is greater than ever before.  Ultimately this type of training can assist in teaching your body to better use fuel- and thus help you to go longer.  But does nothing to improve VO2 Max, which allows you to go faster.  Therefore, in order to go longer and faster, you need to do both. How to get there is another topic all together and I will write more on this later…